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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adventures of chipmunk face

Note: This post has been edited for length and brevity from the version I posted last night. It's better this way - trust me.

I am going make a leap of faith here and assume that encountering poisonous plants is adventure that all e-riders will have at some point.

For sure entertainment value, I'll post mine here. We could call it - "Adventure of Chipmunk Face". Of course I could call it (more accurately) "In which Melinda resembles a pus-encrusted chipmunk", but that doesn't have the same ring to it, do you agree?

For the first 20 years of my life I wasn't allergic to poison oak (clinical signs are identical to poison ivy and poison sumac for those of you in other parts of the country). I (smartly) still avoided it like the plague and black death, sure my reprieve would end at any moment.

I had good reason to believemy good fortune was temporary. I am the person, that in grade school had to carry "special" soap to class because I broke out in painful blisters between my fingers to the school soap. I've used the same sunscreen for the last 15 years because I'm afraid of breaking out in hives (tried switching....once). I don't wear makeup except for 1-2x a year for special occasions. I don't use lotion. I use ONE brand of laundry detergent. I use Dove soap. Get the picture? It's a rashy, hivey, itchy picture.

When I was 20, I was exposed one too many times. No body around me knew what it was because it was so inflamed. I had one person suggest chiggers......

At some point (another 3 days) I started finding it on other parts of my body - like on my cheeks. I panicked and to make a long story short I found a ride to a clinic (many hours away) where they patted me on the head and said "here, take this cream....".

My leg made grown men feel light headed to look at. No joke. My mother (NOT a squeamish person) announces that it looks like my leg is going to fall off and to this day reminds me of that fact whenever I bring up the subject. Some friends who were docs and nurses took one look at my leg and agreed that the cream made it look worse. I discontinued it and it was the official turning point...quickly it returned to normal.

With that kind of introduction, I was very careful to stay away from poison oak for the next 3 years.

Then I discovered endurance.

And technu.

I was either very lucky or an expert in technu application because I didn't get it again for 2 more years.

Last year at some endurance race (?) I got it on my face. I either didn't notice it so didn't use technu OR I missed a spot.

It wasn't too bad - some itching, some "liquid draining", and cracked lips so bad I couldn't eat.

I made it to Thursday before giving in and going to the doctor. Of course by then I think I was probably over the worst of it.

The doc looked at my face, clucked a few times and said "oh you poor dear" and was NOT convinced it was poison oak (after all, her exact words were "how do you get it on your FACE", and seem unconvinced by my explanation of endurance....), gave me some cream and said "Good luck!". I told her that the cream seemed to have made it worse in the past, but was was pretty much patted on the head and told to go on my way.....

I used the cream a couple of times and I don't know whether it did anything at all - for worse or better. Everything cleared up in a couple of days and I went back to being able to get a spoon in my mouth (important for eating icecream!)

I tucked away in the back of my memory that having poison oak on the face sucked and moved on with my life.

Which brings us to 2010, and the American River ride.

I rode through huge bushes of it. I was aware of it's presence on the trail. This is why I wear long sleeves and gloves. I have technu staged at vet checks to slather on.

I probably could have been a bit more detail oriented when applying - I only applied it ONCE during the ride (30 miles), yet wore the same set of clothes for the entire ride. I also apparently missed the area in front of my ears, near the jaw line on either side of my face.....

Sunday (24 later)....I noticed some itchy spots. Doesn't look too bad. So far in line with what I had experienced before - right now to it being on my lips/side of mouth.

Monday....itchy, definitely a rash, pus starting, but nothing out of the ordinary. Oh well, this isn't so bad....I find the ointment from last year (not expired!) and start applying. See! Old age brings wisdom - in this case the wisdom of being proactive after not being quite proactive enough with the Technu. Maybe you need to be ancient before learning that lesson?

