Tuesday, May 30, 2006


A recent post at Rob Smith’s place - a horror story about poison ivy - brought back some terrible memories.

Back in my Snot-Nose days, we would spend our leisure time playing out of doors. The idea of spending hours inside watching television or playing video games on all but the most inclement of days would have been incomprehensible. [For that matter, the very concept of a “video game” was incomprehensible then.]

At the time - this was most likely around 1960, when I was not quite eight years old - there were plenty of vacant lots in our neighborhood, vacant lots that would eventually be filled with modest suburban houses. The lots held varying amounts of shrubbery and trees, ideal for hiding, running around, and climbing...the standard Kid Activities of the time.

One Saturday, upon returning from a typical day of outdoor play, my mother noticed that I looked flushed. It wasn’t especially noticeable to me, but a look in the mirror was a shock: my face was bright pink.

The next day, my face was still a reddish pink. That was bad enough...but over the course of the day, my features began to swell. By the end of the day, I was barely recognizable.

Monday morning arrived. There was no question of my going to school. My face had swollen to the point where I could barely see through my slitted eyes. I’m sure I itched all over as well, but my main recollections are of my horrifyingly swollen face. How much worse could things get? Would my windpipe swell shut? Gaaaahhh!

I vaguely recall stumbling about, mumbling, “I am not an animal! I am a human being!” [Just kidding.]

Fortunately, that was back in the days when family physicians made house calls. A frantic telephone call from my mother, and the usually-dreaded Dr. Schoenbrun was on his way. For once, I didn’t put up a fuss about getting a “shot.”

Within minutes, the swelling went down. I could see again! A few hours later, everything was back to normal. It was my first exposure to the dramatic capabilities of Modern Medicine.

From then on, I always had a supply of oral antihistamine in the house. Tacaryl, I believe it was, a fine product of Eli Lilly and Company.

To this day, I don’t know whether I had suffered a violent allergic reaction to poison ivy - which grew in abundance in most of the places we played, although we knew enough to avoid it most of the time - or whether I had been exposed to smoke from a pile of burning Vacant Lot Debris that contained the Offending Plant. All I know is, for years, I took great pains to stay the hell away from poison ivy and its relatives. And I still grimace in empathetic pain when I hear tales of campers inadvertently wiping their asses with the stuff.

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