When we moved into our family home in February 1964, our part of Milwaukie was still pretty open, with an almost rural feel; a number of vacant lots (which would pretty much get filled over the ensuing dozen years), and groves of old fir trees, many of which remain all these years later.
There was also poison oak, which I knew about mainly because every now and then a friend or family member would break out in the itchy rash.
It never happened to me, though, leading me to decide at some point that I, as some people are, was immune to it (the plant is not actually poisonous, despite the name; what happens on the skin is an allergic reaction to the oil in the plant, and most but not all people have that allergy). And since I traipsed around all the brushy places around my house and never had anything bad happen, I didn’t even bother to learn how to identify the poison oak plant.
One day in my early 20s, though, after a hike in the woods, I ended up with a splotch of red, itchy skin on my arm that was identified as the poison oak rash; my bubble had been burst.
And I made a point to brush up on my poison oak ID capabilities.
Despite that, I’ve still come down with severe cases of the rash on a few occasions; sometimes, there are just outdoor jobs that have to get done that put you at a risk level you can’t completely manage. And having dogs crash through the brush and then transfer the poison oak oil to you your skin doesn’t help you stay itch-free, either.
In fall 2005 I had two horrendous, body-wide outbreaks almost one right after the other. Trust me: Having the rash anywhere on your person is miserable; having it everywhere threatens to drive you insane.
When the second brutal case appeared — I picked it up while pruning tress from the contaminated bucket of our tractor; I had a couple weeks earlier used the bucket to clear brush that apparently included poison oak — I really couldn’t see myself just waiting this one out as I had the first. It takes roughly a couple weeks for an outbreak to run its course on its own.
So I called the doctor, explained my situation, inquired about a cortisone shot and was given an appointment that same morning with the nurse practitioner, a woman named Cassandara.
She took one look at my rash-covered trunk and concluded I needed the steroid injection, which figured to put things right rather quickly. So I started rolling up my sleeve, not realizing it was going to be a sort of high-volume shot, 2 cc’s.
“You’re going to get this in your bum,” she said, smiling.
As long as the injection worked, I didn’t care where the needle had to go, so I dropped my pants as instructed. Within about three hours, the redness and itchiness were pretty much gone.
And an added benefit was that the cortisone also knocked down all of the various inflammation and pain that had been hanging around from a lifetime of sports injuries; for about three months, I felt about 18 years old. It was fantastic.
Since then, I’ve had only a couple mild cases of poison oak. I go in the woods a lot, but I’m super careful to avoid the plant.
Here are a couple of photos, taken Monday in the woods near Adair Village, to help you know what you’re looking for so you can avoid it too: