Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Trials and Tribulations of Encountering Poison Ivy

Saturday, September 21, opened with clear skies and cool temperatures.  I took advantage of the weekend (no scrambling to rush the small Shonks off to school, the ambient temperature, and the fact that Flip and Fancy were visiting to entertain my crew) and headed out to the front of the property with my trusty Fiskars loppers and the daunting goal of clearing a 5' x 1/4 mile stretch of roadside property.  I began at 7am by pulling 4' weeds out by the roots if they were near the fence or road, and lopping them off if they were around the culvert to keep the rocks and soil from eroding when it floods next spring. At around 8:30 I heard the revving of a small engine and half a minute later my charming husband had arrived to inform me that I had told the other inhabitants that there would be pancakes this morning.  I agreed; pancakes were the order of the day.  He, however, was Head Pancake Chef.  I told him to come back towing a trailer next time he visited so he could pick up the debris I was removing.  He scoffed and left.  In retrospect, I now claim this as God's First Warning To Stop.

After I had cleared a chunk of open land, I began to encounter small groves of trees, or huge oak trees. Several varieties of vines encircled the trees, and I took pity on my wooded friends, telling them I would surely rid them of these parasitic vines.  My loppers flew fast and furious for about five minutes before I noticed my fingers began clashing together every time I closed the blades.  I examined the loppers and noted the hard plastic teeth looked like very bad dentistry indeed, with chunks missing and misalignment evident.  I readjusted the teeth and continued.  A minute later, the teeth gave way altogether and would no longer cleave the vines.  In retrospect, I now claim this as God's Second Warning To Stop.

Brian arrived with the trailer shortly thereafter and I showed him my sad clippers.  We loaded the trailer and ambled the 1/4 mile stretch to the end of the property line searching out fallen logs and large chunks of debris to hold down our tangle of vines and weeds.  I ate breakfast after we dumped the load in a low spot near the back of the property and picked up where I left off afterward.  Brian returned with the trailer as our neighbors JB and Martha drove by on their way to go hiking.  JB warned us to watch out for poison ivy before he drove away.  Brian looked around nervously. "Is there poison ivy here?"  I rolled my eyes and said, "Honey, we live on 40 acres.  He could just as well have warned us about snakes.  They're here; we just have not seen any."  In retrospect, I now claim this as God's Third Warning To Stop.  Sometimes I need a realllllly big shove instead of a gentle tap on the shoulder.

I continued hacking and weeding and pulling and dumping until sunset.  The cleared section looked marvelous!...if only it extended further.  I knew beforehand the project would be long one, although I figured I would have made better headway in today's quest.

That evening Brian and I headed to Batesville for the 1st Annual Afterglow 5K.  Brian was outfitted with glowing shoelaces and gloves, and the other competitors were creatively attired in glow-in-the-dark sunglasses, shirts, fishnet stockings, hair accessories, et cetera.  It was like watching a Disney parade as they raced by ("racing" being a loosely used verb in this sense; with many participants it was either walking or stumbling in the dark).

The next morning my arms tingled.  The following day I decided I might have poison ivy.  That evening I was absolutely certain I had poison ivy.
I made an appointment for the following morning to see our family doctor and possibly engage in a steroid shot.

Tuesday, September 24

Dr. Allen had a few emergencies before my appointment and kept me waiting about 20 minutes.  She apologized profusely.  All I could think was, 20 minutes?, that is EARLY for doctors in Florida!  I explained I had contact dermatitis and she suggested topical ointments.  I said, "I would be okay with that if it wasn't multifocal.  Along with my arms, it's also on my face and neck."  Her gaze traveled from what she referred to as "textbook perfect" poison ivy rashes on my arm up to my neck and face. "Oh!", she gasped, "I didn't even notice your face since your arm was so remarkable!  Any rash on your face immediately calls for a steroid shot."

In the course of this appointment, I discovered many facts about poison ivy (this hyperlinked website explains many of these in detail):
1.  Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac contain urushiol, the oil that causes such irritation.  Urushiol is also present in mangoes and cashew shells.  Ever wonder why cashews are always shelled when you buy them in the supermarket?  Now you know.
2.  Many people can build a resistance to urushiol.  I am not one of them.
3.  Urushiol is still potent ONE YEAR after the plant has been cut down.
4.  A series of three shots every year will prevent poison ivy.  It is typically not covered by insurance.  In my opinion, a series of three shots to prevent poison ivy is absolutely priceless.
5.  The steroid shot may take up to 24 hours before relief begins.
6.  After the initial steroid shot. you may be given a six day pack of steroids.  You can quit taking these at any time.
7.  You cannot "give" someone else poison ivy.  However, if they come in contact with your urushiol-coated clothing, they can contract poison ivy from that.  If you have an outdoor pet who brushes against poison ivy and you pet said animal, you can contract poison ivy.
8.  This creeper is worse than anything Minecraft can throw at you.

And here I am seven hours later, arms wrapped in ACE bandages feeling much like Candace of Phineas and Ferb fame when she was "one sorry laid-up mummy-armed bed potato".  Candace actually had a broken leg at the time, but you understand the parallel.  :)  Heed my warning:  if God tells you to stop doing something, He means it!


  1. Funny story!! I bet you'll "listen" next time!!!
    Hope you can finish without any more "significant events".
    Oh yeah, hope you feel better! ;)

  2. Great story. I hope you feel better soon!

  3. Hi~

    I found your blog through a post on The Family Milk Cow. Sumac tea is a great natural remedy to combat poison ivy. I used to get poison ivy just looking at it but after drinking the sumac tea I haven't gotten it again. We live on 80 acres, 40 of it woods, we have lots of it. I have also heard that drinking the raw milk of goats that eat the stuff can help you develop an immunity to it. We won't be milking goats until the spring so we haven't tested that out yet.

    I did send a message to Brian's Facebook but it went into the "other" folder. I am looking forward to reading more of your homesteading adventures.