Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Blow Dryer is My New Best Friend!

So, remember my last entry about my little forage into the forest for lovely leaves and blossoms? Well, I brought home more than flowers that trip. The next night I was at my computer when I realized I had been absent-mindedly scratching my cheek. I got up from my chair and went to the mirror and saw a bright red streak down the crease between my cheek and the side of my nose. I thought nothing of it, other than I must have touched something irritating when I was pulling weeds that afternoon and then rubbed my nose. I shut down my computer and headed for bed. The next morning I woke up itchy...really itchy. I flipped on the light in the bathroom and looked at my face. It was beet-red and swollen. My cheeks were chipmunk, my nose was fat and my top lip stuck out above my lower one and I couldn't pucker. Then I looked down at my arms. The entire length of both arms was covered in a raised, red rash. I pulled off my pajamas and saw that the inside of my legs was also covered in the same rash. My back, stomach, calves, hands and feet were spared. "No, way," I thought. "Please, don't be poison oak!" We were about to start a very busy...and very public...week of ministry beginning that night. We had meetings for the next three nights and then guests arriving on Friday, a wedding, and special services the rest of the weekend. I would be at restaurants, hotels, downtown Portland, and church meetings surrounded by people who I had to talk to and interact with. I groaned inwardly and scratched outwardly and then logged on to my computer and googled "poison oak." I had never had it before, so I wanted to see what it looked like.

Wow. Talk about gruesome pictures. A man's back with blisters the size of a salad plate. A child covered from head to toe with oozing sores. A baby with its little face completely swollen. If you don't believe me, try googling it for yourself! All the websites said the rash had fluid-filled blisters. Well, I didn't have any, but somehow I just knew it was poison oak. And all of the websites said the rash lasted anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks. Oh, no, no, no. There was no way it would be gone by the weekend, and then it was going to last well beyond that. That night was my first public appearance. I didn't dare put make-up on the rash...it was already burning like fire and felt rough like sandpaper to my fingers. I put my make-up on all around the rash and made sure I did my eyes up a little brighter than usual to compensate for my Rudolph nose and Donald Duck top lip. I showed my arms to a few knowledgeable and trusted friends and all of them said, "Hmmm. You don't have blisters. It might not be poison oak." Then everyone gave me their favorite home remedies and I went home and tried them all...not because I was hoping to please everyone but because nothing worked. Tecnu, hydrocortisone, anti-itch cream, calamine lotion, tea tree oil shampoo, a special poison oak soap, organic "un"petroleum jelly, lip balm, pure coconut oil, and even Jeff's prescription-strength steroid cream, but I just itched and itched and itched.

Next day my right eye was swollen half shut and my face was rough and red. The rash was erupting on my ears, neck, chest and shoulder and one spot on my lower back. The itching was even more intense. I called a friend who had had a bad case last year and she gave me this advice: Use a blow dryer. She said to aim it at the rash and the hot air will make it itch even worse, then it will burn, and then it will go numb and I'll get relief for a few hours. I went right into the bathroom to try it. She was right. I thought I was going to go crazy with itchiness. Then my arm started to burn. Just as I began to move the blow dryer away to escape the heat, this incredible sensation spread over my arm. I was obviously triggering a very deep nerve response because this wonderful sensation of, "Quick, scratch my back! Ahhhh, you got it," flooded my whole body and actually gave me goose bumps from head to toe and made me shiver and shudder, half with pain and half with relief. And then the sensation went away and so did the itch. I spread cool calamine lotion over the bright red rash and went to work without scratching for about an hour. Every time a new spot would begin to itch, I'd wait until I couldn't stand it and then go running to the blow dryer. This became my new past-time...even at 3:30 a.m. I could be found in the bathroom blow-drying my arms, legs, stomach, neck, etc., etc.

Every day the rash got worse, and yes, the rash began to blister and then burst and weep and scab. I was one ugly chick. Out came my winter wardrobe as I looked for long sleeves and high necklines. But they had to be the right fabric too. I made the mistake of wearing a sweater and ended up with gray fibers stuck to the open sores on my skin. Another time I wore a long-sleeved pale pink blouse and stained it with the oozing fluid. Yuck, yuck, yuck. The best clothes were plain, lightweight cotton. I wished I could wear my pajamas every day!

Today I'm exactly one week through it. I discovered yet new patches this morning. The swelling in my face is gone and the skin around my nose and lips is flaking off in big pieces as they heal. My arms---the first and worst to have blisters---are scabbing over and the red has faded to pink and they itch much less. Now it's my hands and fingers and behind my knees that are at the crazy-itch stage. So I know I have another week with those new areas. And then the final week will be everything healing up. Three weeks is a very long time!

My hand, just beginning to form blisters.  It will get worse
before it gets better.  My arms are much worse than
my hands...but I'm not too willing to post gruesome
pictures of myself!!

I read on one of the websites a man's thoughts about poison oak: If you've never had it, be very kind to someone who does. Don't laugh at how they look and offer sympathy for how they itch. And if you have had it, you will never laugh at anyone who does but will have the deepest sympathy and kindest wishes for that person.

I also discovered that when my cat licks my rash-covered hand and fingers, it feels great! Just the perfect amount of roughness and pressure to sooth the itch! (Don't worry, I wash my hands very well after she is done!)

And now, I'll sign off so I can go spend a little quality time with my blow dryer!

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