Monday, August 9, 2010

Having a Body that Heals

This is perhaps a stretch of the aim of this blog, which is to talk about the things in the world that are good and fun pursuits in and of themselves, but I wanted to take a moment to appreciate the biology of a self-healing body.  Having a self-healing body is a good thing, though some might say it's instrumentally good rather than good in itself.  Leaving that to the side for a moment, I want to say thanks, Body.  You rock.

The reason for my thanks is that my skin is very quickly on the mend - remarkably fast, all things considered - and it has everything to do with my body's own powers.  I had a *terrible* case of poison ivy, which started exactly two weeks ago.  I didn't post about my agony even though it was tempting, because getting poison ivy all over your body is very definitely against the ethos of this blog.  Healing, on the other hand, is more generally aligned.

Poison Ivy - and not the butt-kicking Uma Thurman kind

I got poison ivy from gardening while Drew and I were in Ontario.  I was clearing weeds out of my Mum's garden and picked a small three-leaved plant and held it up and asked "is this poison ivy?"  No one around was sure, and the consensus was that it probably was a small lilac.  I therefore didn't think about it again, and as lilacs and poison ivy both send out shoots and send up plants from these creeping roots, I had no real reason to doubt that what I was touching was a lilac.  I pulled those pesky lilacs out of the garden, by the roots, with my bare hands.

Now, any one who has had poison ivy is probably recoiling in fear.  To people who are very allergic just brushing the plant's leaves can cause a terrible rash.  I have never had poison ivy before, so I must have had some kind of resistance to it, but the oil (which causes the rash) in the roots is the most potent and causes the most violent reaction, and boy, did I ever have root-juice all over me.  I was sitting on the ground while weeding, and the poison ivy, roots and all, was sitting around my legs.  It's no surprise then that two Mondays ago I started to get a terrible itchy rash.  It started with a huge welt on my wrist, which looked more like a second-degree burn than a rash, and soon I had bumps and blisters all over my left forearm, my left calf, my left upper thigh, both knees, and my neck.  I hadn't washed my hands at the time because I didn't think I was touching poison ivy, so I really got the oil all over my body.  Lesser reactions were on my stomach, my cheeks, my feet, and my hands.  I even had one small spot on my ear.

Everthing is almost all healed now, minus my hands and feet.  They were the last to react to the oil, perhaps because the skin is tougher, and so they're also the last to heal.  My arm, which was first, is almost completely back to normal except for a pink gash of healing skin.  Even where I didn't scratch the fluid-bubbles open (which is SO HARD NOT TO DO!  Poison ivy is so compulsively itchy that Drew has had to pin my arms down to stop me from scratching even when *I know* that I should not scratch [this is because of scarring and bacterial infection, not, as is commonly thought, because the fluid is contagious.  That's a myth.]) the skin is red and scabbing over - much like a burn.   There are lots of places where I did scratch, even places where I'm still scratching, and I have bruised myself from scratching so hard.  On top of poison ivy, my skin is healing from wounds inflicted by me.

So here's to bodies that heal themselves!  If it weren't for the healing power of cells and organ systems, I would really be in a lot of trouble.

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