As if it were yesterday, I can recall my dad telling me, on more than one occasion, “Boy, you’re like a bull in a china shop!”
Some things don’t change; let me explain.
A few of years ago, in mid-August, I went to my hunting property to set my treestands for the coming bow season. And of course, it seems, I’m always in the wrong spot at the right time or something like that. The previous year I observed a very nice buck cross a field in about the same place at about the same times; the problem, of course, was I was 90 yards away. So that year I knew exactly where I wanted to set a stand.
Sure enough, with a closer look at the area, there was a well worn deer trail, a mature tree on the down-wind side and a lot of good cover to ambush this dandy buck. Ahhh, perfect location, perfect tree, easy to get to. Success would be assured, or so I thought.
So like a “bull in a china shop,” I set the treestand, chopping away at a pesky vine that grew up the side of it, pulling and yanking at it to get it out of my way, not thinking or caring what it was. In fact the hearty vine had no conscious spot in my mind, well, not until a few days later!
The Perfect Tree…
Yep, the perfect tree in the perfect location, and one dandy buck. And one more thing, the vine I yanked and pulled on was indeed poison ivy.
Of course not thinking about it until I was itching like a hound with fleas, it spread. I had a rash break out on the side of my face, my forearms, behind my ears, and along my belt line and other parts of my body too embarrassing to talk about. For better than two weeks I struggled with a horrible nagging itch.
I tried every folk remedy anyone suggested or heard, nothing seemed to work or offer much relief. I tried a paste of water and baking soda, calamine lotion, and a variety of other store bought lotions. I was told jewelweed, oatmeal, clay and Benadryl and salt also work. I even tried rubbing alcohol with a couple shots of Jack Daniels, okay maybe more than a couple shots of Jack, but at least I cared less about the itching. Finally I turned to our family doctor, Fred Wurster.
“Well, you’ve done it this time, haven’t you,” Dr. Wurster said as he looked at my many patches of red rashes. “Seems like you’d know enough to stay out of the poison ivy by now.”
“Most people think of poison ivy as a plant that grows along the ground, it’s actually a vine that can grow right up a tree, evidently you found one,” the good doctor went on to say with a little smile growing on his face.
“We have seen several cases of poison ivy so far this season. The conditions have been ideal for the plant this year. It’s found it most all states except Alaska and Hawaii,” he went on to say.
“The oil (urushiol) found in the plant is a very effective deterrent. Once the oil is on you skin you can bet you are going to be uncomfortable and will most likely avoid that area at any cost,” Dr. Wurster told me.
“Although if you can identify you have come in contact with poison ivy, you stand a good chance of avoiding the blistery rash if you shower within 15 to 30 minutes in warm soapy water. Also wash all your clothing immediately and anything you had with you, the oil can remain active for up to a year afterwards. Just simply wash everything!”
Dr.Wurster prescribed oral steroids for me. Although they didn’t completely take care of my bout with the poison ivy, a steroid shot in the rear, however, did.
“I’ve heard some pretty nasty stories about poison ivy. One I dealt with was a fellow who was doing some clean up around the house, he cleaned up some brush and burned it. He liked the smell of smoke and didn’t mind standing in it as he burned. Poison ivy was in the brush and he inhaled the oils of the ivy, getting it in his lungs. He became a very sick man. It is very dangerous in that form,” he cautioned.
There are three sub species of the plant, poison ivy, oak and sumac. All three species of plants are very hardy and adaptable. If there is at least eight to 10 inches of rain a year, and it is below 4,000 feet you can find it most anywhere. Poison ivy is found in the eastern portion of the United States and poison oak is found more generally on the western side.
All three of these plants emit a poisonous oil irritant called urushiol. This oil is the toxin in these plants that makes you itch. In its pure form, the amount you could fit on the head of a pin could make 500 people very miserable.
Because urushiol is an oil, and not a water based fluid it has some troublesome qualities. It does not evaporate, and as Dr. Wurster mentioned it can linger for a year. It will cover whatever it comes in contact with, clothing, tools and even pet hair. As an oil it will vaporize if burned, the vapor is then carried in the smoke and covers everything it comes in contact with, again contaminating all in its path for a year. Urushiol is present on the leaves, stems and roots of the plant, and is still active even on dead plants that have dried up.
And as Dr. Wurster commented, “It is really nasty stuff!”
Poison ivy, oak and sumac all serve a useful purpose in nature. Sure, most people will put them on the same list of outdoor annoyances as mosquitoes and flies, but the plants are important to the ecosystem. The small, white or blueish berries found on the ivies feed a number of birds and animals. The tangles they form also serve as shelter, and most animals are not effected by the irritants found in the oil.
The Good News…
The good news though is, poison ivy is easy to treat. Again, Dr. Wurster recommends that if you know you have come in contact with the plants, that you can take a warm shower with soap and rid yourself of some very uncomfortable days ahead. And it can be treated by your local doctor in a matter of a few days with a oral steroids or in some cases a steroid shot.
There are some of us who seem to be immune to the urushiol oil in the plant, I thought I might have been one of those lucky few. I can now tell you I’m not. Immunity today to contact of the plant does not insure immunity tomorrow, and vice versa.
Rash symptoms can appear within a few hours but can take two to five days to appear. The rash starts as a red annoying itchy area that starts to swell. The area then gets inflamed and will get covered in clusters of tiny pimples, the pimples eventually merge and turn into blisters. The fluid in the blisters turns yellow, dries up, and becomes crusty. Left completely untreated, this cycle of discomfort can last as short as five days and in severe cases as long as five to six weeks.
“The rash is not communicable, you cannot pass it on to someone else by normal contact. Only the oil of the plant spreads the rash,” Dr. Wurster told me, dispelling a common myth.
“As blisters start to form over the infected area you should never break the blisters. Breaking the blisters can lead to blood poisoning,” he cautioned.
Poison ivy has become a sore subject for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. Like almost every other peril in the outdoors a little education and understanding goes a long way to dealing with this itching, scratching menace.
Absolutely the best precaution and defense is recognizing it and avoiding it. Many times though, the recognition occurs just about the time that you’re in it.
And now I have this great place to ambush a dandy buck, but there is no way he is worth risking another bout with poison ivy.
As the old saying goes, “Leaves of three, let them be…”
Editors Note: Some of the information for this article was taken from a very informative website, www.outdoor-places.com or www.