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Laura Orem, Red Lion

"An Ocean of Calamine Lotion" [by Laura Orem]

Oy vey - for the second time this summer, I've got poison ivy. Don't worry, I won't share pictures of the rash. Unfortunately, it's a hazard of working outside, and somewhere on these almost three acres there lurks an enemy, ready to blister my skin at the slightest touch.

Anyone who has ever had a case (and who hasn't?) knows how miserable it can be, especially if you are very sensitive to it. Growing up, I wasn't particularly sensitive - just a few red marks, like mosquito bites, that went away of their own accord in a few days. But like clockwork, my older son used to spend every Memorial Day and Labor Day at the doctor's office, his face blown up like an itchy red balloon; he started and ended every school year on prednisone. Now, he isn't as bothered as much, but I've become as sensitive to it as can be. One brush, and I look like a science experiment gone terribly wrong.

Fortunately, I have a wonderful doctor who will see me immediately (he's frighteningly young, but that's another story) and who has an amazing electronic prescription thingy that sends messages directly to my pharmacy - all I do is pick up the goods on the way home.

Gotta love modern medicine. No, seriously. I've checked the Internet for home-cures, and there are thousands, ranging from the sensible to the grisly. Vinegar is a good treatment to take away the itch for a while, although you end up smelling like salad dressing. Some of the others are pretty extreme - like applying bleach to raw skin. Yikes. But in the olden days, there wasn't much people could do except ride out the siege, and the itching and pain can be awful. Calamine lotion does help, but it's just a temporary itch-reliever; it doesn't make the rash go away. God bless the person who figured out steroids, because prednisone is the most effective and quickest way to get rid of the damn thing.

In the interest of everyone's well-being, here's a picture of some poison ivy. Pretty innocuous looking, but that's the rub, literally:


Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans to you botanical types)is a woody vine that is found almost everywhere in North America, except for Newfoundland, the Northern Territories, Alaska, and California. (Californians don't get off the hook, though; they have poison oak instead.) It can show up as a climbing vine, ground cover, or a shrub, and it is notoriously difficult to kill. The leaves secrete urushiol, the oily culprit that causes the rash. The good thing for us is that sheep love to eat it; the bad thing is that our particular patch is right next to the house (yes, we found it and have declared war) where the sheep don't get to graze.

If you know you've touched some, immediately wash the area with lots of soap and COLD water. The soap washes away the oil and the cold water closes your pores. The problem, of course, is when you don't realize you've been in contact, and by the time blisters break out, it's too late. Then, you'll definitely need "an ocean of calamine lotion" and maybe a call to your doctor.

So this is my public service announcement for this week. I won't be posting next week; I'll be in the wild woods of New Hampshire at a writer's retreat, hoping to get some poems written. And I'll definitely avoid the poison ivy!

March 05, 2019

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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