Poison Ivy

As a retirement gift, a former colleague gave me a collection of Korean skin care products. I love this gift — partly because I have a crush on the whole idea of Korean skin products. Also, despite fantasies about being the kind of person who takes long baths with a rejuvenating mask on my face, I generally don’t make time for that kind of self-care. Another thing retirement will give me time for.

Unfortunately, my skin will have to heal before I try these enticing serums. I have a terrible case of poison ivy. It started as a small rash on my face, and quickly spread to my neck. When my face developed shiny red blisters, I emailed a picture to my dermatologist, but she didn’t respond and the next day my face was better, so I optimistically decided that I was on the mend… even though the itchy rash continued to spread, to my hands and arms, then my trunk and legs. I applied cream every time I was tempted to scratch and read the Mayo Clinic website entry on poison ivy treatment many times, looking for the thing I was doing wrong. Finally, as I began to lose the battle not to scratch, nine days after I was exposed and five days after I failed to reach my dermatologist, I went to an urgent care clinic, where they immediately gave me a steroid shot with instructions to come back if it is not better in two days.

Thinking about why I only emailed my doctor, and didn’t make a follow up phone call, and other ways I didn’t manage this properly, I wonder if my mistakes signal an inherited problem: My mom used to groan with back pain as she weeded the garden but still refused to rest because she was sure that the pain would get better if she kept going. I used to argue with her about that. The true problem is different: my self-image is that, like a shark, I must move forward or die, and actually, unlike a shark, I need to stop and think. Maybe I will do that in a bath with a rejuvenating mask on my face.

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