If you're new to Cycling-Through, please take a second and read some of the "Posts of note" in the list to the right. Then, if you see others that you appreciate enough to recommend for that list, let me know.
Also, please feel free to comment - even anonymously if you must.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Poison Oak

Ugh. If you have ever had Poison Oak, Ivy, or Sumac then you know what I mean by "ugh". I got it again.

We were returning from one of our after dark runs, where we use lights to give the illusion of safety while careening along fire roads in muddy tennis shoes. The run was done and we were driving out of the park, when we came around a corner and saw a brush fire only minutes old. Vince and Rachel stopped, and immediately called 911. I pulled up, and lacking a fire extinguisher, grabbed an old blanket from the back of the Pilot and began to smother the fire. I quickly realized that in order to do any good, I would have to get above the fire, as it was climbing a rather abrupt slope. After a difficult scramble up through the brush to the right of the fire it became evident that the flames were going to be too much for me and my blanket. We all retreated to wait and watch the fire department douse the result of a careless smoker’s indiscretion. I now loath that careless person.

A passing comment from my wife made my blood run cold. “I hope there was no Poison Oak in that brush.” I set a new land speed record getting from our car into the shower. Too late.

It has now been nearly 3 weeks since that fateful night. I reach down and scratch between nearly every paragraph. Most reports claimed that the rash should be gone in 2 weeks. Not for me.

I’m on my second round of prescription steroids. I have experimented with every topical analgesic, antihistamine, antipruritic, and exfoliant. I’ve used 2 kinds of pink, 2 kinds of white, clear, another cream that had a fine grit that felt like heaven to rub in, a Filipino coconut oil home remedy, and a homeopathic boiled leaf tea that smells like dog pee. I’ve slept on the couch more nights in the last 3 weeks than in the other 8 years of marriage combined. (Especially when I smelled like dog bedding) I’ve seen every two hours come and go on the hour for more nights than I care to remember. Recently a good night sleep is one where I’ve had consecutive 3 hour sleeps separated by only one reapplication of one of the various colors. On average I’ve been getting 4-5 hours per night with restless catnaps wherever I can fit them in during the day - preferably with my pickup truck in park.

Poison Oak is a curse. It covered my legs from my ankles up to my shorts line, with a few branches obviously sneaking up a lot higher. Both arms suffered damage, up to my biceps, but the right one took the brunt. My stomach must have also been scratched by a variant vine, and a sore about the size of half my palm developed to the right of my naval. All of the noted areas developed wonderful little blisters that weeped unabashed. For 2 solid weeks I looked and felt like death itself and often caught myself impersonating a chimpanzee with scabies. Children cried out and women wept in my presence. We were going to take pictures, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

Then something wonderful happened. The sores began to show a valiant attempt at healing, just as I came off the first round of steroids. For about a day I noticed significant relief. All of the aforementioned areas morphed from brilliantly grotesque sores and scrapes to something similar to an alligator, and then further to what now looks like random scars. But then the flowers blossomed. The scars seemed to spawn a rosy thin rash tripling the coverage area. I despaired. Back to the dermatologist. More little white pills taken with food. I renewed the application of the foul stench, attempting to hide it with Mary Kay cologne. I can only hope the cover up worked. No one would likely tell me if it didn't.

I urge you to peruse the website of a co-sufferer - http://knoledge.org/oak/. Especially his section on etiquette. Just knowing that others have survived, has given me reason to hope. Though as I sit here I cannot recall life before the itch, and am beginning to suspect that indeed it may not have existed.

What I have learned...

Look before you leap. If it is too dark to see - don't leap.


Let the East Bay Regional Park Service and the Contra Costa County Fire Dept. deal with brush fires.

Go to the dermatologist first. The general practitioners don't have a clue, and have been too busy in school to embark on adventures that include Poison Oak interactions.

Believe everything you read on the internet - it IS that bad.

Boiled Yerba Santa leaves help considerably.

Boiled Yerba Santa leaves smell like dog pee.

Snuggling with the wife ceases when you get Poison Oak. Neither of you are especially interested in it. Particularly when one of you smells like a kennel.

Hot showers become torture chambers. Cold showers don't itch, but are, well, cold showers.

With Poison Oak on 3/4 of your legs, those nylon warm up pants that are so perfectly convenient and comfortable, become acutely insufferable the moment you step out of the car in a public place. The same also applies to any article of clothing that happens to terminate on, or immediately adjacent to a rash. (When covered nearly head to toe, this makes clothing seem so overrated.)

The things taken for granted on a daily basis, including the most minute matters, become so intensely obvious, when you have danced with the pruritic vine.


  1. Oh, my------what can a mother heart say. It was so easy when I could just put you in your crib to keep you out of trouble. Now, trouble follows you, even when you are not looking for it.
    Hope all is much better now.

  2. oh you poor baby! And I thought I had suffered in the past. Have gotten the dread rash twice on my butt while peeing in the bushes. Modesty, like clothing, is vastly overrated. I now pee in the middle of the road (while cycling) or trail (hiking)!