Annals of Human Misery
My Nine-Day Affliction With Poison Ivy
My Nine-Day Affliction With Poison Ivy
In the summer of 2020, I suffered one of the worst cases of poison ivy I have ever experienced. As a writer, I thought I'd record my experience with the affliction in case one of my characters happened to rub up against the plant. I believe there will be an upcoming story featuring a young soldier in an apple orchard who will suffer with the rash. We'll have to see how it goes for him.
Here's how it went for me in a day-by-day account.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020, Heroine
No misery plagued me the day I wrestled poison ivy to the ground, only boldness. A desire to conquer. On July 29, 2020, in the yard of my former home, a vintage farmhouse in Whitinsville, MA, hundreds of green leaves appeared at the base of an ancient lilac. Such a heavy dropping of foliage during a New England summer piqued my suspicion. This tree had been planted by my home’s original owner nearly a century ago. Its multiple trunks and lush canopy created a feature attraction in my yard all year long and a blockbuster for two weeks each May. It wasn’t even fall. Why did she begin releasing her leaves so soon—and while still so green? She’s usually the last holdout, keeping her greenery until early November. I examined the tree like a scientist. A few dead branches, but surely enough live ones and vegetation to go on. Oh, but then, a thick vine with micro tendrils like a hundred-yard-long centipede strangled a distant branch. An intruder! I grabbed the vine with bare hands and pried it off my big beauty. I could only rip out up to a few feet above my head. The rest latched on.
Having to start work in ten minutes, I hadn’t time to conquer the beast right then. Making a mental note to attack it again at the weekend, I threw down what I managed to yank off and went into the house to prep for a meeting.
Day 2 Thursday, July 30, 2020: Discovery
My job feels like playing an intense video game. Emails flying at me, each one requiring an investigation, some thinking, some writing, some editing, a response, or deployment to one or another colleague. Oh, my arm feels itchy. Of course, I scratch it. Incoming instant message on the left of my screen. Text message on my phone. Full on incoming call. Scratching my itchy arm again. Ahhh five o’clock. It’s over. I still have a lot to do, but the barrage stops. I grab some tea and get through the jobs requiring an uninterrupted brain.
Oh, my arm feels so itchy. Ahhh! Crops of little rashes grow on my inner wrist.
“Poison ivy,” I realize. “How did I get poison ivy?”
I didn’t touch anything along the trail I walked the other day. There was surely no poison ivy mixed with the blackberries I picked last weekend. Oh geez, it must have been the vine. But its leaves weren’t shiny. I’d always known them to be shiny.
By the time I finish work, it’s after nine o’clock in the evening. No time to run to the store for medicine. I search for home remedies and settle on two. First, I douse two cotton balls in apple cider vinegar and run them up and down my arms. Nothing. Next, I mix a paste of baking soda and water and plaster that on my inner arms. That might have worked if it didn’t all falloff the minute I moved. I wash and go to bed itchy.
Day 3 Friday, July 31: Iguana Woman
“Oh Geeze, my face too!”
Little prickly bumps rise across my forehead and come up across my chin, patchwork fashion. Funny thing, while my arms feel like little baby flies do war dances, feed, and poop scalding poops on them, my face just feels a little warm. No itching. I’ll take it. However, getting the pass on my face only extends to just above my chin. Everything south of that border on my neck is on fire. A few spots on my lower cheeks and belly join the powwow.
I don’t walk the usual two miles, do the 20 minutes of yoga, and ride the Peloton for 30 minutes that I ridicule myself into trying to do each day. I give myself a pass on all that.
Pull into the CVS in Whitinsville at about 9 am. I should be playing the video game at my desk. But this is urgent. My incomings must wait. There are about two shelves of poison ivy remedies that all claim to do the same thing: provide temporary (temporary!) relief of itching and help dry up oozie blisters. I dislike the words “temporary’ and “help.” Not when my arms feel like little savages are preparing to walk off with them. None of the products say what I am looking for: to shorten the duration of the outbreak. To make it GO AWAY.
