Poison oak

Allergic Reaction to Poison Oak - Lessons on Carrying Diphenhydramine

The fog hit hard on the morning of November 23rd and I awoke knowing that something was not quite right. Although the Big Sur area is well known for its low visibility and dense fog, I knew that I should be able to see more than I currently could. That’s when my longtime friend and trusty campmate, Todd, looked at me from across our tent and politely exclaimed, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?!”.

Before I could decide if I was more offended or more worried, I couldn’t help but look back at Todd and ask him the exact same question.

After a bit of bickering about who was uglier and the nuances of backpacking without deodorant for several days, we came to the obvious conclusion that something was wrong with both of our faces.

Let me rewind a bit – The trip started out as planned near the Andrew Molera wilderness area in the rugged central California coast. After a few days of surfing, hanging out at the beach and “testing” some of AMK’s Freshbath and Hand Cleans products on our deodorant-less bodies, we settled into a nice camp site overlooking the ocean. The night unfolded as they usual do – a nice big dinner of freeze dried food, far-fetched stories about the awesome waves, great weather and adventures of years past and a roaring campfire.

At some point not too long after this, either Nate or Todd (depending on who you ask) volunteered to gather one last armful of firewood to warm us up before the long night. It was not until the next morning and our respective “face woes” that we realized that this was no normal firewood – someone (depending on who you ask) had accidentally gathered a large bundle of Poison Oak (poison ivy to all you east coasters) and inadvertently burned it all. If anyone is familiar with Poison Ivy and Oak, you probably know that standing over a fire of the burning toxic oil is not really a great idea.

So there we were the next morning – both of us with both eyes swelled shut and itching like mad men. Although it’s almost funny in retrospect, Poison Ivy and Oak reactions, particularly with combustion, can be quite severe if not deadly and we were lucky to have each other to solve the problem. Being trained in Wilderness First Aid and familiar with reactions of all sorts, I quickly pumped both of us full of as many Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) as was recommended in Dr. Weiss’ book. This reduced our swelling enough to be able to see clearly, soothed our itchy bodies, and allowed us to hike the several miles back to our car without an ambulance or airlift. Another adventure saved by an Adventure Medical Kit and another great lesson learned about being very careful when gathering firewood.