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The Ivy League - Back to school & poison ivy

a lovely blue-eyed woman, bright and effusive, had been a patient of mine for
fifteen years. Although she had weathered her share of acute illness and some
brushes with more serious pathology, she was enjoying good health as she entered
her middle years and was bracing, with equal portions of trepidation and enthusiasm,
for the transition to an empty nest. The youngest of her four children was about
to be fledged, off to a far-away Ivy League college in the fall.

An early morning call
Swede called me one morning at the crack of dawn as I was puttering in the fall
garden, gathering the last of the raspberries and inhaling the bittersweet end
of summer as it marched across my yard. She apologized profusely for calling
early, calling me at home, and calling me at all, but she had the worst case
of poison ivy, and it was either call me, or go to the local emergency room.
I had office appointments beginning a few hours later, so I asked if she could
meet me there at lunchtime when I would have a few free minutes. Emboldened by
her pain and anxiety, this usually mild-mannered woman pushed: maybe she could
come in before my first patient? How forward, I thought, but being immersed in
the gentleness of morning dew, I acquiesced.
     Like many practitioners, I have seen cases of poison
ivy that truly take the breath away. I have observed large tracts of skin with
excoriation, weeping, and crusting. I have seen faces blown up, nearly unrecognizable,
and limbs distorted by swelling. I have been privy to genital exfoliation and
plantar disintegration, all from the effects of this ubiquitous and pesky weed.
     When Swede met me later that morning, she presented
none of the above. Instead, what I saw when she gingerly rolled back her gauzy
cotton sleeve, was a small strand of pearly vesicles, no more than two inches
long. There was an even smaller satellite lesion with perhaps three tapioca-like
dots. I kept looking farther up the arm for the dramatic presentation I had been
expecting, the effects of this demon at work ... but, there was nothing more!

Hard to believe ...
With unadulterated urgency, Swede described her intense pain, her sleeplessness,
and the pure agony she was experiencing. It was, I am sorry to say, difficult
to believe! We homeopaths are trained never to make faces, never to let our expressions
betray our thoughts. But my mouth was surely hanging open. I felt a bit confused
and said, "I don't know ... it just really doesn't look that bad."
     Wrong comment.
     Swede said she knew it didn't look bad, but it
really was horrible and she couldn't stand it another minute. She had self-prescribed
Rhus toxicodendron 12C that morning and reported that she did feel somewhat better.
So I sent her home with some Rhus toxicodendron 30C and 200C, and instructions
to call me later in the day, at the office.

Tortured and unable to be still
Between patients, reviewing charts, I received Swede's teary call. It was much
worse, she was much worse. Incapable of sitting still and unable to get a grip
on herself, she was scurrying around the house, feeling hot and breathless. I
asked her to do me a favor: try a cold compress to the area and let me know how
it felt. She reported that it gave a little temporary relief. I then asked her
to do the same with a hot one. As she laid that hot cloth on the eruptions, she
let out a screeching yelp, as if she had placed her whole arm on top of a sizzling
hot, wood-burning stove. She began to cry in earnest—wracking sobs, which
I listened to as empathetically as telephone technology allows.
     I asked a few more questions. She described a searing
pain, as if someone was torturing her, dragging a not-quite-extinguished match
along the tender flank of her wrist. She said she had to keep moving, literally
without rest. If she stopped, the excruciating pain was exacerbated.
     I have seen people who need one particular homeopathic
remedy arrive at such a point as the state that Swede was in—with arthritis,
with burns, with insect bites, and yes, with poison ivy. I told Swede to take
Apis mellifica 30C and call me in the morning.
     When I went home that evening and spent time in
the yard with my children, I was cautioning them, "Don't go in there, there's
poison ivy ... Leave that ball, we'll get another one. ... Don't touch that vine!" Call
me paranoid.

Sweet relief
Swede did call the next day, bright and early, to say she was all better. No
pain. Nada. I asked if the eruption was gone and she said it was still there,
but it no longer hurt. She was planning to go to work that day, and oh yes, thanks!
     Incredible that a little pellet of medicine can
work so deeply, so quickly, that someone writhing in pain can be fine a few hours
later, just like that! We think about using the remedy Apis mellifica when the
problem at hand has the modalities of being both better from cold and worse from
heat. There is typically swelling of the part in question. People who need Apis
mellifica are usually restless and irritable, and they seem quite sensitive to
their pain or discomfort. Their problems are often worse at night.
     In addition, when Apis mellifica is indicated,
I find that it is not uncommon to see some sort of shift in the home life, and
the attendant anxiety that accompanies it as a precursor to the Apis mellifica
state. You see, there was tremendous stress at home for Swede. As she was helping
her youngest pack and get ready to take a giant step away from home, what should
have been a small acute illness took on grandiose proportions. This was the way
mother Swede apparently somatosized her sad and mixed emotions, and was then
able to jump into empty-nesthood without the tremendous emotional upheaval that
sometimes accompanies such transitions. Though the poison ivy caused an unpleasant
few days, in a sense, you might say that Swede took much of her angst and worry
and compressed it into this pathology.
     It is lovely to treat a first-aid or acute problem
with homeopathy as part of a practice in which I largely see those with chronic
disease. The very sick get well, too, but seldom as dramatically and completely
as those with acute problems like Swede.
     So bring on those acutes! In this time of back-to-school
changes for children and those who care for them, we often see the stress of
these transitions manifesting in physical ailments. Remember to think of that
stress as part of the possible etiology [cause] when treating people at this
time of year. And may all the learning be sweet.
About the author:
Amy Rothenberg ND, practices in Enfield, Connecticut. She teaches for the National
Center for Homeopathy and the New England School of Homeopathy (NESH). She can
be reached at For information
about NESH and the next two-year certificate course beginning in April 2004,