I was in the garden, conquering a year's worth of weeds when the thought crossed my mind: poison ivy. I should have stopped immediately and changed into appropriate poison ivy attire, like, for example, a full-body neoprene space suit. I'm highly allergic to poison ivy. I know this for a fact.
Later, under a shower that was soothing as a sand storm, I noticed a long red scratch on the back of my arm. And a lot of little scratches as well. I used copious amounts of Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub (I am not a complete idiot), rinsed thoroughly and stepped out onto the bathmat where I confronted my full-length reflection in the mirror. My skin was slashed with red, swollen scratches. My arms and legs looked like practice boards for an aspiring Zorro.
The damage was in evidence by morning. The scratches had transformed themselves into collectives, each resembling something not quite human and not quite alien. A mountain ridge of blisters at my wrist looked like a coral reef in time-lapse photography, increasing in size almost visibly. Between my fingers (and, yes, I wore gloves), a head of cauliflower, formed entirely of blisters, connected my second and third fingers like a web.
After the second day of abject misery and sleeplessness, I sought medical attention. While waiting for the steroids to work, I attempted to find comfort in the bath, in lotions and in martinis, which, you know scientifically speaking, helps with everything. And, to those eager to share magic remedies, let me just say: Don't bother. I tried everything.
In addition to using every known commercially-prepared anti-itch product, I also investigated alternative remedies. I rubbed banana peels on myself. I applied pastes made of Tide powder and water, another with Clorox and Epsom salt. I tried hand sanitizer, mouthwash, Vagisil, Clearasil and other, less rational, preparations including borax powder which was great for stemming an ant invasion but did nothing for poison ivy. I would have tried drinking goat's milk, but they were out of that particular delicacy at Trader Joe's.
One evening, my husband came into the room and surveyed the Hazmat zone that was our living room. Bottles of lotions and creams cluttered the coffee table. A sheet protected the sofa from my oozing blisters. I'd covered some of my most disgusting patches with gauze pads, affixed loosely with blue painter's tape. I'd run out of supplies earlier in the day.
I sat splayed like a tarantula, legs out, feet balanced on my heels. A vision of pink and gauze. I tried to smile but my mouth was entombed in a crust of dried calamine.
He nodded, taking it all in. "What are those big white discs taped to your thighs?"
"Tucks Pads," I answered.
A stream of yellow blister fluid streaked across my bicep. I blotted it with a pre-torn paper towel. "This should be buried underground in lead-lined containers."
He chose not to look. Instead, he went into the kitchen. I sent him silent ESP messages to make something for us to eat. I was miserable, yes, but I was also hungry.
"Why is there a bottle of driveway degreaser on the counter?"
"I read about that on the Internet. It's supposed to kill the poison ivy," I explained, as if putting driveway degreaser on your skin was reasonable.
He came back to the couch with a glass of water and two Benadryl tablets.
"I ordered Chinese food," he told me.
"You're my hero," I said. And I meant it.