Let me begin first by thanking this healthy and protected plant for what it has made me do- to scratch beneath my conscious down to perhaps below my Unconscious. For causing Past, Present and Future to literally bump into each other every day these past two weeks and for giving me the seemingly unending
opportunity to define and explore layers of my life experience and view. Also, to bless my body for its
unflinching but itching presence and support through the tiny red upheavals and blistery, aggressive storms.
That being duly said and felt, I must also state a couple of things. First, poison ivy is not a BAD plant. Like
most living beings, it does not like to be interfered with and it will protect itself mightily. It wishes to grow
in an environment that is conducive to its nourishment and well-being. And, like humans, its populations
will spread everywhere. Second, speaking of myself, am a person that has been seriously traumatised by
certain life events since infancy and I do suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. However, no well-delineated memories pin-point to events. It is my responses and faint recollections that speak loudly, clearly and repetitively. They have also kept me very separate and fearful of what many interpret as expected
happenings that life throws at one. I have known this now for over 30 years and it has been extremely painful
and bizarrely fruitful. Hence, I share with you now my run-in with poison ivy.
One evening, a friend noticed red bumps between the fingers of my right hand. I looked at them and
immediately said that it looked like poison ivy. It took seconds to sink in, then the ripples of fear began
after. By the time I returned home, both bumps and obsession popped out in steady succession. I did
manage to get some sleep, but the horses had already fled the smoking barn. By morning, I was turning
around asking myself what I did to get this . What was I wearing? What had I touched and so forth. My attention became like a skipping stone touching upon millions of thoughts and reactions all at once. My
actions became jagged making any follow-through on anything impossible. After breakfast, I rushed with
what recent memory I had and gathered all clothes to wash. I started wiping all surfaces in my flat as well. By
mid-morning, I was exhausted. But my nervous system had put itself on high alert and my awareness
worked as regularly as a surveillance camera.
I practically ran to the pharmacy and loaded up on calamine lotion, cotton buds, rubbing alcohol-have I
forgotten anything else?! Peace of mind, sanity, grounding....I spread the lotion like jam on my hand and,
as I agonised at each red bump that erupted elsewhere, I submerged it in pink... By afternoon, over-
worried, obsessed and full of desperate prayer, I did get a restless nap in and was incrementally encouraged
by the effect that the lotion was having. In the evening, surfaces were slipping and sliding under Clorox
wipes, 7th Generation house cleaning spray and on went the rubbing alcohol on my laptop, phone, Kindles
and remotes...The extermination of the invader had begun and I remained hyper-active and practically
superstitious in my galloping imagination...My poor heart was trying to keep me on earth and, finally, breathing and fatigue cocooned me to a safe sleep.
The next morning, I saw that my bumps were getting angrier and swelling into blisters. I seemed to understand that the every day, over the counter remedies were not to going to stop the onslaught. With
a new disregard for how I may perceive of myself and my terror to others, I called the doctor and
thankfully got an appointment that day. While on the phone, I swallowed whole any words of comfort and
shared experience. I calmed down enough to wipe more of my flat which now seemed like a huge dusty,
oil-drenched mansion . A few hours later, I was breathing sighs of relief as my kind doctor puzzled over
the bump composition and the lay of my skinscape. Of course, he prescribed a corticosteroid cream to try
and I remember him gently saying that it may get worse before it gets better...I held on to this possibility
just as a reminder not to panic if volcanoes started going off in a chain, healing reaction. Comforted by
my new weapon, I buttered every bump I could see and then lay on my bed like a crucified zealot. I
must add that my hot flashes did not help at all.
When I awoke several hours later, I looked at my right hand, which had received the brunt of the plant's
angry response, I saw that it had swollen quite a bit and that more hot skin-bubbles perked up...By now,
I was in childlike tears wondering what to do, why was it me and where do I go...After a shower and
some supper, I managed to calm down enough to walk to my neighbour and ask her somewhat rationally
whether or not I would be safe and what would the best course of action be for the night. Again, her
kindness and words of support were more effective than the cream, it seemed. Defeated and terrified,
I went home, lathered my hands and now my neck with cream and repeated to myself two sentences until
I went to sleep- 1. It may get worse before it gets better. 2. Energy follows thought, so give the itching more
worry would lead to more bumps and blisters. And this seemed to work for this second night.
As the sun rose the next day, I looked at my hand and saw that the swelling had not gone down and that
there were fluid-filled blisters...I felt shot down again and beleaguered . After lumpily swallowing breakfast,
I said to myself, " No, I will not leave this. I can't take it and what if it's a stronger allergic reaction? The only
place I'll get both answers and comfort is the local hospital's emergency room . And tough if people interpret
my actions to be too much too soon. I need support." So, almost on auto-pilot, I drove to the hospital
first thing and was very quickly seen. Everything seemed to point back at the plant and it would be best
to allow my body to take its course to healing... I am always comforted by that for obvious reasons, but
also it points to my body's wisdom and sense of timing rather than overkill remedies. The rest of the day
was calmer and so were my hands...
Sunday, I felt so rationally that I thought that I would move about, get fresh air and much needed and wanted exercise. It was both hot and humid, so not very helpful . But I did feel better. Now, when I got
back and took a shower, I was aghast to find tiny bumps on my right thigh!! Before my thoughts ran
above my head out of all control, I convinced myself that this was more likely to be prickly heat. This
interpretation helped me to accept a new red footpath along my hip. I wiped my hip with rubbing alcohol first. Then applied some more lump-block cream. As the following days flooded into each other on its rafts
of new emotional fits and stops, I reached Thursday with great anticipation...Therapy and a visit to my doctor...again...Very friendly and always forward-looking, my primary care physician cradled my hot and angry fingers and even spied more spots! Even though he was wary of such a reaction, he held onto a logical
middle ground..." I still feel that it's contact dermatitis. If it does not clear up within a week or two, I will look
into further care. So, let's try Clobetasone which I have re-named " Clobber-them zones ". The strongest of
steroid creams will protect me from further invasion, I thought. And it did until I spied new bumps on my bubble-wrap like fingers. Heaving to sleep in anxiety for the night, I waited until very early next morning and
simply downed my first dose of prednisone. I had swallowed the chemical bullet...finally and in desperation.
I was being called upon to heal from both the inside and the outside which I allowed myself to realise in a
calmer, logical frame of mind. Within 3 days, blisters flattened and dispersed and other rashes grudgingly
clung stubbornly to my face and neck while slowing giving up their itch.
Since the week-end, I have resumed some semblance of courage. I did more walking and circulating. I even started to socialise again. Laundering still continues and I look at my shoes suspiciously knowing
that the offending oil lies hidden in their many cracks . I will see to them for sure. There are still faint rashes.
This plant has had the same stubbornness as I am known to possess. I most humbly bow to its true power,
but also to this extraordinary lesson that has itched its way through many dark layers. Poison ivy, I will
always look at you with profound gratitude, but also at a very respectful distance.
Inspired by Caravaggio and sprigs of poison ivy.