Tuesday.....I'm flying to Alabama. Pus starts to run down my left cheek. a LOT of runny yellow stuff. By the end of the first flight I'm ready to go to the bathroom and clean up. Imagine my surprise when I finally see myself in the mirror and see....chipmunk half face. Mmmmm.....This is different.....I didn't have swelling last time....By the end of the trip (12 hours in all) I defintly live up to the moniker "pus-encrusted chipmunk face". People are pretending not to notice my deformity. I find that cold washcloth compresses feel WONDERFUL and I go around town and work with a washcloth glued (literally) to my face. I double check the day my ointment prescription was filled last year and find out it was a Thursday. Great, I just need to make it 'til Thursday and everything will be fine since that's the traditional turn around point....

Wednesday.....I walk in the plant and the plant nurse takes one look at me and says "I'm making you an appointment at the doctor's. I just nod - or least try to nod. The swelling has now extended to one side of my neck and it's a bit difficult. What's interesting is that although the rash IS spreading on my face and I HAVE discovered over areas (like my stomach) that it's popping up, the swelling goes far beyond the rash on my face. By the time my afternoon appointment rolls around, my ear canal is busy trying to swell shut and now I look like a pus encrusted chipmunk with a tooth infection.

The doctor's appointment.

Rural Alabama doctor offices are different from California. I'll leave it at that :)

My 75 1/2 year old (he announced....) doctor walked in and asked me how many counties were in California (I guessed 30?), Alabama (5?), and Texas (5? - I was done playing the game). He then informed me that he hadn't seen a case of poison oak that was so...interesting....before.

This, as he was also telling me that he wished he could drop a bomb in the San Adreas fault and just have California float off into the Pacific and no one would cry - no siree - especially him.....

I told him what cream I was using (perscriped last year and the first time I got it) and he immediately poo pooed it as entirely worthless at best for this circumstance and most likely making it worse. He then announced that California docs just didn't see enough of this stuff to properly treat it and promptly told me I would be getting a shot AND a prescription for an ointment in which "usually the dosing is once a day, but in cases like your face that look like THAT (hesitates....) feel free to use it 2-3 times..."

The nurse walked in with the preloaded syringe and let me know that "this is REALLY going to burn". I let her know (as revenge) that since we were being so honest...the last time I got an injection in my hip I had passed out.....

Then off to the one drug store in town that took my insurance and attempted to fill my prescription without my prescription card.....all while looking like a pus encrusted chipmunk with a tooth ache AND a thyroid problem.

The latest....

Now, 7 hours after the injection, the swelling has started to go down. The pus has finally stopped (thanks to the new cream) and I actually felt well enough to sit in a restaurant and eat dinner (I've only been able to manage fast food up until this point - trust me, NO one wanted to look at my face and eat).

Several people (including the doctor) have said that although the pus/etc is obviously a reaction to the poison oak oils, the other secondary reactions such as the swelling look like an allergic reaction in ADDITION to the primary irritation....which means I may be developing (most likely infact.....) a severe allergy to the poison oil, in ADDITION to being sensitive.

Oh goody.

This reaction featured the never before experienced (by me) symptom of swelling. What might the next bring? I think it's time to see if I can track down that poison oak vaccine I was told was available at some point.....

I could always take the docs advice to prevent poison oak (after telling me if I thought Technu worked, he had a bridge for sale....) and soap up my face and arms, then ride, then rinse the soap off afterwards. At least that allergic reaction (from the long-exposure to soap) might not feature swelling......

On the other hand, Doc gave me SEVEN refills on this magical (and no doubt, high toxic cream, which I currently could not care less as long as it allows me to sleep tonight NOT glued to my pillow) cream. That might last me as long as a year with careful rationing....


