Ditching the Itch


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.

I did stumble on a poison ivy primer with some neat facts here. And there’s valid info and horrifying stories at

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.

Tough call.


Bugs Prompt Blog Break


“Wow, I’ve never seen a grownup cry,” Hadley remarked, as I sat sobbing near a mystery leak that dripped with determination on the dining room floor and buckled the ceiling above.

An unidentified plumbing problem isn’t a cry-worthy crisis. But this incident was the final chapter in a series of cumulative, distressing events.

It kicked off last Tuesday when we discovered that the girls had lice. We learned this just as a strong summer storm knocked out the power. No electricity means no water, so we were powerless to wash sheets and treat the girls’ hair. Solution: armed with delousing products, we bunked in a hotel and attacked the problem. It was after midnight when we finally finished, but we’d made progress. Or so we’d thought.

The next day the power was restored but the washing machine broke, stalling efforts to sanitize bedding and clothes. The repairman estimated a seven-day wait for the replacement part. 

Next up? Both trucks broke down and with PigPen in the shop (amassing a $2,400 bill for deer damage repair) — we were squeezed with one vehicle.

And Friday afternoon — yet another day perched on the porch, sweating in the sun as I combed microscopic nits from the girls’ hair (making little progress) — Martin placed a cocktail in front of me. “Drink this,” he said.

I get it… I’ve been picking through their locks, strand by strand, for hours, I thought. And everything has gone wrong. “I’ll drink it when I’m done,” I said, swiping my sweaty bangs and hunching over Hadley’s bowed head.

“Really, take a few sips now,” he said, “because I need to tell you that there’s a leak in the dining room. And I’m going to have to cut open the ceiling to get at it.”

And there you have it: broken cars, broken washer, broken house, insect infested kids. Emotional breakdown.

Fortunately, unabated crying spurs family to action. On Saturday, my mother took the kids to be professionally deloused (yes, such services exist) and Martin secured a part to fix the washing machine and the Big Rig. All this while I played four straight softball games in league tournament. (We advanced to the quarterfinals, but were eliminated the next morning.)

No matter. After last week’s misery I can report today: the kids are fixed, ditto the washing machine and Pig Pen. It’s time to resume the blog and other elements of normalcy.

As for the accompanying tent photo: in an effort to limit lice spread, we booted the kids out of the house to sleep. But when we issued the go-ahead order to return to their room, they refused to vacate the campsite. They’ve slept in the tent for four nights running. The chair also pictured was employed for safety; Sunday evening Martin tethered the tent to the chair during a violent, gusty thunderstorm that threatened to send the camp structure airborne.

Remarkably, the kids opted to sleep in the tent, through the storm. The next morning I met a bed-headed Brynn, pawing through the cereal boxes in the kitchen and I asked her, “Weren’t you scared out there with all that thunder last night?” I asked.

“No,” she mumbled with a shrug. “It was loud but I  just went to sleep.”