the rest lesson amidst another poison ivy battle

Posted: April 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

My “word” for 2016 – the theme around which I’m supposed to be focusing – is REST.  I have to admit that I’m finding this one particularly difficult.  Words I’ve been given for other years were easier for me to understand.  Easier for me to approach in some sort of systematic way.  I’m kind of stunned at how hard I find this one to be.

Rest can be an elusive thing for me.  I notice this most as I work out how to do “Shabbat.”  G has it clearly delineated.  While he is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met, when he rests, he RESTS.  He knows how to put down his cares and just relax.  He has a firm grasp on the fact that we were created for this – that God made it a directive for a reason.  I watch him walk this out and I’m mystified.

Me, not so much.  When I get a Saturday off, what I want to do with it is shift to a different kind of work.  I want to deep clean our house.  I want to get out in the yard.  I spent this past Saturday afternoon, for instance, outside running my son-in-law’s chainsaw, cutting up some limbs from the neighbor’s yard to build a stash of wood that we can burn in our fire pit this summer.  It didn’t feel like “work” to me – it felt like recreation, like enjoyment, like challenge – like FUN.  It’s how I wanted to relax.  I was grinning most of the time that I worked on it.

I came in at the end of the day tired and stiff and sore, with sawdust in my clothes, but triumphant.  It was the best Saturday afternoon I’d had in awhile.  I counted it as rest.  I still do.

Late Sunday afternoon while changing clothes for more outdoor play, I discovered a problem.  Apparently in my chainsaw adventures, I had touched some poison ivy somewhere along the way.  A familiar rash was on my upper arm, right next to my tattoo.   Ugh.

I was surprised to see it there, since I’d come in the day before after fun with the chainsaw and pretty quickly followed my scrub protocol.  I called G, who was running errands, to have him pick up the heavy-hitter when it comes to poison ivy rash:  Zanfel.  Having survived poison ivy with me, G didn’t play around.  He got it quickly, and I got myself straight to the bathroom to scrub with it.  Though you who have been around the blog awhile may recall that my body responds pretty violently to poison ivy, I wasn’t too freaked out, since I knew I’d taken the right early steps.  The big bummer?  I couldn’t go work on the garden, since sunshine will take a little poison ivy rash and use it to make me wish I was dead.

Later that day, we realized that G had a poison ivy rash of his own, under an arm, surely from the day he’d trimmed our front bushes.  We’re both surprised at his rash, since he suited up specially for this job and scrubbed out afterward, knowing our enemy plant grows in those bushes.  The following day, the rash under his arm was transmitted to the spot on his side where his arm touches it as he sleeps.  All week, I’ve been watching my own rash slowly crawl down my arm, as is always the case for me – if it follows the usual pattern, it’ll keep spreading right for a lot of days, despite the great care I take to prevent that.

So we’ve been in battle mode all week.  Rest has been forced on us, to this extent:  working in the yard is not an option while we’re broken out.  No garden work, no lawn mowing – it has to just wait until the rash gets past the point where sun won’t make it explode. Blessedly for us both, our rashes are in areas that regular clothes cover, so we’ve still been able to go to work every day.

I felt like I had this under control.  I’ve been using the Zanfel (and its cheaper cousin, the mechanic’s scrub Mean Green) aggressively, determined not to subject myself again to steroids.  In poison ivy (and its nasty cousins, poison oak and poison sumac) there is an evil thing called urushiol.  People call it an oil, but it’s not.  It’s a RESIN.  Ever used resin to fix, say, a fiberglass boat?  Urushiol has that kind of super-sticky power.  It bonds with your skin within minutes.  You can’t just casually wash it off with soap and water.  So the deal with Zanfel and Mean Green is they have an ingredient, when used right, that can force that resin to release from the skin, bit by bit.

Having discovered this miraculous fact, I’ve been scrubbing the rash twice a day, and I’ve watched it help.  I got to skip the “bubbly” phase, where the blisters ooze (which for me always increases the spread exponentially).  Though my rash has spread a little every day, normally by now it would be all over my face, neck, and the rest of my upper body.  A few days in, I developed one really tiny spot on my other arm and another on one hand, but scrubbing has prevented them from developing further at all.  (Also, G halted both his rashes and they are nearly gone already, and anyone who knows their stuff will tell you that poison ivy rash takes 3 weeks to finish, whether it’s treated or not – I’m telling you, this is a miracle product!)

It’s been a battle, but I’ve felt like we are winning.  With the twice per day scrub, the itch has been pretty minimal.  We’ve still been able to do life.  I’ve even been able to resist the urge to bitch and moan (except to G, who lives with me and gets the often-unlovely closer view!)

All along, there was a line of red swollenness around the rash.  I’ve been watching it carefully, as it has advanced slowly.  Then yesterday at work, it felt like I had too-tight elastic on there all day.  So when I got home, I took off my shirt and looked – and was instantly afraid.  The red swollenness had done a rapid-advance almost all the way around my arm.  It was very hot to the touch.  Holy smokes.  Infection!

A trip to urgent care got me the steroids I was trying so hard to avoid (though the doctor gave me something different, that she says might not trigger me as hard as the usual prednisone does), along with antibiotics and a topical cream.  I think I pushed this to the last possible minute – the pain and pressure in my arm from the swelling was literally getting worse by the minute by that point.  I could barely move it.

The biggest surprise for me from that visit:  rest orders.  We were supposed to have a seder today – as many guests as we have chairs to accommodate, so much food – I’ve spent a ton of time and money preparing for it, and we’ve been so excited.  I was taking the day off work to cook all day.  The doctor was adamant.  You will not go to your job.  You will not do work at home.  No, you will not cook. You will sit down and elevate your arm.  You will avoid anything that causes you stress.  I AM NOT KIDDING, she says.  She used a Sharpie to draw lines around the swelling; I am to watch whether it improves with meds, which will probably take 24 hours to really start kicking in.  Should I spike a fever or should the redness shoot a line toward my lymph node, I am to get myself to the emergency room.

So here we are, back to the REST theme.  While I’m massively bummed about the cancellation of the seder, I’m not gonna lie:  I’m pretty excited about a day of enforced rest.  The need to elevate my arm will mean that I truly just can’t do anything.  I’ve got good plans for what to do with my day of doing nothing at all.

I think among those plans had better be listening harder re:  rest.  I really don’t want to be such a slow learner on something God clearly wants me to figure out!



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