It turns out I'm one of those people who can't walk by a weed without getting a rash.

It turns out I'm one of those people who can't walk by a weed without getting a rash.

Until recently, I believed I had only the garden-variety sensitivity to common irritants such as poison ivy. But I can't deny the evidence, which is that every time I pause in the yard to pull one or two weeds or a handful of brown day-lily fronds, I come down with something weird.

By weird I mean, say, an itch on my forearms, accompanied by a series of irregular bumps that resemble the topographical salt-dough maps we used to make in sixth grade. We'd paint the maps green for land and blue for water, but my arms always seemed to be red for inflammation.

"Wear gloves," I've been advised, but I hate gloves. For one thing, a person can't get a grip on a weed while wearing thick cotton gardening gloves. It's like trying to play the piano while wearing oven mitts. For another thing, I rarely step outside with the specific intention of weeding. Most of my weeding sessions begin spontaneously. I'm wandering the yard, thinking of very little, and look! A big annoying growth of purslane! Of course, I'm going to pull it. I can no more resist the pleasure of gathering and uprooting a clump of chickweed outside than I can resist gathering up yesterday's junk mail inside.

As for creeping Charlie, telling me to let it continue its march along the perimeter of the house instead of grabbing a chunk and slowly, carefully pulling a long, satisfying rope of Charlie away from the foundation until it sits coiled in my palms like an enormous salad ... well! All I can say is, you waste your breath. I'm a fool for creeping Charlie. I'd be sorry to rid the lawn of it entirely -- not that this will ever happen -- because I love to pull it so much. And not while wearing gloves, of all the dumb ideas.

Gloves make it impossible to find that initial strong section of stem that allows the harvest in the first place. Weeds were meant to be pulled with bare hands, unless you happen to have surgical gloves handy.

But I digress from my original point, which is my tendency to erupt in rashes and itches and teensy little welts that look like the Rocky Mountains as seen from distant space. I ought to be accustomed to it by now, and, in fact, I am accustomed to it. What I don't expect is to watch half my face inflate like a bounce house -- or a bounce duplex -- over the course of an afternoon.

The bounce house -- or rather, my face -- was a sort of deep rose color, which would have been pretty in a hat, or maybe a tablecloth. Instead it was my cheek and my right eye, which incidentally seemed to be receding behind several puffy folds of eyelid.

"Look at me!" I said to my husband, who sucked in his breath and then decided to follow the path of soothing denial.

"It probably feels worse than it looks," he said.

It didn't feel good; I granted him that. It felt like a dog's wire-hair brush was underneath my skin and pressing up every few seconds. With every upward press, my face inflated exponentially -- or rather, half my face, while the other half looked on with alarm.

By morning, my husband was no longer Mr. Cool. The right side of my face was a sea urchin with a thyroid problem; a bulgy, deep-pink Michelin woman sharing my neck with the normal half of my face.

The doctor, when he walked into the examining room, appeared to jump back without actually moving.

"What did you do?" he said. I pulled weeds, I said timidly. I also mentioned my tendency to eat twice my weight in berries every day during high summer fruit season. Fortunately, the doctor didn't think gorging on raspberries had resulted in this karma-like punishment. I say "fortunately" because nothing as minor as half my face ballooning like the Goodyear blimp could discourage me from enjoying berries.

The doctor ruled out shingles and was almost sure it wasn't an infection. Probably a bug bite, or you brushed up against something, he said before sending me away with a prescription for Prednisone and instructions to take Benadryl and find an ice pack someplace.

I'm better now. I no longer scurry along the streets with my head ducked like an executive doing a perp walk. I can look the world in the eye without fearing that children will cry and small animals will whimper and hide. In a few more days, the right hemisphere of my face should resemble the left one, at least as much as it ever does.

And then I'll give in to the urge to pull another clutch of quackweed.