I was a kid in single digits growing up in a Detroit neighborhood. Why would I know about poison ivy, let alone its horrible effects? One plant was the same as another, as far as I was concerned. I’d certainly never heard the rhyme, “Berries White, Dangers in Sight.”
It was one of those rare days where I found myself without friends around to play the usual games, so I wandered into the backyard and started touching things I had no business touching. One of those was a plant with three green leaves and grayish-white berries on it. I’d never heard “Leaves of three, let it be” either.
I ate a few of the berries, my face wrinkling up with disgust as the bitter taste filled my mouth. An interesting side note: The seeds in the berries remain viable even after passing through the digestive tract, so there’s a nightmare image you can thank me for later.
Needless to say, the itching began within hours. It was uncontrollable and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I broke out in a rash all over my arms and chest and stomach. Somehow, my legs were spared.
According to WebMD, “The rash is caused by contact with a sticky oil called urushiol (say “yoo-ROO-shee-all”) found in poison ivy, oak, or sumac. This can occur during touching the plant or even an item such as clothing that came in contact with it. Since my rash was a result of direct contact, it was present in several areas.
Apparently, it’s possible to develop blisters that leak fluid. I was spared that nauseating experience, thank goodness. My symptoms aside from the rash included hives. Itchy, burning hives that came alive in my skin intermittently so that whenever there was release in one spot, there was sheer misery somewhere else. But that wasn’t all. I also experienced swelling around the mouth thanks to my brilliant decision to be the official family taste-tester.
“The rash usually lasts about 10 days to 3 weeks. But it may last up to 6 weeks in more severe cases,” WebMD says on its website.
I was lucky; it lasted barely two weeks. My exposure was brief. My mother also got me to the doctor within a couple hours of it happening, which I’m sure was also a factor. None of that means it wasn’t awful, however. I spent the first week trying not to scratch and failing. It’s a good thing I was so young and didn’t have any responsibilities to miss out on.
That was the only time I ever came in contact with poison ivy. It would be an overstatement to say the experience soured me on the outdoors, but I certainly didn’t have much of an urge to explore them in the intervening years. Back in the late Nineties while attending a student journalism conference in Manhattan, I nearly died from a severe reaction to an antibiotic. I thought back to those poison ivy days with something like fondness.
It’s funny how time and perspective can alter our perceptions.