In the weekend between Martin’s first and second full weeks of school, he and I traveled Upstate, to attend his cousin Mandy’s birthday party. The party took place at Mandy’s grandmother’s house, a country-kid-paradise with a creek for swimming, endless supply of water balloons, tractor rides, even some sort of gigantic inflatable ball for children to enter and be rolled around the lawn.
Martin did okaaaay, considering that Mandy, the only child he knew, had twenty other friends to entertain, the surroundings were unfamiliar, and the event was unstructured (which is toughest for Martin). He managed spattered bursts of interactive play but also spent time alone, by the creek or on the rope swing. He wasn’t always where the other kids were.
That evening, Saturday, brought some excitement. Martin and I were having dinner with one of my high-school friends when my sister, Mandy’s mother, texted to say she and her fiancé were driving my father to the hospital. My father was hospitalized last year for a blood infection in his leg. Saturday afternoon he visited a walk-in clinic because his ankle and calf were inflamed, and the clinic doctor recommended an immediate trip to the emergency room. Martin and I finished dinner, hurriedly said goodbye, and drove an hour to meet everyone at the hospital. (Upstate, every distance is wide.)
At the hospital, lolling in a chair at my father’s bedside (it was late), Martin started to complain that he was itchy, and bumps appeared on his arms. I asked the nurse whether the hospital used any products that might cause Martin to have an allergy. Why, sure, she replied, and enumerated chemical cleaners sprayed about the facility, including on the chairs. Martin continued to itch.
As soon as my father’s situation was under control, I drove Martin to our hotel and helped him scrub himself from top to bottom in the shower. He seemed to feel better. By then it was after 11:00 pm. Martin went directly from shower to bed and soon slept.
The next morning Martin woke without hives and decided to watch television while I showered. From the shower, I heard Martin yell, “It hurts! It’s itchy!” Hurriedly I wrapped myself in a towel and went to find Martin’s arms and legs looking like this—
I had no idea what was wrong but knew I had to do something. I drove him to a local drugstore and purchased the least offensive antihistamine I could find, in terms of additives and colors. By the time we left the drugstore, however, Martin’s arms and legs had returned to normal and he’d stopped complaining. So, no antihistamine. Instead, we went up to my sister’s for breakfast and then started the four-to-five-hour drive home. Everything was fine until twenty minutes from our house, whereupon Martin started to itch again. As soon as we arrived, I administered the antihistamine, and Martin quickly felt better.
The next morning, Monday, Martin woke up fine. Adrian’s car was getting fixed, so I left Martin with my mother-in-law (visiting) and drove Adrian to the train station. When I returned after twenty minutes, Martin was rolling on the rug, screaming. Actually screaming. “It hurts! It hurts! Help!” This time his legs looked like this—
Martin swallowed more antihistamine, then said it was “hard to breathe,” to which I replied, “Get in the car. We’re going to the hospital,” because I wasn’t going to mess around if Martin was having an anaphylactic reaction. We were barely underway to the hospital, my mother-in-law in tow, when the reaction subsided. Martin was safe, so I diverted toward Martin’s pediatrician, calling underway for an appointment.
“That’s poison ivy,” the physician assistant said, when I showed her the pictures. “He’s covered with poison ivy.” She prescribed steroids and said we could continue with antihistamines. She also examined Martin’s throat and found no evidence of swelling, meaning that his “hard to breathe” comment was probably just frustration and panic. I called Martin’s MAPS doctor, got her okay for the steroids, picked up the prescription, and delivered Martin to school, with a lengthy explanation and bottle of antihistamines for the school nurse.
The poison ivy flared on and off all week long, Martin’s second week in his new school. He was miserable and, as far as I could tell, worn out.
And if you’re worried—my father also survived.