  1. Wow, you win the sucky allergies award! And I agree, it sounds like you're having a more extreme allergic reaction. Be careful and don't let it progress to anaphylaxis, ok? You should ask your local doctor and get a prescription for an Epipen just in case. :-/

    My best poison ivy story isn't quite as good, but here goes. I was 8 or 10, and I climbed a tree. It had a huge (3" thick) fuzzy vine that made it a lot easier to climb, yay! The vine turned out to be the mother of all poison ivy vines, boo! I got sheets of blisters all over the insides, tops, and cuticles of every one of my fingers. It was excruciating... but it didn't get infected and pussy, and I didn't get spreading swelling elsewhere. That worries me. :(

  2. What ever makes you think I would let it progress to anaphylaxis???? :) Oh. Well, you have a point.

    It actually did cross my mind. I have an appointment with my doc in a couple of weeks to recheck my knee. I think I may ask then. I *think* I would have plenty of time to get to an office, but why take the chance?

    In addition to the swelling, right before going into the doc, the area sotpped hurting and was numb and tingling instead. I also had momements of feeling slightly "off". I din't worry about it much because I was going in, but at the same time noticed patches of rash popping up where the hadn't been before and where there is NO WAY that I had direct exposure (like my stomach).

    As I am in alabama with a completely different set of wardrobe etc, it unlikely I was continuing to be exposed to the oil.

  3. so any way, my point of my early comment was to say that I don't really know WHERE this reaction was heading, but I GUESSING based on what was happening right before I got into the docs office that it was NOT GOOD. hehehehe.

    Poor Funder :( I will guess that you poor mother taught yu the "3 leaves let it be rhyme" after that? :) I learned the rhyme from Ranger Rick magazine as a young kid, before I had EVER even SEEN poison oak.

  4. Oh, I knew exactly what poison ivy looked like - it's just that it was late winter, and I didn't know what bare poison ivy vines looked like! Especially when they were giant sized. Eeek.

    My mom's allergic to a lot of stuff too, and she's always drilled in my head that allergies can go very bad very fast. I'm serious, if I had a contact allergy that spread to noncontact areas - or if I had a systemic allergy much worse than a normal one - I'd totally get an rx for an Epipen. The way it's been explained to me is that once your body gets too sensitized to a certain substance (like urushiol), it can seriously overreact to contact with it again.

    But as it is... I just itch halfheartedly a lot of the time, and I always have Benadryl somewhere nearby!

  5. Point well taken:). I Ask for one an I will carry one. I also will probably NOT take a wait and see approach to any further cases of it. No more "give me a cream and wait three days". Give me the bloody shot now!

  6. wow...I'm glad I didn't have to see you during the later stages. All I had to deal with was the yellow-y pussy bit
    (poor me, having to *see* such horrors, where you had to deal with the actual issue..)

  7. Oh, ugh! I admit I had to laugh, but in sympathy. When I was younger I was also severely allergic to those plants (I know we have ivy around here, not sure about the others?)... There were plants growing a few yards beyond the fence of our school playground and if the wind blew the wrong way, I broke out. Aveeno became my friend. I got some nasty rashes on my face but thankfully (*knock wood*) I never went through the oozing chipmunk stage.

    I'm hoping I grew out of the sensitivity, like I grew out of my severe reaction to bug bites, but all the same thanks for reminding me to steer WAY clear...

  8. Surely they gave you a steroid shot? I'm in Indiana and get poison ivy/oak quite a bit. One of my woodsy horse pastures had a lot of it. Every time I would mow it I would break out. The Dr. gave me streroid pills. And some extra. Now I decided to be pro active. I take a pill or two before I mow the pasture. And voila no breakouts!

    I never got it as a child. And I was exposed to it all the time (kid who played in the woods every day). But then in my early twenties after cleaning out some brush (in shorts) and being outside all day before showering I got it bad. Now I get it easily. Also, am developing allergies to bee stings. As a child I got stung several times and never had any swelling or problems. Then in my late 20's I was stung 3 times at once. Swelled up some but didn't go to dr. Next time I was stung 3 times at once and got bad swelling that needed a steroid shot, and pills. Dr. said avoid the woods!!! Yeah right! No endurance rider can do that!

