Sunday, June 27, 2010

Backyard Enemy

When I declared war on the weeds in the backyard a few years ago, I made a few enemies: Honeysuckle, Winter Creeper and Roses of Sharon to name a few, but none have proved to be as powerful an enemy as Poison Ivy. Sure, their numbers are few, but they have the big guns in their arsenal, Urushiol resin. This is the stuff that causes contact dermatitis (in layman’s terms, the God awful rash and itch that never seems to disappear).

Urishiol is indeed a potent weapon. Just one nanogram (or one billionth of a gram) causes a rash and the oil can be active on any surface, including a dead poison ivy plant, for a period of up to 5 years.

I’m convinced that I break into a rash as soon as I see a poison ivy plant. Back in the summer of 2001, when I was out doing bird work in the woodlands, I developed a rash from poison ivy exposure seven times. Since then, I’ve been pretty good about keeping an eye out for the poison ivy plants but I’ve developed contact dermatitis 3 times since I began the war against the weeds in April. The first two cases were very minor; a smattering of a rash up one arm and the around my wrist, but the third episode was a big one and I knew EXACTLY when I was exposed.

I was on the battlefront yanking honeysuckle a few other unidentifiable weeds when I pulled a poison ivy plant hidden amongst the foliage. I was ambushed and subsequently unprepared for the long vine that trailed behind the dreaded leaves of 3. I let out an anguished howl as the vine brushed across my bare legs. I glared at the enemy in my gloved hand but smiled grimly. I may have been ambushed but I knew how to neutralize the enemy…or, at least I thought I did.

I made 2 huge mistakes that day. The first mistake was wearing shorts while weeding. The second mistake was…well, read on.

Knowing the clock was ticking (you have anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to rinse off the resin before it sets in), I quickly bagged the remaining weeds and put the clippers away. I knew cold water was the antidote to the Urishiol resin and I knew my legs were hit but I didn’t know the extent of the damage. I was hot and sweaty from the war efforts so I decided to take a shower. That way, not only would I be rinsing off the sweat and grime, but the resin as well.

I slept worry-free that night, thinking I had successfully neutralized the enemy…until I woke the next morning to find my legs covered in that all-too-familiar rash. Nooo! What happened? I was so confident in my plan that I even skipped the Tecnu application. Well Ladies and Gentleman, what I did NOT know was that warm water will open your pores and let the Urishiol soak in. I simply made the situation worse. Further reading informed me that repeated rinsing with cold water is the best treatment for poison ivy exposure. The rash lasted for nearly a month and the faded remnants from the encounter with the enemy still remain on my legs.

Not long after exposure to that poison ivy fine, I came across this giant.

(Reconnaissance photo taken with my BlackBerry phone)

That’s the biggest poison ivy plant I’ve seen to date on the battlefront. I do believe long sleeves in addition to the pants and gloves are going to be needed.

The intense heat and humidity has suspended the backyard battle but when the weed pulling resumes, that plant will be the first to go.

Sometimes during the evening, I’ll go outside and look at that poison ivy plant, assessing the dangers and plotting my course of action. The wall of protective weeds will need to be removed first and I may have to attack from behind. I’m also convinced that that plant is measuring me as well, devising a way to slip in between the armor of a sleeve and glove, perhaps even springing up to brush a cheek or a bit of hair before going into the yard waste bin.

I know that plant isn’t going to go down without a fight. Let’s hope I can keep the personal damage to a minimum.

1 comment:

  1. I had my first extreme case when pregnant with my first daughter. She did not develope an allergy for thirty plus years. I believe the protection was in the breast milk.