After a summer of jumping into fields of Toxicodendron my luck finally ran out and I’ve developed a poison ivy rash. As unfortunate (and uncomfortable!) as this turn of events is, it has served to make me review the contents of my first aid kit as well as basic field prevention and risk management. Hazards of the field can vary from the almost humorous to rather painful, and the past six months alone have seen hornet stings, ticks, turned ankles, tumbles into mud and water, and various sedge related lacerations.
The crew at SOS East have a running joke about Eu de Tecnu being our glamorous scent of choice and lunch seasoning of circumstance, but my time with the program has taught me a variety of useful practices to keep in my toolbox. Here are some I’ve found most helpful.
Cover it all up
Socks! Leggings! Leggings tucked into your socks! Pants on top of your leggings! Shirt tucked into your pants! Long sleeves at all times! In keeping the time honored conservation practice of getting all my fieldwork clothes at the thrift store, I’ve also learned that a lack of holes is essential to maximizing the benefits of this arrangement. Ticks, unfortunately, have no respect for the fact that you didn’t know that there was a hole in your flannel and that they really shouldn’t have crawled in and made themselves at home.
- Wash as soon as possible
Cleanliness is next to godliness, but a good alcohol wash is at least a minor deity. As difficult as it can be in the field, I’ve found that habitually cleaning my hands with a wipe or hand sanitizer during breaks and a generous helping of an outdoor cleanser over all exposed skin at the end of the day helps with minimizing the effects of any poisonous oils I might have picked up. This especially helps on days we visit distant sites where several hours of driving stands between me and a good shower.
- Know the contents of your medkit
2 butterfly bandages. 3 packages of gauze dressing. 3 antiseptic wipes. 200 mg of ibuprofen. The medkit is just another quarter pound of weight in my backpack until the crucial thirty seconds when I really really need it. There is a specific kind of panic associated with fumbling like a fool for a pair of tweezers you swear was around here somewhere while someone is crying on the ground next to you after running from a nest of hornets. Minimizing the amount of foolish fumbling will save both you and them a lot of grief.
- Be familiar with your body
Knowing what my limits are and how my body feels when it’s healthy vs unhealthy has become essential as the seed collection season has become busier. Is this the exhaustion I feel when I’m running on too little sleep or is this a sympton of Lyme disease? Is this red itchy patch on my face a spider bite, the beginnings of an urushiol induced rash, or the questionable take-out I had last night? Knowing how my body usually responds to certain stressors and what is unusual for it is a big help in monitoring my health – even when I don’t know what’s wrong immediately, just being aware that something is happening gives me enough of a heads up to look up potential causes and hit up a nearby pharmacy. You know. Just in case. On a completely unrelated note, calamine lotion and I have become best friends.
No workplace is without its occasional hazards. CLM has given me amazing opportunities for growth in all sorts of areas and while this is a particularly painful lesson is unwelcome, the things I’ve learned from it will hopefully serve me well.