The Poison Ivy Chronicles

Day 1: Exposure.

Saturday, August 31, 2013. I’m at a service project, helping clear some land of some green and leafy stuff. After about 15 minutes of helping, I see something that looks like it might be poison ivy. (Internal chant: Leaves of three–let it be!) I don’t seem to be itching, however, so I decide it must not be poison ivy. I help for about 15 more minutes before remembering (by a general creeping itchy sensation [note: this is not from the poison ivy]) that I’m, like, allergic to like, almost everything green and leafy. I decide to help with food prep instead.


Days 2-3: Blissful ignorance.

Sunday and Monday, September 1 and 2. La la la.


Day 4: Discovery.

Tuesday, September 3. Happen to be getting my allergy shots when my doctor spies a one-inch-wide itchy spot on my knee: Hey, that looks like poison ivy. She makes me wash the area with Tecnu. I think she’s overreacting; besides, even if it is poison ivy, how bad can it be? La la la.


Day 5: More blissful ignorance.

Wednesday, September 4. Hmm… Yeah, my knee is a little itchy, and it looks like I might have a couple of tiny spots on my arm as well. I send an e-mail to friends: Hey, look out, you might have poison ivy.


Day 6: Slightly less bliss, slightly less ignorance.

Thursday, September 5. The knee and arm are a bit itchy; I wear a long-sleeved shirt so the poison ivy won’t spread further. Receive e-mail from C_H–she’s covered with a nasty rash. Wow, C_H, that looks terrible. I’m glad mine isn’t bad like that. Decide to change sheets as a precaution (have to buy extra set); still only expecting a couple of small patches.


Day 7: Less and less bliss. Growing realization. Slight apprehension.

Friday, September 6. Small patch on left knee now covers entire knee and has spread to other knee. Realize wearing long-sleeved shirt yesterday was a very bad idea, as rash has spread from upper arm to forearm and is getting very very itchy. Cover rash with 3-inch band-aids. Still, expect all to be well very soon. Wash more sheets and all clothes.


Day 8: Ever-growing realization.

Saturday, September 7. This stuff is getting out of control. My upper left arm is an itchy mess (I cover it with bandages and tape); my left forearm is an itchy mess (I cover it with bandages); both my knees are bright pink and terrible, especially the left one. Weeping blisters on knee have begun to, like, weep. (UGH.) Swelling has commenced. Itching has become nearly unbearable. I visit C_H; we commiserate, shop for creams together, and bandage each other (mummy-style wrappings). We try scrubbing with oatmeal. Doesn’t really do much. I change bedclothes again.


Day 9: Terrible reality.

Sunday, September 8. Rash continues to spread. Weeping blisters are weeping. Both knees, entire left arm completely covered in angry pink with amber-colored weeping blisters. (Have I mentioned the weeping blisters? They’re weeping.) Itching is unbearable. Calamine does nothing; hydrocortisone is effective for a while. Have to wrap arm and knees before going to church. (At church, see recipient of service project. He is very very sorry. We discuss poison ivy avoidance strategies [too late]). Get lots of sympathy from cute boys. Maybe there’s an upside to this? I change the sheets and wash all my clothes again.


Day 10: ZOMFG. (Grandma, do not look up this acronym.) FREAKING ARMAGEDDON.

Monday, September 9. Furious hot pink fiery rash with weeping blisters (remember the weeping blisters?) covers entire arm and both knees and is creeping down both legs. I’ve begun a regimen that includes washing each affected area twice, rubbing with alcohol, adding Neosporin (to prevent infection), and finishing with giant blobs of hydrocortisone. Then comes the wrapping. Entire regimen takes about 30 minutes and an entire 4-yard roll of bandage. Manage to make it through work, then drive an hour (&^#$ Cambridge traffic) to see allergist. On the way, tear off knee bandages because itching is so COMPLETELY unbearable; weeping blisters weep all over pants. (Ugh.) At allergist, remove other bandages so she can see the horror that my skin has become. ZOMG. I told you it was poison ivy! Yes, thank you. She gives me a prescription for Prednisone but can’t re-wrap my arm and legs because the only gauze she has comes in 2-inch squares. Which means I have to drive back home, another hour, with blisters still weeping. Words cannot express how awful this is. On the way I have to stop and buy more creams and bandages. When I get home I don’t even go fill the prescription because once I’ve washed, anointed, and clothed the rash in the bandages of the holy dressings and have changed into more comfortable (and non-weeped-on) clothes I cannot bear to leave the house. Oh, and, of course, I have to change my sheets AGAIN. I post plaintive poison ivy complaint on Facebook. Replies are along the lines of “Oh, you’ll feel better soon.”


