I grew up in Florida where the joke is that the state bird is the mosquito, har har. Being swarmed at dusk was a handicap for play, for sure. But as I got older, I became immune to the mosquito bites. They bit me, but left barely a mark that didn't swell or itch at all. This, in the hot deep South, was like having a pocket full of gold. I read once that some people's bodies just sort of get tired of reacting to mosquito venom. Too boring anymore. My laziness had moved to the molecular level.
Last weekend when we were at the state park, we went to revisit a big tree I took the kids' picture in last year, and at the base of it was some poison oak.
Hmm, I thought. Look at that. I've never had poison ivy or oak. I'm not sure how I avoided it my whole childhood. I spent hours huddled in the wooded lots, overgrown brambles, and hedges like Briar Rabbit and never had so much as a bump. I caught chiggers at girl scout camp, though, and had to spend the evening letting the girls paint me with fingernail polish. I've been stung by jellyfish a hundred times, even had a big one attach itself to my head as we collided in a wave and spent the rest of the day with my face coated in meat tenderizer paste. But no poison.
I considered this poison oak, lazing there in the shade, curling up the tree. Could it be that maybe I have touched it but don't react to it, like with the mosquitos? Something convinced me that I needed to know this. I felt like I had read about people immune to poison oak and ivy, and frankly, I felt a little ripped off that I didn't have a great poison ivy story to tell.
After some deliberation with the family, I took a leaf off and rubbed it on my arm. The kids' eyes went wide. I held my arm out like a little bomb as we went back to the car.
How long should I leave it on? First aid says to wash with lots of soap as soon as you are exposed, and it will help. But I didn't want to take it all off before it had a chance to work. I waited until we got home.
Still nothing happened. Except that when I googled, I got an education about poison oak and ivy. It's not a toxin, really, just something that causes an irrational allergic response in most people, the same way strawberries or peanuts do for some people.
Ohhhhhhh, okay. This is different then. Because the way allergies work, the first time you are exposed to something your body doesn't like, your immune system sits around and just thinks about it a lot. It pokes the newcomer a bit, shouts some threatening colorful phrases, shoots the bird, and lets it go. But next time, whoa, next time it shows up, there's gonna be a throw down. People who break out in hideous poison rashes for the first time are likely experiencing their second exposure.
So, either I am one of those few who don't react, or I just used up my freebie.
I felt disappointed, but not so much as to make me drive back to the tree and rub down again.
This was last week, all forgotten. Yesterday, a bump on my arm started itching. It was one of my freckles. Or was it? I didn't recognize this freckle. But I have so many, I lose track. As the day wore on, the thing got more itchy. This morning, there was a hard bump underneath it. I felt myself thinking about it constantly. The relentless sensation was distracting. My first thought? Cancer.
I really, really need to get to the dermatologist, and I have a few scary looking moles that need a good exorcism. So this itchy, red, scratchy mole on my arm? Has to be a bad mole. But the hard bump made me think spider bite instead. My daughter did wake up with a spider bite on her neck today.
I was washing dishes and digging incessantly at my arm with a fingernail when Rick walked by. "Ack! I want to just DIG IT RIGHT OUT WITH A KNIFE!!!" I growled. I totally would, that's how it feels. He looked at it, pointed, and announced, "Poison oak!"
I remember in the googling that it can take up to 2 weeks to manifest. The itching is not like any itching I've had before. It has a low tone of burn underneath, sort of a constant hum of a single point of pain. I wonder if it will get bigger, make a weeping, bleeding blister like I see in pictures.
Time will tell. It's a little exciting, like when you have a loose tooth: feels not so great, comes with imminent discomfort, but in the end you get a quarter and a bigger tooth. Except I'm not going to get anything, and the story I get to tell just sounds like a way to prove that I'm not very clever.
I did get a neat picture of the kids in the tree, anyway. I thought it would be fun to have them get in it the way they did last year. It was.
Last year's picture:
This year's picture: