By Sandra Dee Owens
Every summer, my skin was covered in ooze. My immune system’s response to the itchy rash of blisters caused by southern Vermont’s most prolific crop—poison parsnip.
Minutes after mowing, weed trimming, or hiking, the skin on my hands, arms, chest, torso, and legs would become hot and itchy, a precursor to the outbreak of weeping blisters—and itch madness, I would suffer for the next 3-4 weeks.
Our medicine cabinet overflowed with topical creams, drying agents, anti-itch solutions, antihistamines, topical steroids, gauzes, and bandages of every shape and size.
A lifelong allergy sufferer, I have had a lot of experience with my body’s reaction to environmental invaders but zero medical or scientific knowledge of histamine, inflammation, infection, blisters, rashes, poisonous plants, or how our immune system works.
And honestly, I wasn’t that interested in learning about it.
I was, however, interested in finding a way to work and play outdoors in summer—without all the suffering.
So I took some time to think about it.
I thought about all the products I owned that dry, numb, sedate, and relieve discomfort once a skin outbreak occurs—and how none of them are designed to prevent an outbreak.
Since avoiding contact with poison parsnip is nearly impossible in my surroundings, I wondered if it was possible to live my outdoorsy life and prevent an outbreak from occurring?
So I shifted my focus off my skin and went deeper—to the core. I thought about the word, ” core:” the origin, pith, and marrow. I thought of an apple core, and its off-white, hard case for the seeds within—an apple seed’s tiny house.And I thought of the gaseous, fiery, ooze that rumbles its way from the Earth’s core to its skin — those oversized, Earth blisters we call volcanos.
I thought about my own core, that elusive center of mine, where heat is generated.
The core—where everything begins.
I thought about my beloved practice of cold water swimming and the term “after drop,” which refers to the body’s core temperature continuing to drop, even after exiting the water.
And I thought of how, after summer chores, my core temperature remained hot, for a very long time after I stopped working.
One day, after a bit of hot, sweaty yard work, I sat down to rest and soon noticed I was absentmindedly scratching the back of my wrist. The urge to scratch had been so subtle, that by the time I realized it, I had a red-hot patch of skin with a single, raised bump in the center.
Once that tiny bump appeared, the full-body itch sensation began to increase exponentially.
It was as if the heat from my core, had radiated up and out to my skin’s surface, with some absent-minded help from me.
And suddenly, I realized, I had been an accomplice to my own suffering.
So I decided to be a noticer and become ‘skin mindful’. I set an intention to notice every itch sensation, especially the small, subtle, first ones, and I committed—to not scratching.
Then I went out and trimmed my lawn—in the hot sun.
Afterward, I stepped into a cold shower to rinse the plant’s oils off my skin, and focused the icy water on my head and torso, slowly turning round and round in the cold spray.
I imagined my core hissing like a doused campfire, radiating cold toward the underside of my skin.
I was amazed that over the next two weeks, whenever I felt hot, I noticed the subtle itchy sensation return. Committed to noticing, I was mindful to not scratch and instead ‘refrigerate’ myself with a cold shower or lake swim when necessary.
That initial experiment with cooling was six summers ago and I have not had an outbreak of poison parsnip, or poison ivy since. I am delighted (and a bit shocked) at how effective this simple, drug-free approach is, and I especially LOVE the roominess in my medicine cabinet.
Last spring, I (and a few million others), suffered from a bout of seasonal asthma.
It was awful.
In a quick online search, I learned that allergies, eczema, and asthma are kissing cousins.
Remembering how effective my ‘Core’ approach was for dealing with poison parsnip (and poison ivy), I wondered if I could alleviate the inflammation in my chest, throat, and lungs. What did I have to work with to create the healing power of ‘cold’ for my respiratory system?
One sweltering spring day, my husband and I drove to our neighborhood store for a cold drink. To my delight the creemee machine was up and running for the season, so I ordered a chocolate-coconut cone and headed outside to race the sun, lick for melt.
Immediately I felt the fast-melting treat send a numbing cold down my throat and spread out around my chest, and lungs. The cold temporarily constricted the inflammation in my respiratory system and I felt my airways ease.
Though the effects were temporary, it helped, and once again, I saw the healing power of cold revealed in a new and yummy way.
I love Funology medicine!
For more information about Sandra visit: sandradeeowens.com.