Leaves of Three: Don’t Make Tea!
by Patricia Draznin

There are three stages of poison ivy: itching, agony, and absolute torture. If you live in the country as I do, I recommend staying indoors from April to November, except to make a run for your vehicle. Better yet, move to the city. You might get your wallet stolen but at least you won’t break out in a rash.

Having stage-three poison ivy has some advantages, the first being that I have completely forgotten about my hay fever. The second is that I finally understand those old lyrics by The Coasters, “Late at night while you’re sleepin’ poison ivy comes a-creepin’ a-rou-ow-ow-ow-ound.” During those few blessed hours when The Big Itch is pre-empted by sleep, my rash heats up under the covers until 3:00 am, when I wake up clawing my eyes, my teeth, and my World Book Encyclopedia volume N-Q. Then I drag myself to the bathroom to perform the rituals for inducing relief, involving Caladryl, cortisone crème, and amputation. Alcohol is also touted by the experts, but I find it slurs my speech.

There are several schools of thought about curing poison ivy but all agree that an ounce of prevention is worth forty gallons of Calamine. So from now on I’ll be on the lookout for anything with three leaves, and to play it safe, anything with leaves. I feel confident that I can avoid getting poison ivy ever again. But now I have a fear of tea.

When poison ivy prevention fails, there’s no way to guess what stage you’ll be up against. You’re traveling through the Twilight Zone—a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind—that will wear down your psyche and your fingernails. The first time I heard the word “urushiol” I thought it was some trendy new sushi. Urushiol is the oil of the poison ivy plant that turns ordinary human skin into land mines and makes three weeks last a lifetime. Now I know better than to order it in a Japanese restaurant.

According to modern medicine, poison ivy rash is not contagious. But just in case my rash doesn’t read Scientific American, my husband and I are practicing safe communication via air kisses, intercom, and emails scanned by Norton AntiVirus. My advice is that you can never be too careful; it isn’t worth the risk. If your significant-other gets poison ivy, just break up with them.

Most poison ivy victims have the sense to erupt in diagnosable red bumps, but I was too imaginative for that. Instead, my face exploded into shapes undefined by geometry. I thought I was reacting to something I’d eaten, like urushiol sushi. But the doctor confirmed it was poison ivy, probably stages one, two, and three. He wrote me a prescription that reduced my swelling but increased my ability to be nervous and cranky and appreciate that annoying people should be put to death. It also increased my appetite to the point where a Footlong Subway looked like an hors-d’oeuvre. This enabled me to gain enough weight so that now when I back up, I am required to emit a loud series of beeps. This must be stage four.

Copyright 2004 Patricia Draznin


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