I REALLY HATE THAT
by Lydia Bogar
“Leaves of three, let it be.”
It loves the sun and is common by the roadside, spiraling up trees and across trellis grids. Poison ivy, the cousin of oak and sumac, targets my skin from across the yard. After several summers of painful blistering and oozing rashes that travel from the webs of two fingers and spread across my arms, the backs of my hands, and once to my neck, I hire people to do my spring cleanup. A rite of passage, smelling mulch and stretching muscles toned by a snow shovel; those first exquisite days of warm breezes and pink sunsets. Packing tools into the wheelbarrow and unloading bags of mulch and lime from the trunk is as far as my solstice ritual goes. I have become an observer, and I really hate that.
I am not old, but I am fragile. I really hate that.
Even with a strict regimen of double gloves and washing, using Lysol wipes on my hands and arms, the little pink bubbles will greet me the next morning. If I have rubbed at it during the night, it has marched across my forehead or onto a knee. Frequently, the rash appears like a straight line, as my arm has brushed against a leaf, or a squirrel has carried the urushiol into the mulch pile. My skin swells and burns. Wearing my old white church gloves to sleep at night doesn’t help. Somehow, I do manage to keep the plague from my mouth and ears, and other unnamed places.
Medical websites preach that the blister fluid doesn’t spread the rash, but I am not a believer. My forearms are battle scars, stopped only in mid-march by a quick visit to my doctor and five days of steroids. The gels and creams provide only minimal relief.
My dermatologist at Dana Farber exams the remains of this plague. In combination with my family propensity for skin cancers, she writes two scripts that will stop or at least mitigate any cancerous growths. Long sleeves and a higher SPF will help; a second battle that I will wage for the remainder of my days. And I really hate that.
After several summer battles for which I bear discolorations, a landscaper tells me that I am fighting the wrong plant. I have been overrun with Virginia Creeper with five distinctive leaves. My doctor makes the entry in my electronic medical records as I await a deep freeze that will kill the beautiful red vines climbing the hemlock outside my bathroom window.
“Leaves of five, which I must survive.”
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. She says she “hails from Woosta– educated at BOLLI.”