I settle on two products. The first one, a pink guck (IVAREST®),contains calamine, benzyl alcohol, and diphenhydramine hydrochloride. The second one, a green goo (actually called GREEN GOO®), contains an organic blend of calendula, yarrow, myrrh, St John’s Wort, plantain, chickweed, sage, and comfrey—I’ll use that one on my face.
At home, I tie my hair up and away from my face. All of it. All the online stuff I read says to run your affected parts under cool water, never hot. Before self-administering the treatments, I run my arms under the hottest water I can stand. Something I learned the last time this happened to me about six years ago. (Another story for another day.) While my arm is under the hot water, it feels as itchy as hell. However, when I pat it dry, the itching subsides for hours. I smear the green goo on my face and the pink guck on my neck, chest, and for good measure, on my arms, too. The package on the pink guck says to apply it so thick you cannot see through it. I follow the directions. It stings a bit in places.
“Good,” I think. “It’s working.”
I reluctantly save the coupon attached to the inside of the pink guck carton, hoping I don’t need to buy more before the two-year expiration date. I wait for the pink guck to dry. (The green goo never dries.) The pink guck is like the old-fashioned calamine lotion I grew up with, but this one smells minty. It dries like a thin coat of Plaster of Paris. With its aromatic hint of menthol, the green goo reminds me of a fine blended pesto. The goo has the viscosity of petroleum jelly with about a quarter teaspoon of sand in it.
I grab some breakfast and get to my desk. The video game that is my job remains intense throughout the day. My arms feel like iguanas. I place a towel in front of my mouse so my wrist doesn’t touch the side of my desk, something that usually doesn’t bother me. My arms and chest take turns in their cacophony of calls for scratches. Hypnotized by my work, I ignore them, like a mother with pesky children. And I ignore them and ignore them. My stomach tightens and cramps. And stays cramped up. I continue in silence, not mentioning the misery that is me to my colleagues.
When five o’clock arrives, there is still much to do. I work until seven. Then I clean all the guck and goo off my face and arms, soak them in water as hot as I can stand it and cover them in more pink guck and green goo. I pour myself a good pour of wine and fall asleep in front of the TV until one o’clock in the morning.
During my sleep, the primitive little dancing flies move their ceremony to my neck. They are crawling all over it. I rise. I go into the bathroom, wash off theold pink guck and green goo, soak my arms and face in hot water as hot as I can stand it and then reapply all my remedies. I go to my bed and lie in Savasana,also known in yoga as corpse pose, until I fall asleep.
Day 4 Saturday, August 1: Unproductive
I have about four more weeks to clean out every closet and corner of my house. That’s when the place goes up for sale. I have one more nasty closet downstairs and about three more upstairs. These Saturdays are my only time to dig in and get them done. I awake on Saturday morning, about quarter past nine—late, even for a weekend morning. I look at the rashes on my face and arms. No new crops. Rash is bubbling into blisters. An arm is still an iguana.
The area under my chin itches. The inner corner of my right eye browkeeps requesting a rub. I go through the regimen. Wash off all the pink guck,which seems to be providing some relief for at least a period of time, and wash off all the green goo. I reapply fresh layers.
My dog Sage and I take a two-hour walk in a neighborhood down the road where there are fewer houses and mostly businesses to avoid aggressive dogs. I ride the Peloton for 30 minutes and take in 25 minutes of yoga. I shower and put my hair up, rub all my guck and goo back on. Then I fall asleep at the table after eating some breakfast. I give in and sit with my legs up on the couch. All I can think about are closets. It’s about three o’clock and I’ve haven’t accomplished a friggin’ thing.
Finally, I rise, and straighten out the house. Do some laundry and some dishes, give the rugs a shake and the floors a sweep and the kitchen one a Swiffer wash. Get the trash out and the vegetable scraps in the compost bin, not all in that order. Recognizing that I must check one closet off my list, I clean the easiest, the pantry closet. Find a never-opened box of brown sugar that expired five years ago. Toss out most of what was in there, vacuum it out and wipe down the shelves. Does that count?
