The Merck Manual’s home edition is running a fun contest on their Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/MerckManualHome
Each week they present a commonly held piece of medical folk wisdom, and people are asked to identify if it is Fact or Folklore. One of these questions was on poison ivy. Basically they asked if the fluid from blisters caused by Poison Ivy is contagious, and if you can catch a rash from someone with poison ivy. I’ll let you look up the answer on your own: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/skin_disorders/itching_and_dermatitis/contact_dermatitis.html
However, this reminded me of high school. Not because I got a particularly bad case of poison ivy and had some embarrassing experiences or anything (although I certainly did get poison ivy a few times, just from living in rural New England and spending time outside). However, during high school I volunteered at one point to help teach small children (in the 6-8 years old range) about nature. There were a whole bunch of us high school students, who worked with all different groups of kids, and each of the “instructors” had different focus areas, and I ended up specializing in poison ivy. I was responsible for teaching the little kids about what poison ivy is, how to recognize it in all the different seasons, how to avoid contact (including with pets who have may been in it), how to deal with exposure (shower as quickly as possible), and how to treat it if you get a rash. It’s actually a lot of information to convey to young children, and a challenge to both keep their attention, but also to make it informative and reinforce what they are learning so they remembered it. The first few times, I did a horrible job, but with practice I got better and better at it, and by the 10th time I had a great delivery that I maintained. I would use a wider range of voice and I would make funny analogies which I though were memorable. For example one very effective way of recognizing poison ivy in the colder parts of the years, when all the leaves are gone, is by the collection of “hair” like attachments the vines use to attach to trees. By likening this to a hairy armpit (which was something one of the kids an early group actually pointed out to me, he said “it looks like a man’s hairy armpit”; the kids were teaching me how to teach them), I got all the kids (and their parents) to laugh, but it was not only very memorable, it’s an easy way for them to recognize and avoid the vines in winter and fall.
This experience gave me something of a foundation for talking to kids about technical topics around their health. It was good practice for pediatrics. It was also an important lesson to realize how I could definitely get better with practice in working with kids. It wasn’t about some innate “being good with kids”, it was just intentional practice. I went from being the worst of the volunteers teaching kids about nature to one the best, just by deliberate practice and trial and error.
Teaching shares a bit with standup comedy, in that delivery is very important, and subtle differences can be a big deal. Also, when I try something with kids for the first time (like giving them injections), I just keep trying. It means I did’t get discouraged the first few times that they broke down crying when I took out the needle and had a very stressful experience for everyone involved (me, the kids, parents, etc.). Like with the teaching, I didn’t give up, and after a while I figured out some good techniques for preparing and delivering injections to kids. It doesn’t always work flawlessly, but I am, with practice, improving my technique, my delivery.
Poison ivy, you taught me a good lesson.