As I write this, I can still see battle scars left on my arms (and a few other unfortunate places) from my most recent skirmish with the demon poison oak. It has been 4 weeks since I uttered the foolish words, “wow, it looks like I got bit up pretty good last night.” The fact that I could still make such a naive statement, in the face of the painful fact that my house is flanked on all sides by that devil bush, is indicative of the level of denial I am in. They weren’t bites! Mosquito bites would be like a walk through the Tuilleries gardens. No. Wishful thinking did not turn the red, angry rash developing ALL OVER my body into mosquito bites. It was the first, whore rouge blush of the worst case of posion oak I have ever had (yes, I am knocking on wood as I write, hoping to keep a case that requires hospitalization at bay…)
By now, you get the idea that I am not an outdoorsy woman. I was not raised in an outdoorsy house. My family had a brief, unrealistic dalliance with camping in my youth. That foolishness came to an end pretty quickly, when we all determined that the conditions were not workable–substandard swimming pool and poorly maintained tennis courts. The idea of being outside, sweating, and possibly dirty just wasn’t our bag. It is within this framework that I managed to make it through most of my adult life never having a case of poison oak, and of course therefore lacking the skills to identify it! In my mind, poison oak seemed more like a mythical scourge that only befell Boyscouts and manly women, hardly something I would ever expect to cross my path. Until the Spring of 2011…
Our much loved 60 lb. chocolate lab Jake, aka “The Brown Clown,” was the unwitting deliverer of my very first case of poison oak. I remember sitting on the floor next to him and giving him a great big hug–my neck came into contact with his and the die was cast! A short time later, a 2 inch diameter patch on my neck began itching like mad. Ignorant of the symptoms, I said those same ill fated words “…it looks like I got bit up.” It wasn’t until my Beloved took a closer look hours later and chuckled, “those aren’t mosquito bites. It’s poison oak!” I remember shrieking in horror. He may as well have diagnosed me with an STD or flesh eating disease. I began a freak out spiral, punctuated with internal screams of “why me,” and “how could this have happened!?” The Parisienne in me quickly reared her well coiffed head and it was Hermes to the rescue. My mammoth investment in all of those gorgeous scarves now had medical justification. Hermes cloaked the horror playing out on my neck. My beloved talked me off the ledge and introduced me to the wonders of Tecnu.
My most recent poison oak battle was no comparatively cute 2 inch patch. Based on the severity, it is clear to me now that I am insanely allergic to it. My body’s histimine response was nothing short of “code 3, lights and sirens.” In its full bloom, my body would have made me a frontrunner in a casting call for “oozing female zombie” on The Walking Dead. This evil altered my daily routine and wardrobe. It added an extra 15 minutes to getting ready for work in the morning, as my Beloved and I had to strategically apply non-stick gauze bandages to my oozing lesions in order to make wearing clothes bearable. Wearing anything but skirts and loose fitting dresses was impossible. I have a signature wardrobe for work that would make the dearly departed Johnny Cash proud. The sudden change in my wardrobe piqued the curiosity of a few of my co-workers, who probably regretted their inquiries upon hearing my disgusting tale of woe. By the time I broke down and picked up the Bat Phone to my doctor for long overdue medical intervention, the red rage had begun to subside. Luckily, if it makes an appearance again, I have a steroid cream as my first line of defense. My Beloved, Jake, Tiberius, and Diego are all suspects in this round with poison oak.
We now have a clear anti-oak protocol in the house, which I intend to execute with the precision of Seal Team 6. Think “Silkwood-like” showers and Tecnu drips… How was I able to find some shred of Parisienne flair in all of this? Well, I rediscovered some treasures long buried in my closet. I resurrected some of my forgotten Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses and some cute numbers from Jigsaw, which gently fit around my mummified body. Parisiennes are renowned for their impeccable style, and ability to frugally reinvent oldies, but goodies. Poison oak caused me to put my fashion problem solving skills to the test. From a scabby, flaky mess arose my rediscovered love for dresses. For that, and that alone, I say merci to poison oak. Leave it to Paris to inspire me to attempt to be chic in the midst of a violent allergic reaction.