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Leaves of Three: “Poison Ivy is the DEVIL!” Part One

July 26, 2015

Poison Ivy Devil DSCF1865In recent years on this blog, I have written about how to identify Poison Ivy and some of the myths surrounding it. Now I am no expert by any means regarding the flora and fauna out there; no Missouri Master Naturalist…but I am particularly aware of the traits and habits of this native of Missouri woods and waterways because I have a very real sensitivity to the oil it produces. We have a regular and storied history…this three-leaved nemesis of mine. It is a rare summer for me to not get at least a line of rash on my leg or a couple of spots on a forearm, but thanks to some carelessness on my part a week and a half ago, I am currently suffering from the most severe case of Poison Ivy rash that I have had since I was a kid. “What a great opportunity to share a real experience of getting exposed and having a reaction to it!!!“, I thought…as I grasp for a silver lining thanks to my recent “luck”.

Poison Ivy Devil DSCF1913So Poison Ivy sucks…but it isn’t some sort of forest ninja that strikes without warning and leaves without a trace. Whenever I have gotten it, I usually have a pretty good idea of how it happened. It just takes a little cognitive examination about the last time I was in the woods and where I most likely got exposed. “Oh yeah, that patch of brush that I walked through around that fallen tree. Hmmm…gonna have to remember to scrub better after hikes.

Now if you look up any medical website, you can come up with all sorts of information regarding how soon a person can start to see a rash from the Urishiol Oil exposure on their skin. Most of them say between one and four days. I would guess that it has a lot to do with the amount of exposure and other personal physiological factors at the time; metabolic rate, immune function and such. For me, because I pay attention to this aggravating plant, I find that it usually takes a good five days to see any reaction to it…sometimes less, sometimes more…but for the most part about five days. Other people have different reaction times and usually get it sooner, but I could probably mark it on the calendar as experienced as I am with this. Five days or so…and then the little red bumps start to appear…

Poison Ivy Devil 112On this latest exposure, it happened during our camping trip over the 4th of July weekend. We had a great experience overall, getting to see the Castor River Shut-Ins and spending a relatively quiet and peaceful few days camping along the Castor River near Marquand, MO. (Poison Ivy is EVERYWHERE in Missouri! Don’t let this in any way deter you from visiting this gorgeous corner of our beautiful state!) I am always pretty diligent in keeping an eye out for Poison Ivy and keeping track of what part of me or those around me it may have touched. My aversion to it is so strong that generally I will establish a mental list of where I might need to scrub the most intensely when I hopefully soon get to a shower. This time however…I was careless and lazy.

Poison Ivy Devil 013

Norton loves a good couch nap.

This is how I know it happened this time. One of our dogs, Norton (who never means any harm and just wants to be a good puppy), always feels the need to lift his leg when he pees. He sidles up to whatever vertical object may be nearby, raises that leg high in the air as if holding a karate kick, and then urinates fervently…as if to say, “I don’t care that my testicles are removed, because look what I can do!” So on this particular excursion, he was making a habit of walking slightly into the brush between our campsite and the river to leave his mark. Within that brush were sporadic amounts of Posion Ivy, hiding there among the tall grass blades and scattered plants. He was spending his bathroom breaks with the Urushiol randomly brushing onto the hair on his legs, and because he is a dog who appreciates comfort, he happened to lay down on my side of the bed at night before I got into the tent. All innocent and unaware, I then spent the next couple nights sleeping soundly with no idea that I had my arm across the outside of a sleeping bag that was dotted with the toxic oil, all the while moving around in my sleep and further exposing myself by spreading it all over me as I went through the motions of waking and preparing for the day. (Thank goodness I didn’t have it on my fingertips while putting my contacts in!)

Poison Ivy Devil 076

Max gives me attitude when I tell him “play time” in the river is over.

So in my thinking about this whole irritating period of time and trying to recount it to you, I thought that I would try to create somewhat of a timeline, starting with the day of exposure. Something that sort of describes what I and a lot of other unfortunate people go through, and maybe an opportunity to learn from if you have never been unfortunate enough to experience this sort of thing. Or maybe you can just appreciate the gross-out human experience that an allergic reaction to Poison Ivy can be.

Poison Ivy Devil 023Day Zero would have probably been Friday night, the 3rd of July. It likely already had been tromped onto my side of the bed in the tent, and I went to sleep that night with no fear of what may be on my sleeping bag, in paw prints, waiting to get my immune system all angry a week later.

Day 1, Saturday, the 4th of July. A fun day full of adventure and relaxation and even fireworks from the next campground down the river that night, with no awareness of the irritation lurking silently around the corner. Slept in the same bed as the night before, likely increasing my exposure.

The next few days were spent returning home and going through the usual routines of life, getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, etc.

Poison Ivy Devil 2014-05-24 12.52.52

This is actually a picture from last summer, but very similar to how bad I get it about once a year.

It was on Day 5, Wednesday the 8th, that I happened to notice a couple of spots on my side and arms. Nothing too noticeable, just little red dots the size of pinheads rising from my skin in various places. “Great.” I thought, recognizing the signs, hoping that I wasn’t in for anything too terrible. I just resigned myself to keeping an eye on them and hope that they didn’t get worse. By this point the dogs had both been washed.

Day 6, random itchiness with little red dots showing up in more areas.

Day 7, Friday. That evening I noticed a more of a collectiveness to the red dots, like they were coming together in groups to form a rash. “The little jerks were working together!” Nothing too severe I thought, as by now the height of exposure should be apparent. If this is the worst it will get, then I can surely handle it.

Poison Ivy Devil 224Day 8 and 9. Saturday and Sunday weren’t too bad in the way of increased rash. Saturday morning was spent at a Missouri Stream Team Cleanup in Festus, MO. I may have exposed myself to some there, but I didn’t see a lot of Poison Ivy along the creek we were working in and did a good job of cleaning myself off in the shower when we got home. By Sunday afternoon into the evening however, I could tell that it was getting worse. My stomach on the right side just above my waist was breaking into an obvious rash, and I was having increased itchiness and dots on both of my forearms.

Poison Ivy Devil 2014-05-24 12.52.14

Another picture from last summer. Makes me itch just looking at it.

Day 10, Monday. I woke up with a full blown rash on the right side of my stomach and collections of itchy rash on my forearms with just specks still on my upper arms. Today was going to suck, as it was forecasted to be in the upper nineties and we would be working outside. I smeared some Caladryl on the rash and went to work. Through the course of the work day, the stuff on my arms continued to itch, and the rash on my stomach through sweating and the abrasiveness of my shirt, started to blister and ooze. After my sweat soaked shirt had dried later in the work day, I could tell that the fluid weeping out of the rash on my stomach was saturating my shirt, leaving dried crustiness marking the fabric. Gross.

So surely this was going to be the worst of it, right? Surely it was going to dry up and start healing. Surely I would wake up Tuesday morning with a sense that I was on the mend. We can always hope for the best…but that wasn’t going to be the case this time at all…

To be continued.

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