Day 11: More Armageddon.

Tuesday, September 10. I wake up at 5:30 AM and would gladly sell my soul for some topical morphine. I scratch and scratch and clean my skin and try to wrap myself up. I go to Target to fill my prescription and buy more bandages; Target doesn’t have enough Prednisone on hand to fill my prescription completely, so I’ll have to take what they have now and come back later. I buy every single 4-yard roll of bandages on the shelf. Pharmacist looks appropriately sympathetic. I wash, anoint, wrap, go to work. Everyone who didn’t ask about my mummified limbs yesterday asks today. Skin is still fiery pink and puffy. Weeping blisters are still weeping. Itching is still unbearable. Knees have swollen and look like elephant knees. I have many, many conversations about poison ivy; I admonish many, many people to find out everything they can about it BEFORE they have to learn by sad, miserable experience. Change sheets again; am SICK AND TIRED of changing the *&^%$ bedclothes.


Days 12-13: Still more Armageddon.

Wednesday and Thursday, September 11 and 12. One would think that the washing, anointing, and wrapping would be faster by now, but it still takes 30 minutes every time. (And it still has to happen several times each day.) Weeping blisters have mostly stopped weeping (progress!), but angry pink rash has paid a down payment on arm and legs and intends to stay until forcibly evicted. I think this is normal because I don’t know any better. Poison ivy can stick around for weeks, I read. The idea fills me with dread. People stare at me on the street. Because this is not enough misery, Prednisone is a powerful steroid and is making me eat like a massive truck driver (both massive person and driver of massive trucks). I down a half-pound steak and half a bag of Oreos in one sitting. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!?



Friday and Saturday, September 13 and 14. Fiery rash is still so unbearably itchy that I come home on Friday and work from the couch, ice packs on both legs and left arm. Hydrocortisone is no longer working. Everything itches all the time. Skin of left arm and both knees is still bright pink and swollen. Rash has spread to right arm as well. Cannot get used to this hideous body I seem to be inhabiting. Saturday/night spent on the couch with ice packs. Both itch and duration of this trial are unbearable. I have literally scratched holes in my legs and arms.


Day 16: Level 5 meltdown.

Sunday, September 15. I go to church and sit through ward choir (an ordeal on the best of days) with ice packs on arm and legs. Rash is still angry pink and inflamed. I bring extra ice packs because I assume C_H is still suffering as well and I’m generous like that. I see C_H. … HER POISON IVY HAS HEALED.

Sobs. Hysterical sobs. Chest-heaving sobs. I-cannot-believe-this sobs. Body-wracking sobs. WHY-DO-YOU-THINK-I-CAN-HANDLE-THIS-GOD sobs. Kindly fatherly doctor happens to be sitting in front of me. This is the worst case of poison ivy I’ve seen in several years. (VALIDATION. This really IS awful; I’m entitled to be sobbing my guts out.) Have you tried Prednisone? Hydrocortisone? Yes and yes. Continue sobbing because what else can I do? You poor thing–you’ve been trying everything you can, and it’s just not working. On top of that, Prednisone really affects your emotions and doesn’t let you sleep. You must be so exhausted. Of course you’re having trouble coping. You really shouldn’t go to work tomorrow–you need to rest. Let me call some of my dermatologist friends. Also, let’s get you a blessing. I nod, shakily, tears still streaming. Someone understands. This is so hard. I have broken. Friends are patting me, stroking my back, expressing sympathy, trying to help. I express concern that I have no food at home (because I don’t–work caters lunch every day and has lots of free snacks so I mostly eat there); L?J the Earth-Confinèd Angel immediately starts arranging food deliveries for me. I have wonderful, wonderful friends.

