After my first not-so-wonderful experience with poison ivy last year, I’ve become really good about spotting the stuff. Like this little devil, innocently hiding in the ground ivy between the blueberry bushes:
For some reason we’ve had a lot of it this year. Or maybe I’m just seeing it now, instead of obliviously running it over with the mower, having now experienced the hassle of spending two weeks in flaming itching agony, sitting in oatmeal baths and taking steroids. Who knows whether there is really more of it or whether I am just damned good at spotting it, but for whatever reason, I’ve had to remove little poison ivy plants from everywhere in the yard all this summer. I do it carefully, with latex gloves and a baggie, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. For me anyway, for the plants… not so much.
This past weekend I decided to make my annual assault on the overgrown patch on the Northeast corner of the yard. I make a little more headway each time, but never quite get it all and the next year it’s a big mess again. A previous owner of our house had apparently taken down a rusty old fence, and instead of removing it, they wrapped it round and round a weed bush. The weed bush is now a tree, and the whole mess was a snarl of rusted wire, vines, briars, wild grapes, wild rose, ivy and who knows what. I did get the wire cut apart last year, and stacked it, but never hauled it off. So now there is the above-mentioned mess again – minus the wire, plus a second mess that includes all of the above except the tree, growing out of the stack of wire.
Having seen poison ivy in this area before, I wore shoes, socks and long pants instead of my usual flip flops and shorts, and donned a pair of work gloves. I noted the location of all visible poison ivy and avoided it, then came back afterwards with latex gloves and a trash back to dispatch the ivy before continuing. Some of it was hard to see because the leaves had been chewed (what the heck kind of animal actually eats poison ivy??) and maybe I should have stopped to think “what if there are plants that have had all the leaves chewed off so that I can’t see them?” but I didn’t. Afterwards I removed more brush, wearing the gloves again, but by the time I got around to burning the stuff I might have removed the gloves, thinking I was now safe. And then there was that gleeful fit of tearing down grapevines from overhead, only to see a bit of three-leaved trouble come down with them. Again, I didn’t think any of it touched me, but to be safe, an immediate shower with lots of soap and scrubbing followed.
By the end of the next day, I had two little telltale blisters on my right middle finger. And the fun began. I sort of think that was the only point of exposure, but that doesn’t really matter because just like last year, my body went berserk and started manifesting rash everywhere. As in,even inside my nose and ear. This time around I got weeping blisters on my face, and that combined with the fact that it was spreading at an exponential rate caused me to give up on my original “I’m gonna tough this out” resolution by day four and go running back to the doctor for more prednisone.
The doctor says some people’s immune systems just react this way, you can get one tiny bit of exposure but might as well have rolled in the stuff, from the resulting rash. And I’ve since heard that it takes just a nanogram — one billionth of a gram — of urushiol to cause a reaction, which was referred to as a ‘T-cell mediated immune response’ on
the scholarly reference site Wikipedia, where I looked the info up. So I looked up T-Cells, and here’s what one looks like, courtesy again of Wikipedia:
The T-cell is the shaggy little guy on the far right, next to a red blood cell (the donut on the far left) and a platelet.
Now I just happen to have
my own electron microscope minimal skills with Photoshop, and I would like to offer my own interpretation of what my body’s T-cells actually look like, based on the frenzy that a teeny bit of urushiol seems to set off:
I am a little wary of going back after that thicket again. Apparently poison ivy sap can get on other plants it touches and last for years. Do I take advantage of the fact that I am already on medication and just go for it? Or do I admit defeat and hire someone who isn’t violently allergic to poison ivy to do it? What would really suck about that (besides having to fork out money) is that I actually enjoy clearing brush, so it’s really irking me to have my fun ruined now that it’s cooled off enough for me to get out there.
I wonder if there’s anywhere I can rent a hazmat suit…