Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mean Old Nasty Nature

Behind the children's school there are trails that snake through the hills. It's very unlike single track in Virginia, where the technical challenge comes from the tricky turns, the tight clearances or the sharp drops. Here there aren't tall trees or nifty series of drops and rises, but long grinding climbs and stretches of bumpy dried out mud where horses, joggers, dogs and bikes have all left their mark during the rainy season. But if you wind back far enough you come to some brushy bits, and every few yards or so (with luck) there will be a garter snake out trying to catch the elusive sun.

We spent a long afternoon biking around, leaping off and trekking through the undergrowth and generally getting grimy and hot but having a lovely time.

I think it was the next day that I discovered the grim practical joke California pulls on the unwary - poison oak. I had it. And good. Both arms, my neck, belly, legs... and it was getting worse by the moment. I had gotten this once before - in Monterey when we were out doing archery. That time it was on my face, and it was during the trip to the emergency room that I discovered I was pregnant so they couldn't give me any medication for it. This time I was determined to have whatever drugs they had, extra strong, and worry about side effects some other time.

They prescribed something lethal - steroids I think - probably talked to Kirk about topical treatments, and then announced calmly that even with the meds I was looking at a good week to recover. A week.

At this point readers are probably divided into two camps - those with experience of poison oak (or its slightly less horrific cousin poison ivy), and those without. So you're either writhing in sympathetic agony at the moment or you simply have no idea. Yes, as I told a friend at the time, it's just an itch. But it's an itch so intense it goes beyond pain into some strange uber-sensory dimension. This is the Mother Of All Sensations. It is indescribable.

I don't really remember much of the rest of that week. There are at least three days that I completely missed because every moment (you don't sleep with poison oak) was consumed with Itch. Kirk called frantically around the neighborhood, around work, asking for advise, searching the internet. Finally a friend of a friend gave him a phone number for a botanist who knew someone. There was a woman in El Grenada who made a mixture that he swore by. He would give up his personal stash seeing it was an emergency, but Kirk really should go see this woman. It all sounded a bit dodgy by this time, but he could have been suggesting I go downtown San Francisco to buy crack to rub into the open blisters by this point and I would eagerly have done it.

Kirk came back with a mentholly brown powder which he mixed up into a sludge to smear over my oak spots and... sweet relief. For maybe ten minutes. Then it started to dry up and flake away. Still, ten minutes was pretty darn good, so for the next several days I spent all my time on the couch in very little other than Kirk's enormous bathrobe, busily painting myself with mud and then (because it's impossible to not do it) picking off the mud flakes as they cracked and pulled away. Food, sleep, kids - I don't remember any of that. I was nothing but the mud. It's entirely possible that if Kirk had allowed my mud supply to run out I would have garotted him right there and then.

It was horrible, miserable, nasty and nearly put me off California for good. At the end of it all, when I could finally shower without getting dizzy from the sensory overload, I vaccuumed up the endless flakes of minty mud and decontaminated the couch.

Why, I asked Kirk, had it just been me? Everyone else had tramped through the bushes. We had all been practically rolling around in there chasing the snakes.

Turns out Child 3 had a small spot on one leg which, because the little insect wouldn't stop scratching it, had been pretty nasty for several days. And Kirk?

Oh, he said vaguely, looking at a small pink smudge on one arm. I think I got some, but I don't think it does anything to me. I didn't even notice it for a few days until one of the kids pointed it out. Funny, isn't it?

Oh yeah. Funny.



Child 1 said...

well i wouldnt say that poison ivy is that mild. you should see your progedy's arm right now, DRIPPING pus! but highly appreciated. im just glad that i dont get poison oak or ivy

child 2 said...

i remember that. you were really crabby, and walked around with your arms like one. you complained about the itch a lot, and you had a plate of fresh mud by your side 24/7. oh, and i sympathise, because my patch of ivy has only just stopped oozing copious amounts of yellow pus, and i only now do not wake up with yellow fingers.