    I've never had any reaction as bad as what you are describing though. Poor girl!!

    Michelle Detmer

  9. Yep - they gave me Celestrone.

    In California they are VERY hesitant to give steriod shots. It's like LAST resort. However, after seenig how well they worked, I'm thinking that I will insist in the future - I'm not having a typical reaction from what I'm reading.

    I think complicating things is that when I walk into the Doc I have to tell them (at least in CA) that it's poison oak. From the pics I'm seein gon the internet, my rash doesn't spend more than 12 hours in the state that I see rashes on the internet and quickly progresses ot "something else".

    I guess a small blessing is because it's just painful and not itchy, I'm not tempted to scratch so I haven't had problems with secondary infection.

    After doing some reading on the internet I may add "Ivy" block to my arsenal - then wash with Technu afterwards.

    BTW my doc said that Zyrtec works better than benedryl for calming allergic reactions so I'll make sure to carry that AND try to get my hands on a steriod pill pack and/or an epipen. I do so much in the back country by myself and it's perfectly normal that it would take me a couple of days to get to the docs.

    Obviously I need to have a discussion with my doc. Hopefully he takes me seriously.

  10. Oh my goodness that just sounds HORRIBLE! I feel so bad for you right now! It is one thing to look like a disfigured mess, but it is another thing to look like a disfigured mess when you are away from home and trying to work! You poor thing! I hope that the cream keeps working for you (even if you are just a crazy Californian). There is something to be said for rural medicine.

  11. I actually liked my alabama doc experienced. they took me SERIOUSLY. :)

    I feel much better this morning. Swelling is still there, but it's dried up and I'm feeling (almost) back to normal.

  12. always demand a steriod shot when you are dealing with a severe allergic resaction to (for us) poison ivy. If you do not get it, it will drive you insane.

    I once had it so bad, my employer put me in the back in the warehouse where people could not see me. He was afraid I would scare off his customers.

  13. At first I was really studying the picture, trying to find out what part of your face the pus-encrusted skin was until I figured out which caption belonged to it and that it was obviously some poor sucker's arm.

  14. Just got around to reading your blob.

    Sorry about the PO - it's an occupational hazard around here as I get it really badly, including the swelling, oozing, dripping, etc - and for me it feels like a million ants crawling under my skin. It wipes me out for days.

    Needless to say, we always have a supply of Zanfel and more lately, Techu *Extreme* in the house...and at work... and in my work bag. I also have a supply of ice packs ready and waiting in the freezer - need those to sleep at night when I get it.

    Oh, and one time I ended up in hospital with a melon-face for two days because I got bitten by a mosquito and then scratched my eyelid with the same finger I used to apply anti-itch cream.

    Triggers = stress, sunshine, and a catalyst of some kind - insect bite, PO, zinc metal, etc

    Anyhoo, definitely recommend the Technu Extreme - and use it *fast* - like the second you even have the inkling that you might have gotten some PO, no matter how small.

  15. Lucy could you share you prevention protocol an then exactly what you
    do after you get it an when?

    I went to an allergenist who is completely against the epipen (says it
    won't work, which is fine....) but wants me to take heavy duty
    steroids before, during, and after any potential exposure, which means
    I would be on these steroids at least 25% of the time, AND use a
    steroid cream on myface while riding. He also says that oral
    antihistamines won't help.

    I'm really uncomfortable taking steroids over the Lon term for
    prevention (alhough I'm willing to take them at the first sign of a
    reaction). Supposidly it won't cause me to be more sensitive to the
    sun or impart my athletic ability during a ride (like being able to
    run in the heat) but I'm not convinced afte doing some reading.

    I'm being told such contridicting  things, it doesn't seem like anyone
    knows what yet are talking about and I get the feeling the docs and
    specialists I'm seeing don't have much experience in this area.

    Any advice?


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