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Monday, 18 July 2011

Tuxicodendron diversilobum

By Johna Ferguson

It is an insidious thing to be poisoned by. You just can’t image the terrible itching it causes, the swelling, in general real discomfort which lasts at least a week.

Its common name is poison oak for the leaves look like little oak tree ones and it grows everywhere in western Washington. All you need do is to touch its oily leaves and you’ve got it. Then, just like resin, you can’t wash it off with soap and water without spreading it around more.

As children, we knew it grew on the hills above our beach house, but we never ventured into the underbrush unless we followed a well-worn path.

One summer in high school, my boyfriend came for a few days visit at our beach. He was working on becoming an eagle scout and needed to complete a scientific project. He wanted to go into the woods to collect samples of at least four native growing things.

We walked up the road and at the top, ventured into the dark forest, all second growth fir and cedar trees. First he found trilliums, those beautiful, fairly-like, early, snow-white flowers that grow on the forest floor among all the fallen needles.

Then a little deeper in the woods, he found some interesting, feathery, white-capped mushrooms which I was sure my mother would know all about. Further on at the base of a fallen rotting tree was a huge fungus, almost half a dinner plate in size.

But he still needed one more and on our way out he spotted it; a lovely, bright green bush with tiny, shiny leaves and covered with tiny unripe green berries, a native huckleberry bush.

We tried to ascertain our direction out but missed the road and instead, entered a small shaded area. But beyond, we could see the bay through the trees so we knew the road couldn’t be far. We headed out over the bushy overgrowth and finally found ourselves farther down the road and headed back to the beach house.

Seems he had accomplished all he set out for, so it was time for swim. As I undressed, I felt my legs and arms were so hot, but decided it was because we’d been hiking during the hottest part of the day. Hopefully a dip in the sound would help, but instead of going away, the burning and then itching sensation only became worse.

I got out of the water and asked my mother what was the matter with me; she only had to take one look and then asked if I’d been up in the hills. In rubbing my arms and legs I had inadvertently spread the oily resin everywhere, yes even on my face. Oh what a mess.

We had no medicine at the beach, but we did have gasoline for the boat motors. She carefully washed me all over with it, hoping it would dissolve any left-over resin. Then she applied calamine lotion, the only thing we had for relief, but it did not help much.

We did have a huge old metal laundry tub and she filled it with cool, fresh water and soda and I sat in it, knees scrunched up, and soaked and applied compresses to my face and body. Soon I was covered with non-colored bumps which blistered wherever I scratched my itching skin.

My face got very swollen, so I not only looked awful but felt worse. Actually about 75 percent of people who come in contact with the plant are affected, obviously not my boyfriend, but eventually some become sensitized to it. But that was no solace to me then.

Many years later, I happened to brush up against a bush and immediately realized it, but I had learned my lesson. I didn’t touch the spot, even though it itched enough to drive me crazy. I knew soap wouldn’t wash it off, so again I found some gasoline to wash the spot with.

Therefore, my warning to anyone wanting to visit wonderful Washington state: know what poison oak looks like and then stay as far away from it as possible unless you want to end up looking and feeling as unbearable as I did that hot summer day.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Johna - Great story!

When I was 6, I had a similar experience with poison ivy. I was covered from head to toe, and I scratched so much it became infected with impetigo. I was hospitalized with extremely high fevers, and my doctor told my parents that I probably wouldn't make it.

Fortunately, they were just beginning to use penicillin medically (because of the War). I had booster shots in my hind end every three hours for ten days, and I'm still here! - Sandy

Well written story.

I can also identify with it.

When my sister and I were small, we made seats out of a cow-itch vine. You can guess where our rashes were. Jackie

Yuck..these tales make me feel guilty for feeling sorry for myself with the 90 degree relentless heat of the moment...great descriptions of
awful moments in life...

I guess we all have our stories involving poison ivy or oak! Miserable stuff! I was itching just reading about your encounter.

My worst itch story is about chiggers. It seems that when you live with them all the time you build up a resistance, but we didn't know that. When we went back to southern Illinois from central Illinois to pick and can berries and peaches at my grandmother's farm, they tried hard to eat me alive. Every one of the 100 bites on my body itched like the bejesus, and I sat not touching my body to the back or arms of the chair for 3 days, bathed in Calomine lotion.

Oh,yes,I remember it well.

My boyfriend's (Now my husband of 61 years)family had bought a small cottage in the woods on the Perkiomen stream in Pennsylvania.

It was our job to clear out as much of the brush and weeds as we could so we would have a small lawn instead of weeds.

I caught a case of poison Ivy that was so serious I was in bed for 10 days. It was everywhere,and when I say everywhere,I MEAN everywhere!

It finally cleared up thanks to every old remedy known to doctors and old wives and gallons of calamine lotion and Fels Naptha soap.No stone was left unturned.

Finally it cleared up and I have NEVER gotten it since. I probably immunized myself to poison ivy.I think I could roll in it now and I would be unaffected.

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