He Who Scratches Last

I was a Campfire Girl. I know what poison ivy looks like. I do. I learned the whole “leaves of three, don’t wipe with me,” or however that little ditty went. And I can easily pick it out of a lineup. But as I have never been allergic to the stuff, poison ivy lore has always been a purely academic pursuit. When I met my husband, he was grateful for my knowledge because he is so severely allergic to poison ivy that he has been close to hospitalization a time or two. Smug in my immunity, I have always attributed his unfortunate susceptibility to a defect in his character. But not anymore.

It's a sad and bitter song I sing.

Yeah. That’s my leg. Apparently it’s possible to spend forty years blessedly immune to the itchy stuff and suddenly develop an allergy. May I go ahead and say that life’s not fair?

I went to my mom’s last week to dig up some rose of Sharon (Rosasharn, for all you Steinbeck fans). It grows as a weed in her yard  I got a little greedy for some of the larger plants, and I ended up digging around in an overgrown drainage ditch. I saw the poison ivy. Of course, I did. I avoided it, mostly. And I made an effort to wash off any of the oils I might have come into contact with.

I was actually amused four days later when the first little bumps popped up on my knee. It was less funny when more appeared down my entire leg. And I quit laughing completely when they started to itch. And itch. And oh, sweet mother, itch some more. And now I wonder why I am being punished. Whatever I did to deserve it must have been really bad.

It doesn’t make sense. It has been a week, and the rash is still spreading. From an evolutionary standpoint, how does an extremely delayed reaction help the plant survive? It’s not like a possum or raccoon or other adorable woodland creature would remember where it was a week ago. They can’t seem to remember where the roads are. Which leads me to conclude that this particular adaptation isn’t about defense. It’s about revenge. Revenge for some imagined slight. Like the girl who sits behind the quarterback all year in chemistry and later burns his house down because he never said hello to her. Poison ivy is nature’s hate crime.

The good news is, I will recover. I think I have handled this sudden outbreak really well, considering. I have ordered sandpaper bed sheets for my bed, and I am training the cats to hit the good spots. But I really wish I hadn’t cut my fingernails.

The devil's houseplant. Stay away. Far, far away. You could be next.

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41 thoughts on “He Who Scratches Last

  1. Oh yikes! Devilishly unfair to develop an allergy now. Don’t forget the old saying ‘the more you scratch the more you itch’ – yeah, we know, try suffering it yourself… ;-)

  2. When I was a kid, I practically lived in the woods. I used to get posion ivy form time to time, but only on my knuckles (freaky, huh?). It itched a lot, but it wasn’t so bad . . . compared to the Lyme Disease.

  3. I too have always felt a little smug about not being allergic to that stuff, but now I think I will repent of my smugness. Especially since we are a camping family and frolic in the nature woods a lot. Yikes!

    Hope it clears up soon- I think you need tortoise therapy!

  4. I guess I shouldn’t have “liked” that post. That was just wrong. LOL

    I get poison ivy at least once a year; it’s everywhere in my yard. I treat the itch with super-duper hot-water rags — I nuke ‘em in the microwave for quick-heating. It feels REALLY good, cuts the itch without scratching (which can break the skin and cause infection) and increases blood flow to the area, which in turn speeds up the reaction process with urushiol and shortens the itchy time. I prefer tea tree oil (I get the very pure stuff, anesthic and antiseptic) which I rub all over it at night and wrapped with an ACE bandage to keep my sleepy, grubby nails off it while I’m sleeping.