Day 5 Sunday, August 2, 2020: Unproductive 2.0
Someone is holding a lit match to my chin. Seven fifteen. Sage stares at me wide eyed and waggy tailed. I manage to get up. Stay in my nightgown. Afterall, it doubles as a beach cover. We go out. He does his business.
Back in the house, I stand before the bathroom mirror. My forehead is red and bumpy and looks sunburnt as does the bridge of my nose, the entire right side of my cheek. It’s slightly swollen below my right eye. My lower left cheek is a prickly rash. The area between my nose and lips is bumpy and my chin is red and irritated. The area south is worse and itchy, affecting the entire side right side of my neck, behind my right ear, and deep inside my mood.
My inner right arm is worse than the left. There are too many blisters and bumps to count. The biggest crops are up on my inner wrists.They become sparse and spread out below there, but if they were pills, they’d easily fill and extra-large bottle. I have this urge to pop the blisters, but I don’t.
I go through my treatment regimen, wash off all the old pinkguck and green goo, run my upper appendages and face and chin under hot, hot water, and reapply my guck on neck and arms and goo on my face. Then I lay back on my bed, Savasana pose, and sleep another two hours.
Sage and I did our two-mile walk, partly along the canal at Riverbend, a path that cuts through the woods along the waterway fed by the Blackstone River. Trees provide treatment, too. Respite for the soul. I walk unplugged. Disconnect from podcasts and whatever else can be accessed on my phone. Disconnect from worry. And from my poison ivy. I would run here with Sage if not for the poop bag. Ever try running while holding a poop bag? We walk and it feels good.
When I get home, I should jump on the Peloton for 30minutes, do yoga, arm strength exercises. But I don’t. Instead, I realize I amalmost out of the pink guck and decide to run to the store. I buy two more packs and use the coupon I saved two days ago, hoping I wouldn’t need it. I run into Shaw’s next door and grab fruit,eggs, milk, and a few other things. At home, I eat a meal of cooked turkey,tabouli, hummus Syrian bread, and tomatoes.
I grab coffee and come to my writing desk, which is my Sunday ritual. I must work on a short story and finish my book proposal. I have been waiting all week to do this. I manage to write a paragraph before dozing off at my desk like I had narcolepsy. I lay down for two hours.
I wake up, wash off and reapply my guck and goo. Then Ire-read the labels. The pink guck should only be applied up to four times daily.Taken orally, diphenhydramine hydrochloride can make you drowsy. I finish two pages of my book proposal. Hey, it’s something, right?
Day 6 Monday, August 3, 2020: Discomfort
The little fly warriors light mini campfires in several locations across my neck and behind my right ear. Some of them are young braves who must prove themselves to their fellow villagers by running through the campfires with their bare little feet and then dashing across the village,leaving sparks flying and falling to the ground, which is the surface of my neck, in their wakes. Others have grown microscopic spikes on the bottoms of their feet for traction into my skin and play games like tag and catch-me-if-you-can all day long across my neck.
My right cheek is still swollen, not so much to totally disfigure me, but enough to know it’s not normal. The bumps across my forehead are less pronounced today, but my forehead, right cheek, chin, and lower left cheek are still quite red. A new one-inch-long crop grew in a straight line near my right elbow while I slept. My lower arms are crawling, and my neck has been begging for scratches and rubs all day long. My face feels warm, and my eyebrows keep requesting rubs, too.
I have a confession to make: Last night I pressed a tissue into a few of the blisters and popped them like bubble wrap. It gave me two seconds of satisfaction before I came to my senses and stopped. This morning,those two blisters ballooned with fluid again and seem no worse or better for my stupidity.
