Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Poison Tree Battle

If you've been following my blog for a while, you may remember that last year I had some problems with a plant at my field site that I refer to as Poison Tree because it gives me a poison ivy-like rash. It's just like poison ivy, and it's everywhere. Since I can rarely follow trails, I encounter it a lot while bushwhacking. It's impossible for me not to touch it, and it gets on the things I bring in the field including my clothes, backpack, and equipment. I know from last year that I can react from touching stuff that has been in the field and then touching my skin. As a result of my sensitivity, I have a number of precautions that I take.
1. I always, always wear long pants, long sleeves, and a hat even when it's really hot. The only exposed skin is my hands, neck, and face.
2. Before going in the field, I apply IvyBlock which was created to bind the urushiols in poison ivy. Thankfully it is also effective for Poison Tree. This product is a godsend. I reapply after lunch or when I know I've just touched it a lot or if it brushed my face.
3. As soon as I return from the field, I wash my hands. Then I take off my field clothes and bathe with lots of soap. I carefully put aside my field clothes until the next day (or for laundry) and then change into clean clothes for the rest of the day.
4. If I touch any of my field gear once I'm back at the house, I wash my hands. Field notebook, GPS, camera, backpack, clothes, whatever. This means that I wash my hands about 20 times a day. If I lean my arms on my field pants to tie my boots in the morning while I'm wearing just the tshirt without my long sleeved shirt, I wash my arms. I feel kind of silly but I know I have to be really careful.
5. I wear my field clothes for no more than two days in the field and then wash them. I wash my rain gear and hat once a week.
6. I don't mix my field and non-field clothes while washing.
7. I clean surfaces in my house that my field assistants have touched or sat on with soap and water. They don't react to Poison Tree and so they don't hesitate to grab it or sit on it.
8. I try not to sit down or lean on anything in the house while wearing my field gear.
9. I will wash my backpack by hand every week or two (it's a big pain), and in a machine when I return to the city (at least once).
In spite of all of my precautions, I have a growing patch of rash on my lower back, a few small spots on my hands and wrists, and some spots on my leg. My hands I understand, but back and knee? My legs are always covered, as is my back, which means both of those are from me spreading it from somewhere else. It's not bad though and I know it would be so much worse without the IvyBlock. I hope they invent something soon that I can spay on my clothes. Well, I'd better go wash my hands again.

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