    Beats chiggers all to heck. I’ll choose poison ivy every time, thank you. http://dirtnkids.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/wild-berries-and-skin-drinkers/

  5. Well, I too am immune to the stuff…guess I will continue to give offerings to whatever gods I need too that I don’t develop an allergy at 37 years old…scratch on, my friend…

  6. I’ve learned to wash immediately with cold water & soap, so as not to open the pores and spread the oils. Then slather the washed area with rubbing alcohol to verify that any oily residue is gone. Clothes are washed also because the oils can be retained on clothing, boots, gloves for years…or so I read.
    As precaution: I try to wear gloves & long sleeves, pants, etc. One neighbor refers to me as the “Uni-gardener” – the poison oak is that bad in our area. As a matter of fact, when it gets tree size its name becomes Poisonwood. Like you, as a child I lucked out and laughed at my afflicted brother. It wasn’t until my forties that I got my first bad reaction. That cortisone shot in my tookus was more painful than the itching. I remember laying on my stomach and even the sheet over me hurt. I’ve decided looking ridiculous is more desirable than shots and scratching.
    Hope it’s all just a itchy memory…real SOON now.

  7. the oils get everywhere and spread, and you can self contaminate. boil your sheets and towels, wash your shoes in the washer, throw away your soap and open a new one, same for bath pouf. Just….act like you have bedbugs. :)

  8. Oh, I hope you feel better soon. Hate the poison ivy myself. My brother gets like your husband. It’s crazy. You can make a past from baking soda and vinegar, smear it on the itchy area and the let it dry. When dry, you scrub it off under water with a wash cloth. Sounds terrible, but it really, really helps with itch. Hope it heals quickly!

  9. My first husband and I spent our entire honeymoon covered in calamine lotion…. head to toe. (It was our honeymoon, after all, and we were yound and adventurous.) I feel for you. I could look at poison ivy and get it. Feel better soon!

  10. I believe that saying went “leaves of three, let it be!”, but your version is so funny (as well as dreadfully true) that as soon as I read it, I had to stop reading, until I could stop laughing, and that’s the absolute truth! :-D

    My wife ran all the way up from the basement where she was doing laundry, to see what on earth all my loud hilarity was about… and of course now she hates you, cause she knows that the really funny girls are really my type. (kidding on that part – she doesn’t hate you, and she laughed too)

    The “leaves of three” thing was the devastatingly delivered comic line, at least for me, but your whole post here is really funny, although I do feel some regret for laughing at your misery – unless it helps you feel just a little bit better.

  11. I’m truly feeling your pain right now! I’m highly allergic and likely this bout of it has stayed isolated to my calf. It’s a swollen, oozing mess! AND now that I just read your post its starting to get itchy again!! ahhh

  12. Well, until it clears up, you should carry around a tape player (I know; “tape player”? I’m so old school) with “Poison Ivy” cued up for when you walk in a room :)

  13. I too was immune as a kid, but ended up with a wicked case of it two years ago after a brief sojourn into the woods to pee during a picnic. Fun. Then I read that the immunity can decrease in adulthood. Wish Id known that beforehand.

  14. For the life of me I can’t identify that stuff. Every time the kids go a-hunting in the woods, I am constantly reminding them to stay away from anything with three leaves. My kids think I’m crazy. I hope you feel better.

  15. Ugh — that sounds brutal! I don’t think I live near any of it but now I want to pay better attention. I think I’d be breaking out the steel wool right about now.

  16. Thanks for the warning! I was immune as a child, too, but it’s been a long time since I have been exposed to it. And now I will be extra careful that it becomes an even longer time! Feel better soon!

  17. Oh, no! My husband is horrible allergic to all plant poisons and he just got over a bad case of poison ivy. He spent all his free time for 2 weeks in an oatmeal bath. I hope you heal soon!

  18. I hate to laugh at your misfortune, but, with your sense of humor and way with words, it is unavoidable.

    I, too, was a late bloomer in my poison ivy allergy, and when we bought our house, the 150 year old elm tree had a poison ivy vine in it. I swear this vine was planted side-by-side with the elm all those years ago. One lucky outcome from Hurricane Gustav, however, was that when part of the tree came down, we were able to get the men with chainsaws to take the vine, as well. Now I just have to watch out for spiders.

  19. So far…I haven’t been allergic to it either…but like you, I have heard it can change in a heartbeat. Good luck with it.

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