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The Itchy and Scratchy Show

How I was taken down by a rash-inducing weed.

Leaves of three, why hadn't I let them be?

Poison ivy is, I suppose, an iconic summer rite of passage. It's a badge that proves you've been to camp, gone on the mountain overnight, roughed it in the woods and come out the other side.

Me, on the other hand, I got it pruning trees in the backyard. Trees that were growing just fine, in fact, and could have just as well been left alone.

I knew there was some of the dangerous stuff back there in the weeds and scrub. We'd caught glimpses of it once or twice, but I'd never given it the serious thought it so clearly deserved. I'd certainly never thought it important enough to yank the nasty plant out of the ground and banish it.

How I wish now that I had.

I didn't even know what hit me. First, there was an odd red patch on my neck that was raised and a little bumpy. Heat rash, was the family consensus. A few days later, I was struck with a string of incredibly itchy mosquito bites on one leg.

That's the trouble with summer-time dermatology diagnostics:  narrowing down all the itch-inducing sources can be a challenge. Bugs, burns, rash, poison plants — the options are nearly endless.

It took a full week before it finally dawned on me just what it was that was causing this red, itchy, welt-like bit of hell on earth.

I'm burning with shame now at all the times I've had even a moment's entertainment when friends have been hit with poison ivy. One time a pal had it on his hand – and then went to the bathroom. You can imagine the red, swollen situation that developed in his nether regions. How I could have ever found that even slightly amusing is beyond me now that I've been to the other side.

I know now that there's absolutely nothing funny about a poison rash resembling leprosy – and just about as much fun. It's a rash that while traveling across the country landed me in an urgent care center with cool, wet towels dusted with baking powder draped over my arms, legs and stomach. (Are you laughing now? Not funny!)

Incidentally, here are some of the things that do not help with poison ivy, no matter what it says on the Internet: cool wet towels, baking soda, ibuprophen, hydrocortisone, benzocaine, tea tree oil, homeopathic tablets, Gold Bond cream, Benadryl, oatmeal baths, steaming hot tubs, people telling me not to scratch, and double vodkas.

Actually, double vodkas did help a bit.

The one and only thing that does work: steroids. Topical, oral, lots of them. So what if inexplicable rage and sleeplessness are side effects? At least the God-awful itching is better.

I'm told it can be weeks until this is all behind me. Until then, I'll be nursing my steroid cream, a tall vodka tonic and trying my best not to scratch.

And forevermore, I'll be letting those leaves of three be.

Christian Camerota July 20, 2010 at 03:13 AM
Having been stricken with the worst case known to man earlier this summer, I can offer only one cure over and above steroids: Zanfel. It saved my life, more or less. It's $40 a tube and runs out quickly. But nothing quelled the itching and actually started the healing process faster. It's worth every penny, even though it amounts to extortion charging someone that much for a cure when they're in such misery.

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