How I have escaped the dermatological hell of poison ivy (PI) for this long, I have no clue. Growing up on a farm, we spent our weekends in the woods, cutting trees for firewood and clearing brush for cattle pastures. My poor mother is practically a magnet for the plant; it seemed like she was always suffering from at least one itchy patch, and she never let us down with an annual outbreak that left her so swollen and red that she was almost unrecognizable, such as the Christmas we referred to her as Quasimodo after the chainsaw nicked a vine and sent poison sap spraying into her face. I know the "leaves of three, leave it be" adage, and aside from one batch of poison parsnip blisters that left quarter-sized scars on my arms in junior high, I grew up thinking I was blissfully resistant to PI.
I take it all back.
I am now on the downhill slope of Everest, K9, and Kilimanjaro combined of my PI journey, wiser for the experience that I'm still convinced I could have lived a lifetime without. For those of you who can commiserate, or those of you still blissfully ignorant of what two weeks of torture feel like, I broke my experience down into six stages for your reading pleasure.
Stage One: Oblivion
At this point, I was blissfully unaware of what was coming down the road, lurking in the shadows, gnashing its terrible teeth. I wish I could say my suffering was triggered by a spectacular day of hunting and fishing, but in tracing the events of the last few weeks backwards, I realize I infected myself while doing chores for my parents while they were on vacation. Debbie Do-Gooder was too busy trying to clean up storm debris in a ditch to notice she had waded neck-high into a poison patch. What's that old adage--no good deed goes unpunished? From Ground Zero, I had about 36 hours of ignorance of what was coming. I think I caught a nice bass that night.
Stage Two: Denial
"Wow, something really chewed up my ankles!" Because that is the only logical response I had as to why my legs were really itchy, with teeny bumps lacing themselves up from my feet to my knees. Denial lasted for a good long while--there should be some type of twelve step program for first-time PI sufferers to shorten this phase. After three days of scratching and watching my "bites" migrate from ankles to ears and everywhere in between, I finally accepted the fact that yes, I might have PI, but I swore it wasn't really that bad. I went to an archery competition in jeans and boots, for crying out loud. I was tough! I was outdoorsy! I would be fine!
Stage Three: Sweet Lord Jezus, The Ooze!
Denial ended abruptly when the little bumps turned to full-on weeping blisters in clusters the size of my hand. Things stuck to me as I walked by--grass, cat hair, the occasional fly assuming I was rotting carrion, looking for a free meal. I sat on the front porch steps and watched rivulets of ooze course down my leg like raindrops on a windshield, scratching around the blisters and looking up home remedies for PI. Apple cider vinegar compresses. Goat's milk. Fels-Naptha soap. I found a new spot on my ear to scratch, and noticed I was leaving amber-colored drip marks on my socks. Enough was enough.
Stage Four: Shots! Shots! Shots!
I do not go to the doctor. Period. It's not a phobia, I don't mind paying the bills. I just typically am healthy enough to not really need to go, other than routine maintenance, oil changes, and tire rotations to keep my vintage '82 model body running. So breaking down to call the doctor that I might need some help was a little on the tough side--not as tough as marching into the hospital and getting open-mouthed stares from other patients at my condition, but almost. As the nurse practitioner came in, she took one look, swallowed carefully, and said "well, that's a pretty severe case of poison you've got going on there, dear." I knew the treatment (steroids) and the topical (calamine lotion), but what I wasn't expecting was that my 'roids were going to be taken Jose Canseco style, directly in the bum. It's never a good sign when the nurse says, "this is going to hurt, honey." Over the course of the next week, my poor derrière received three doses to try to stop the incessant itching. I think the nurse inwardly laughed at each and every one.
Stage Five: The Pariah
Somehow, I was lucky enough to get PI during the hottest d@#* week of the summer to date, and the only thing that could hide my shame and keep my fingers from flaying my skin was to wear pants. PANTS. 24-7. I found myself explaining to strangers and friends alike my awkward wardrobe choices and tendency to sneak a scratch whenever possible. Shorts were out of the question for both personal safety (I had seriously considered taking a wire brush to my legs at one point) and for courtesy to others (my legs look a bit like they are covered in patches of hard salami). The antihistamines, taken in double doses, made me slip into a coma at strange hours, and the oral steroids probably made me less sunshine-y to be around than anyone will ever care to admit. The one time I did brave a pair of shorts to go fishing at my dad's farm, I received a startled expression from a friend I met in passing, who is also a nurse, trying to figure out what exactly had happened to me and whether or not my apparent flesh-eating disease was catching. The only one who truly understood was my long-suffering mother. Mom: I take back every joke, tease, and snide comment I ever made about your poison woes and promise to only laugh a little, on the inside, when it happens to you next.
Stage Six: Resolutions
Well into week two, I am still not 100% poison-free, but the end is in sight. The itching isn't as intense, I can sleep all night long, and the blisters are a thing of the past. I've started buying Mederma and BioSilk scar repair treatments in bulk, thankful that I didn't really have fantastic-looking legs to begin with. My glass castle of "I don't get poison ivy, I'm lucky!" has been shattered to pieces, and I think I have most of the shards swept up neatly. From this point on, I do so solemnly swear...
.....to look CAREFULLY before venturing into weed thickets.
.....to avoid shaving at night after a day spent in the woods (not confirmed, but I have a hunch that contributed to the spread).
.....to skip Stages One and Two, moving directly to three without passing GO and without collecting $200.
.....to keep calamine lotion spray on hand, at all times.
.....to grab my pole and get back outside tonight, because even though PI could probably be used as some sort of third-world torture device, it certainly hasn't stopped the fish from biting.