Monday, July 16, 2012
Leaves of Three, Let Them Be
My mom's passion for wildflowers often led her into poison ivy. I remember seeing dots of creamy pink Calamine lotion all over her blistered skin in the summer. As a kid, I never had more than a spot of two of poison ivy rash, so while I was aware of the dangers of poison ivy, I wasn't really afraid of it. That all changed soon after we bought our first little house. Lining the brick driveway was a bed of English ivy. It was overgrown and filled with dead leaves and weeds, so one summer day I decided to tidy it up, without noticing there was poison ivy hiding in amongst the common ivy. I ended up with a rash I'll never forget. My forearms felt like they were on fire. After many miserable days and sleepless nights, I finally saw a doctor who prescribed prednisone to clear it up. After that painful experience, my casual respect for poison ivy turned to poison ivy phobia. The problem was, even though my mom had pointed it out to me several times, I never felt a hundred percent sure of how to identify it--I knew it had three leaves, of course, which I thought were kind of teardrop-shaped with smooth edges, and Mom had told me the leaves are often kind of shiny from the oil. But just to be on the safe side, I avoided just about every plant with three leaves. This worked pretty well until two years ago when the plant in the picture was just a little, barely noticeable vine in amongst the bushes at a house near ours. I don't know if I ever would have known it was there or what it was if our dog hadn't sniffed his way into it then brought the oil home to me on his fur. A couple of days later, I was covered in a poison ivy rash--from my face to my legs. I tried oatmeal baths, Caladryl, Benadryl, Ivarest, and Zanfel, but eventually had to call the doctor's office for another corticosteroid prescription. So here are some things I've learned about poison ivy: 1) It's tricky--it hides in other plants; it looks different in each season; sometimes its leaves are notched, other times they are not; new leaves are shiny, old leaves are dull; 2) Even if you stay away from poison ivy, the urushiol oil can come to you--on your pet's fur or your kids' shoes; 3) The rash starts small; at first you have one little itchy spot you hope is just a mosquito bite, but before you know it, you're covered in blisters; 4) Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy, but you don't know until you've touched it; 5) The plant itself is harder to get rid of than the rash. Experience has taught me I'm vulnerable to poison ivy, so I'm always on the lookout for it. But it makes me wonder, despite the warnings we get from our parents and pass on to our children, what other dangers do we blunder into because we don't recognize them at first? What other destructive things start out small but become hard, if not impossible, to get rid of once they've taken root? What other things in life are better left untouched?