So I get a blessing, and the doctor calls in two prescriptions for me. He gets an appointment for me with a dermatologist who is otherwise booked through March. (Bless him forever.) When I pick up the prescriptions, the pharmacist looks at me, looks at the prescriptions, looks back at me, and says, quote, “Oh, you poor thing.” (I’ve heard this a lot recently. That and “Holy &#^@! What happened to you?”) I pick up the prescriptions and immediately apply the Clobetasol and down four Atarax (the maximum I’m allowed). I also down two Benadryl. I slog through the work that I was going to do Monday morning because it has to be ready for a demo on Monday afternoon and go to bed.


Day 17: Coma  the First.

Monday, September 16. Thanks to the Benadryl I sleep until 2:00 PM. Thanks to the Clobetasol and the Atarax most of the itching is gone. So is a lot of the inflammation. My skin, instead of fiery hot pink, is now magenta and purple. Mostly quiet day. Wander around house, still a bit dazed.


Day 18: Back to work.

Tuesday, September 17. I go to work. I’m not as productive as usual but I’m there and I do manage to do a few things. Hooray for Clobetasol and Atarax!


Day 19: Coma the Second.

Wednesday, September 18. At 3:00 AM I wake up. The itching has returned so I stagger over to my desk and down three pills. Then I look at the bottle.

I’ve just taken three sedatives.

I normally take half of one of these sedatives when I need it to help me sleep.


I have to be at the dermatologist’s office at 10:45 AM, for an appointment that I was incredibly lucky to get.


At 10:00 I somehow manage to drag myself to the dermatologist. Walking to the T is heavy and slow and stumbling. I’m falling asleep on the T. I’m falling asleep in the waiting room. I’m falling asleep in the examination room. Two residents come in to look at me. WOW. The doctor comes in. This is a really bad case. To the residents: See those lines? See the coloring? Classic poison ivy. To me: Do you mind if I take pictures? Sigh–sure. I’d love for my freakishness to be featured in a textbook someday. We talk about why the Prednisone didn’t work, poison ivy sensitivity (one of the residents had a worse case than mine when she was a little kid [shudder]), drug interactions (I shouldn’t take my sedative and Atarax at the same time). I stagger home. A co-worker and friend texts me: I called the advice nurse about your overdose, and she thinks you should call 911. I decide this is way too much effort and anyway, it can’t possibly be that bad, but if she wants she can call me every couple of hours to make sure I’m still alive. Finally, I collapse into another coma, waking up at 6:30 PM. Feel groggy and drugged. Go back to bed relatively early.


Day 20: Relaxation.

Thursday, September 19. Drag self out of bed and to work. Still groggy and drugged from previous day’s OD. Make it through day. Spend two hours writing Poison Ivy Chronicles. Realize they’re not perfect and I really should go back and fix matters of style, perspective, et cetera. Cannot be bothered, because, dude, this experience has been freaking EXHAUSTING. Endless trips to pharmacies for prescriptions, creams, and bandages. Hours spent every day washing, anointing, and dressing arm and legs. Constant laundering and changing of sheets, comforter, clothes. Interminable itching and scratching. Steroids destroying sleep and making me eat twice as much as I normally do. Subsequent puffiness in addition to the rash-associated inflammation.


Seriously, this has been traumatic. Anytime anyone asks me about it I start talking way too much and too fast and go on for too long. I’ve written about it here more for my own records than anything else. Ugh. I’m really glad it seems to be mostly over–although I’ll still look like I have leprosy for a while, at least it doesn’t itch so badly–and that Clobetasol is such a wonder drug. I’m grateful for friendly fatherly doctors and dermatologists who squeeze me in and fantastically wonderful friends who prayed for me and helped me with my bandages and brought me food and comforted me. And for readers–all four of you. If that many even made it to the end of this.  🙂