Sunday, August 3, 2008

My Battle with Poison Ivy

The first time I ever remember having poison ivy was following a "field trip" to my sixth grade teacher's house. I know, sounds unusual, but it was actually my favorite field trip of all time, I think. They lived a very old-fashioned life, and his wife taught us girls to bake bread and sew and very fun things like that.

Anyhow, we played some outdoor games while there and apparently they had poison ivy on the property and I got it. But it was no big deal. An irritation, but no big deal.

I got poison ivy again when I was about 16. It was in the crook of my arm - the inside of my elbow, if that makes sense. It was pretty bad, and well do I recall its peak. I was in the Foreign Language Festival, an event held at a university for area high schoolers. I had been selected to represent our school in the Latin test.

My arm looked horrendous, all puffy and red and oozy, and I could no longer bend it. But I thought little of it -- somehow when it's your own arm it doesn't look so bad. Everyone else kept commenting on it in horror, however.

I felt a little queasy all day. I attributed it to "butterflies in the stomach". It was unusual - I felt nervous like that when involved in events that required me to perform in front of an audience, like a spelling bee, a speech, a dramatic presentation... but it wasn't like me to be nervous about a test. Nonetheless, what else could it be?

The queasiness followed me into the evening, which I thought especially unusual. The day was done, the contest was over, there was nothing at all to be nervous about now. The poison ivy looked worse than ever, and my mother decided to call my aunt (a nurse) to see what she thought.

I didn't even notice myself, but apparently there were red streaks shooting up and down my entire arm, and my mother mentioned this to my aunt. My aunt asked about nausea, and I reported the queasiness I'd felt all day. She advised my mother to take me to urgent care. Not wanting to deal with that environment, she replied that she'd just wait till tomorrow and take me to the pediatrician instead.

I remember my aunt's response like it was yesterday, for it invoked terror into my heart. "If you don't take her in tonight, she might not BE here come tomorrow..."

For my poison ivy had somehow managed to turn into blood poisoning.

Well, after getting three different prescriptions and having to return every night for a week for a painful shot in the you-know-where, I finally recovered.

But that was not to be the end of my fight with poison ivy. I got it the next summer, and the next. I learned and have tried so many different "treatments", some of which probably caused more damage than they helped. (Anyone ever been told to use bleach? Yes, it dries up the blisters, but it also burns your skin. Kids, don't try this at home.)

I know what you may be thinking -- stay out of the woods already! I do. It's a sad thing for me, I grew up playing in the woods surrounding our house and I miss the ability to enter them without fear. I don't even have to get anywhere near the stuff anymore. It breathes on me from a mile away and I get it. And all too frequently it gets out of control and I have to go in for steroids to finally get rid of it.

Earlier this summer, the telltale blisters began to form on my arm, and I panicked. I had a big trip coming up. This had the potential to ruin it! My vanity was at stake, as well. ("I can't meet Dean Butler covered in poison ivy!") Frantically I searched the internet for some new cure, some way to stave it off if caught early. And I discovered a new wonderful amazing product.

It's made by Tecnu -- you know (or perhaps you don't, if poison ivy isn't your particular nemesis), the company that makes the stuff that takes the urushiol oil off of contaminated objects like doorknobs and other things you may have touched before the oil bonded with your skin?

But this product, called Poison Ivy Scrub, is intended to make the oil UNbond from your skin so you can wash it off. For those not in the know, the oil bonds with your skin in about 15-30 minutes, so if you wash it off (in COOL water) before that time, you may prevent getting the rash later. But if you didn't know it was there or didn't have access to a way to wash it off, once it bonded with your skin, you were out of luck.

No more! This sounded promising, and I figured if anyone could test its worth, it would be me. It really did work! The two places that had already developed blisters remained for a couple weeks, but didn't grow worse. The many places that were just beginning to itch and show tiny bumps that hadn't blistered yet when I started using the scrub did NOT develop blisters! It was the BEST case of poison ivy I ever had.

I was totally sold on the stuff.

Much to my dismay, the other day I caught sight of a familiar looking blister on my finger. Twice in one summer! It's just not fair!

But this time instead of panicking, I just pulled out my Poison Ivy Scrub and scrubbed away at my hands and arms. That evening my eye started to itch. I didn't even make the connection at first; I thought I'd gotten an irritant in it. I rubbed it, it watered, that usually washes out the irritant and all is well. But it only itched more. And more and more. Until finally I went to the bathroom to remove the contact, and discovered that my eye was all puffed up and swollen. I gently swiped my finger across it and found the telltale bump. Just one little tiny one so far, but the panic began. The scrub clearly says to keep out of the eyes.

I used it anyway, as best as I could. And it seems to have staved off the worst of it. But in the meantime, I've had little spots show up here, there, and everywhere. Every time I find a new spot, I scrub away. I've repeated the scrubbing many times and yet new spots are appearing. I have a whole strip of it across my cheek that I've scrubbed and scrubbed in the hopes of keeping it from getting any worse.

I thought it was working, but this morning I had new bumps on my fingers, a new patch on my cheek, and a tiny patch in the corner of my eye.

Again, I have a big trip coming up, and again, it's to Laura Ingalls Wilder territory. Both Wilder trips cursed!?

I'm going to see Melissa Gilbert in the Prairie musical. Do you "Little House on the Prairie" tv show fans remember the episode where the Olesons were covered in poison ivy? I had visions of me looking like that for my Little House trip.

No. Not gonna happen.

I'm done. The poison ivy wins. I gave in, went to urgent care, got my shot and my steroids. Now hopefully by the time the trip comes around, I'll be poison-free.


Anonymous said...

Hey there, I came to your blog because of the Laura Ingalls Wilder mention. I hope you report back on the play at the Guthrie. I'm going too, but not until September.

I've been visiting all your Laura-related posts. I write a blog called Only Laura and publish a Laura Ingalls Wilder newsletter called The Homesteader. It's not for everyone, but if you're not a subscriber yet, you sound like someone who might want to be.

Sandra Hume

Prairie Rose said...

Hi, Sandra, thanks for stopping by. I'm a subscriber. :)

For anyone else reading along who might like to be, check out

Yes, I'll definitely report back on the play! Very much looking forward to seeing it! :)