Then last week, somehow, I was struck by dreaded poison ivy. And I don't just get a happy patch or two, heck NO—I get bumpy, itchy rashes all over my body. Apparently my skin reacts to the oil, then all the rest of my body reacts to that bit of skin... Fun stuff. And then, the rash stays, and stays. Sometimes the redness dies down, and I get excited and think that perhaps, the urushiol oil is finished binding to the proteins in my skin and has begun to break down. But then, as I said, white bumps start to show up everywhere else... and I realize that the suffering isn't over yet.
Knowing this pattern, and my skin, I gave up fairly quickly after discerning the problem and I made a doctor appointment. I alternately scratched and applied calamine lotions for 36 hours, then drove to the doc to beg and weep for a steroid of some kind. I hate to be a quitter, but honestly, I'm going to let myself off the hook this time. I have washed every item that could possibly have housed the awful oil. I have threatened husband and son who may have brought it into the house. I have directed countless hairy eyeballs at the neighbor's side yard, which was littered with the stuff until just a few days ago. And I've been taking steroids, which are working, although not without other issues: sleepless nights, restless days, fingers and toes I can't keep still, stomach yuck. But I'm not scratching myself raw, so that's something. Right?
I keep thinking about the experience, though, and a few thoughts stand out. I think, not for the first time, of how different this rash might have looked for some poor pioneers who set out and had to clear trees and woods in order to do pretty much anything else, even just move forward. If I've been miserable, I with my lotions and air conditioning and comfy light fabrics—then how much more must they have suffered with long, heavy clothes, perspiration, and relentless heat beating on them. I wonder if they knew of the devilish green poison, if perhaps some of them knew where to find aloe or jewel weed to ease the irritation. I wonder if any ignorant newcomers, city-folk perhaps, touched the terrible plant, or (worse) burned it... and then scratched every part of themselves, thus spreading the horror. I wonder how long it took for people to get smart and recognize the cause. Or give their oil-bearing dog a bath. Or whatever.
(I think about older cultures often; I thought of them constantly after having a baby. I think of them when I do laundry in my easy-peasey washing machine. I think of them when I drive a car and arrive in minutes instead of hours. How lazy they would likely think us all. No wonder there's an obesity epidemic.)
I've been pondering, too, just how remarkably easy it is to be unaware of suffering and torment unless it is your own. I know other people with skin issues, far more serious conditions than a temporary redness. With constant pain, even. So I itch for a couple of days and have a mini-breakdown... Pretty pathetic. Our son woke up last week with a pinched nerve in his neck, and for a day had trouble turning his head one way, and it was so awful—yet we know someone who has that trouble daily, and on a much more serious scale. Even my 9-year-old recognized the teachable moment by commenting that now he understood better what life must be like for that friend of ours.
We are all such self-centered creatures for the most part, and then our shallow, me-first culture further ingrains that sort of thinking until it is quite easy to avoid considering, especially in depth, what others around us are suffering. My prayer today is not just to be grateful, but also to have more sensitivity to whatever the people around me are enduring. Whatever their troubles are, I know that to each of them who carry the burden, that trouble is heaviest. We are all shouldering something, but we can help each other, notice each other, connect personally, and most of all? We can take our burdens to the Savior. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and hearts, and Jesus invites us to accept His mercy and share it with all.
This was a rather meandering post, wasn't it? Back to the rash, I think this is officially an item on my "questions to ask God someday" list. Why poison ivy? It'll show up slightly above or below the "why mosquitos?" question, depending on the timing of my most recent ivy outbreak.
Wear gloves and spray on some Deet, then go in peace.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. -John 14:27 (KJV)