Oct 9 2015
Poison ivy is a bit like having kids with head lice: it’s impossible to grasp the misery without firsthand experience.
I always nodded sympathetically when parents shared lice-laden anecdotes, but I didn’t comprehend the gravity until our kids got it.
Poison ivy is a similar beast.
For decades I basked in the fact that I didn’t “get” poison ivy. And I never bothered to distinguish it from other greenery. (Though Martin made it his personal mission to educate me. I was a lousy student, but learned to respond correctly when he gestured at shiny leaves and said, “Okay, now what’s that?”)
I’d seen poison ivy welts and heard itchy tales of woe. But to me, the rash looked like a nuisance, not a serious affliction.
All that changed when I abruptly received notice: My immunity to Toxicodendron radicans had expired.
A few weeks ago — while riding — I was lashed by poison ivy dangling among tree branches. Welts slowly surfaced on my arm and neck.
It was still in the nuisance phase when we arrived at Snowshoe for Xtreme Hike.
“Take a bath in bleach,” one hiker advised after checking my arm. “That’ll stop it.”
“Bathe in bleach? How much bleach do you use?”
The guy shrugged. “A cup, maybe two. As much as you can stand.”
At the time, scorching myself with bleach sounded asinine.
But seven days later, I was ready to drink battery acid if it would help.
Weepy welts spread like lava, creeping north and south, shoulder to wrist, and up toward my chin. Blisters also migrated to my other arm. If I sat still, I could feel them emerge. (Writing proved a challenge because my oozing arms adhered to my laptop.)
Ultimately, steroids saved me. But during those days of itchy insanity, I visited websites devoted to poison ivy — and noticed a dearth of medically-sound answers to my questions. Every source trumpeted the obvious: “If you think you have been exposed, wash areas thoroughly within 10 minutes…”
But few sites offered much on managing welts once the damage was done.
I never discovered why scalding water on poison ivy welts evokes an intense feeling of euphoria. (Every medical site condemned hot water for a slew of reasons.)
And I couldn’t confirm whether or not little kids are immune. (As a toddler, Hadley ate poison ivy leaves, and the pediatrician told us that children aren’t allergic to the plant until age 6.) I searched for supporting science, but only found that pediatricians rarely see it in young children.
My welts are now faded shadows of themselves. But suffice to say, I feel your poison ivy pain. I get it.
Yet on the misery scale, I’m not sure which is worse: a case of poison ivy, or a houseful of licey kids.