5 Things You Need to Know About Poison Ivy (And How I Found Out the Hard Way)

by Maile on July 10, 2013

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1. Make sure you KNOW (not “kind of know” or “maybe know” or “have a general idea”) what poison ivy looks like. FYI, it looks like the above picture.

I presumably didn’t KNOW, and therefore, the fun of “not KNOWING” began two weeks ago on a Thursday night. After a superb dinner of perfectly grilled burgers, basil-kissed pasta salad, and homemade cookies n’ cream ice cream, we sat in Adirondack chairs in our friends’ backyard watching the sun yawn and lay down behind some distant hills, while lightening bugs lured and dodged the gaggle of children surrounding us. It was the epitome of a summer evening, complete with homemade bouquets handed to mommies and daddies by tow-headed, giggling little girls. I laid my bouquet on the arm of the chair, and as the conversation evolved from embarrassing stories to lawn maintenance to God’s call on our lives, I proceeded to de-petal the flowers beside me and shred the jagged edged leaves my daughter continued to hand me, which leads inevitably to the second point…

2. If you stumble upon some poison ivy, do not, under any circumstances, take it in hand and proceed to rip the leaves into little tiny pieces, henceforth showering your body in all the delightful rash-inducing oils.

The next day I noticed a spot on my face, just under my eye, that initially looked like a pimple. “Just my luck,” I thought. “My pubescent skin in full form right before we spend a weekend with old friends.” I surveyed the progress of my “zit” in the driver’s side mirror as we sat in traffic on I-695 just outside of Baltimore.  I poked and prodded it as we pulled into our old neighborhood in Leesburg, Va, and I felt self-conscious of it as we exchanged hugs with our dear friends who greeted us at their driveway.

But the zit never evolved; it just got itchy. “A bug bite,” I concluded. And that diagnosis somehow made me feel better, like it wasn’t my lack of hygiene or over-indulgence of fatty foods and chocolate that caused the blemish. So I shrugged it off, applied more make-up, and continued on with life. By Saturday night, however, my ear began to itch…a lot. That’s when the sneaking suspicion began: could this possibly be poison ivy?

As I laid in bed Saturday night staring at the Wikipedia picture of poison ivy on my IPhone, I could only shake my head when I immediately recognized it’s signature shape as the very leaf I had happily decimated with my naïve little fingers two nights before.

3. This is what a poison ivy rash looks like. They are not zits; they are not bug bites; it is a poison ivy reaction.

photo

And that’s when the fun kicked up a few notches. By Sunday morning my “zit” had spread, my ear was swelling, and my upper arm had begun it’s own little country of blisters. That afternoon we said goodbye to our Northern Virginia friends and began the trek further south to Charlotte where we planned to spend the next 3 weeks with my family. About 9pm Sunday night, I called my mom and begged her to purchase anything and everything Walmart offers that might relieve my incessant itching. She came to my rescue, with a whole slew of ointments, pills, and soaps displayed outside her guest room on our arrival at midnight.

The next morning I awoke as one massive ball of irritation. My face and ears were seeping, my arm displayed an impressive collection of liquid filled blisters that revolted and intrigued me all at the same time. Ultimately, the day was meant to be a celebratory one: my little Sammy was turning 4. But between applying ointments, mopping up the fluids dripping from my open sores, and generally disgusting everyone around me, Sammy got very little of the obnoxious excitement we usually reserve for birthdays. When I offered to accompany Shawn to buy Sammy’s birthday presents, my husband looked sympathetically at me as I sat on the couch, pointed to my head, and whispered “Hon, your ear is dripping.”

I quickly grabbed my designated “ear rag”, and mopped up the leakage. With as much gentleness as he could muster, Shawn continued: “I really think it would be better for everyone if you just stayed home. Otherwise, I might have to walk ahead of you into all the stores, waving my arms and shouting, ‘Leper!’” I got the point. I felt like the same old me on the inside, but I forgot the outside could cause some alarm.

4. After the toxic oils from the poison ivy have been washed off your body (by showering or bathing or hosing yourself down), your rash is no longer contagious. Warning: You will pass along this information to your loved ones and acquaintances, but they will ignore everything you say and treat you like you are harboring the bubonic plague.

My family wouldn’t hug me for the first 3 days we were in NC. I got lots of high-fives and cheerful waves of the hand from across the room. There was lots of gawking, lots of grimacing when my family looked at me, and lots of sympathetic eyes. However, when my mom commented that I looked like I had “cauliflower ear”, I decided it was time to bring in the big guns.

5. Get the drugs. If you need to ease your conscious by doing all the herbally, airy-fairy remedies, then by all means, give it a try. But when you start to resemble Sloth from “The Goonies”, it’s time to call on the professionals.

Early Tuesday morning while Shawn and the kids slept peacefully, I tiptoed out of the bedroom, my mind still groggy from yet another fitful, itchy night of sleep, and dressed myself for my first public appearance as my new and not-improved self. I drove to the nearest Urgent Care I could find, slapped down my co-pay at the counter like a drifter ordering a shot at a saloon, and took a seat in the empty (thank God) waiting room. A few minutes later, a tall blond nurse with an awkward bandage over her nose (which made me feel far less self-conscious) called me back. After all the needless checking of my vitals, the PA stepped in. No lie, this woman wore sky blue eye shadow and mascara; I haven’t seen anything like it since 1988 and doubt I will from here after. She immediately diagnosed “poison ivy” as the culprit, ordered me a shot and a prescription for prednisone, and wished me luck. Within two days, my ear deflated, my blisters scabbed over, and the itchiness improved.

Two weeks later and I’m well on my way to recovery. The itchiness will eventually subside and the rash disappears, but these five lessons, oh, yes, they shall stay with me for a lifetime.

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