July 31, 2020

As I sat on the examination table, all of the medical assistants, nurses, and doctors arrived, to see a condition they’d only read about.  That was 16 years ago, and here is the story.

Rod and I had traveled from Maui, Hawaii, to the east coast to visit family, ending our time with our son, Dan, and his wife, Kristie, in their newly purchased, older house in Richmond, VA. Like my mother before me, I always felt better and slept better having laid eyes on where my kids were living. This was their first house, a quaint Cape Cod on an older street. The last day we were there, I offered to help do some yard work, pulling weeds and prepping beds for planting. It felt so good to do the physical, outside work, sharing conversation with Kristie as we worked. And it was so satisfying at the end of the afternoon to see the progress we’d made. 

I slept well that night, and Rod and I rose early to catch our flight from Richmond to Chicago where we made our connection to the flight to Maui. About an hour into the 8 ½ hour flight from Chicago to Maui I started getting itchy, and within minutes noticed the blistering rash of poison ivy emerging on my hands and arms, and no doubt also on my itchy ankles and legs. The remainder of the trip was miserable, and as soon as we landed, I called my primary care physician, told the person on the phone I had poison ivy, and described my symptoms. They fit me in at 4:00 pm that very afternoon.  

Poison ivy doesn’t occur in Hawaii, so my PCP was excited to lay eyes on an actual case and not a textbook illustration. He asked if I’d mind letting the rest of the staff see what it looked like. I didn’t mind being the medical model, as long as they put me on steroids pronto.

I’d had poison ivy any number of times as an adult, sometimes through direct contact with the plant’s leaves, and at least once simply by standing downwind of the plant. But during our time in Wisconsin, I’d avoided it, and didn’t need to worry at all about it in Hawaii. In my enthusiasm to help family, I’d completely forgotten to be careful and had not taken any precautions such as wearing gloves, a long-sleeve top, or socks and long pants; and washing off as soon as I was done. As a result I paid the price – very uncomfortable flight, a spectacle for an entire medical practice, and several days before my oozing blisters had healed enough to venture outside.

There are so many things I’d like to do right now that would feel so good and so right.  I’d love to hop in the car, drive to Ohio, and slip unseen into the assisted living facility to visit my sister. It would feel so great to have an open house and invite all of the church and our friends and neighbors to thank you for all your support in our transition to Woodstock. And it would feel so incredibly good and right to worship together in our sanctuary, greeting and hugging each other, singing our hearts lifting our combined unmasked voices to God in praise.

Paul said, “I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful. I have the freedom to do anything, but I won’t be controlled by anything,” (1 Corinthians 6:12, Common English Bible). That sounds a lot like the Latin phrase, “Primum non nocere,” first, do no harm.  I no longer venture into gardens without checking for poison ivy, and when walking in the woods, I wear long sleeves, socks, and pants. Until it is safe to do so, there will be no open house. And as much as I love to sing, the only place that is happening, for now, is in the shower. 

Learning to do no harm to others or to myself. ~ Anne

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