Day 7 Tuesday, August 4, 2020: The Alamo
A few of the little warrior flies try to convince their troops that they’re getting tired of this war and want to go home. However, most of the savages are unwilling to give up. They fight on.
What we have today is a face that’s only slightly less bumpy and red, a minority of blisters that are deflating, some all the way down, but most are still taut with fluid. My neck feels like sandpaper. I’ve been using alight moisturizer or the green goo on my face and neck and the pink guck on my arms part of the day. I’ve also been trying to go with no treatments on my arms to see how it goes. It seems ok for hours after a hot water dousing. Then multiple alarm-sirens go off for scratches and rubs all at once.
This is the most gradual healing of anything that I’ve ever experienced. My neck is particularly itchy, and I’ve given in plenty of times. When I scratch it, it feels like I’ve taken out a million mini fluid bubbles in one swipe. However, the stinging later warns me this is not wise.
Day 8 Wednesday, August 5, 2020: A Sack of Scale and Itch
Turning a wide corner at a slow pace. I am stuck on thecorner, not having quite managed to make my way around to the other side. My neck is red and rough and still itches like mad. The rash on my face is winding down, but it’s still red and bumpy in places. The rash on my left arm has spread to above my elbow, although sparse up there, but constantly crying out to be scraped with a potato peeler. The blisters that deflated on my right hand and wrist—the ones that started this whole thing—are drying out and leaving large thin patches of peeling skin on top of what’s nasty, red, and irritated. I am ascabby, scaly, itchy mess.
When I feel better from head to toe, I will thank the girly goddesses for any girliness I reclaim. Still more iguana than girlie, I feel an obligation to reacquaint myself with my fitness (which I have abandoned) and femininity(which I have forgotten).
Today was one of those days at work so after this little bit of in-between time, I’m going out to get some exercise. I think a run or ride after some yoga would do the trick. So let me get on with that. Then tonight a DIY mani and pedi might be in order. Let me go and get myself better in all the ways I can.
Day 12: Sunday, August 9, 2020: Appreciation
Most of the rash has dried up, but there are some major holdouts. For example, there is what I believe a physician would call “a secondary rash ”that attacks the areas between my fingers, below the knuckles on my right hand.This involves all fingers except between the thumb and forefinger. On each finger,it almost looks like one giant hive bump but with the quintessential bumpiness of poison ivy. Each of these is red and itchy and swollen. The rash on the pinky is the worst and crawls to the front of the finger. These between-the-fingers rashes developed a couple days ago after a yoga instructor directed the class to place our fingers between our toes (I’m not making this up) and have our toes squeeze or bite down on our fingers. It was later that day that I noticed these new bumps emerging. As if squeezing my fingers together stirred up some nasty subcutaneous cauldron of poisonous fluids running through my veins.
Other than that, above the elbow of my left arm had some spotty, itchy bumps yesterday that seemed to calm down this morning. My neck,except for one small bump, has cleared. My face, except for some uneven slight redness has cleared. On my right hand, a lingering red blotch extends from the base of my thumb slightly beyond my wrist, with a dotted red line continuing toward my forearm—all dry and wrinkly and scaly. I have all I can do not to pick the dry skin away from the white wispy tattered edges. Other parts of my arms have lingering red pocks. I hope it all clears and have been applying hand cream every chance I get. A white goo called Skin Food. How appropriate. If my skin ever required a custom cuisine, now is the time.
In all this time of misery, yesterday was the first day when I wore makeup, did my nails, and felt so much better.
But there is something far greater to recognize. All this time I have been whining under my itchy, scaly skin, tens of thousands of people have been dying or left heartbroken losing loved ones due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). In the hierarchy of human suffering, poison ivy ranks somewhere at the very bottom of the list. And for that, I must be grateful.
Note: No artificial intelligence (AI) was used to generate the text of this blog. The image was created using Picsart.
Disclaimer: The information here should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Believe me when I say that you should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of anything I have shared. Reliance on any information provided by me is solely at your own risk.