A Public Service Announcement

On Sunday morning, I woke up with a pain in my side, right where my ribs would be if I had ribs (am convinced I was born without them). After a little poking, I determined it wasn’t coming from the inside, as if I’d done too many sit ups or was presenting with appendicitis. It was more of an external pain, like I’d been bruised although how I would have bumped the area kind of under my right boob is beyond me.

I lay under the covers and pressed down on the spot where I felt the discomfort and rubbed my hand along my torso under my shirt. Nothing seemed out of place.

Eventually, I had to go to the bathroom and when I was finished, walked over to the super sonic magnifying makeup mirror on the counter and lifted my shirt up.

I almost fainted.

There, on my super white torso, was the dark spot of a tick burrowed into my flesh surrounded by a ring of reddened skin.

To complicate matters, my boob totally obscured the tick from view and required me to put on reading glasses and use the magnifying mirror to pull the tick out of me with tweezers. Oh, did I mention my shaky hands? So when I finally did get the tweezers around the bug and pulled, I kind of did it on an angle and could see the dark head still lodged inside me as I yanked the body away.

As this is all happening in my bathroom, the cat and the dog are pacing in the bedroom wondering when I’m going to stop carrying on in front of the mirror and go downstairs to feed them. I alternated between trying to dig the rest of the tick out of my torso and having to go lie down on my bed in my underwear to compose myself and finally decided to get into the shower to try to open things up and release the bug’s remains that way and slammed the bathroom door in the cat’s face.

When I went to a walk in clinic the next day to try to get on antibiotics, I lifted up my shirt to show the nurse practitioner the scene of the crime and told her how I’d worked hard to dig the whole tick out of me. “I can see that,” she said, examining the scabbed and reddened skin I’d picked at for 15 minutes with a tweezer before every last bit of bug was out of me.

On Saturday, I’d taken my goldendoodle for an early hike through the woods to get him some exercise before the predicted rain came on Sunday. We marched up and down hills and over trails covered in yellowed leaves and I listened to my latest self help audiobook and we stopped to admire the sun shining on the river. I wore a vest over my long sleeved tshirt and Old Navy leggings and thought I’d been smart to put a hat on right before we headed out the door.

I came home and ate lunch and ran some errands and later, sat on my couch in the same hiking clothes to read (Lady in the Lake, which I am loving) and even nodded off for a bit. I was staying in that night so it wasn’t until later that I changed into yet another athleisure-type outfit and—am sorry to report—never showered before bed.

After the whole tick discovery on Sunday morning, I had plans to meet my older daughter in Manhattan for brunch and to see a show we’d been hot to see, so there really wasn’t any time to address the implications of having been the host of a very tiny bug for a day.

So on Monday, I brought the critter to our county’s Mosquito Commission to have it identified and handed over the Ziploc sandwich bag to a woman who did not seem even remotely freaked out by my story (unlike just about anyone else to whom I’d relayed my sordid tale over the previous 24 hours). She very calmly handed me a number of brochures and papers about the types of ticks we have here in this part of New Jersey and told me that they’re especially rampant in September and October. Who knew?

The emailed report that arrived early this morning from the county research scientist did not come as any surprise, since I’d been scouring the internet to try to identify my attacker and intuit the possibility that I might have been infected with Lyme Disease. The bad news is that it was, as I suspected, a teeny tiny female deer tick. The good news is that it was “flat” in appearance, which indicates it had not really started to feed. A tick generally needs at least 24 hours of feeding to pass along any diseases.

So, what have I learned? Great question.

  1. It turns out, I am not above getting bitten by a tick. I was kinda under the impression all that tick talk was a lot of hype and if I wore a baseball cap, I’d be fine. This is also how I used to feel about concussions until I got one and then my son.
  2. Those fuckers are small. The one on me was the size of a sesame seed and I’m wondering A: how the heck did it make its way under my shirt? That must have been one hell of a journey and B: how would you even be able to find one before it’s too late if it attached to your scalp under all your hair?
  3. Bug spray (like Deet) and hats are now mandatory for walks in the woods.
  4. Upon returning home, one needs to remove clothes, check for ticks and shower and not wallow in hiking apparel.

I now need to go pick my tick up from the Mosquito Commission to send it to a lab to be tested and in four week, go get a blood test of my own. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for symptoms that might be signs that I’ve got Lyme, which is really a bullet I hope I’ll dodge. I’ve seen so many friends struggle over the years with diagnoses, symptoms and treatment of Lyme and dread having to walk that same, frustrating path.

Fingers crossed.

The silver lining of all this is that it finally inspired me to write a little diddy like this again. I’d been going through a dry spell. And the little critter has also given me an idea for an even bigger writing piece, so there’s that. When I see her later today, floating in a little plastic container filled with alcohol, the first thing I’m going to say to her is: “Fuck off, you should have found one of the grillion hairy deers lurking in the woods to latch onto instead of me.” But then, I’ll have to thank her for the inspiration, because a writer never knows when it’s going to come and in what form the muse will appear. Even if it comes burrowed–ass up–in her side.

The trick is to recognize it when you see it.

Thanks, girl. I owe you one.