Friday, May 22, 2009

Tick ...Tick ... Tick ....

from Jacqueline

What I want to know is, what purpose does the tick serve in this grand ecosystem we call Earth? What does it do that is absolutely essential, and would mean the end of life as we know it if were to be completely eradicated? That’s what I want to know.

Anyone who has a dog knows what it is to come across the tick, and there are different kinds of ticks. I’m currently in northern California, which is crawling, and I mean CRAWLING with deer ticks, among other ticks. Deer ticks are the ones you want to watch, nasty little @#$%ers they are too. They are particularly hard to remove, though soaking them with alcohol and then twisting them out (with tweezers, don’t touch them) is the best thing to do. Then there are wood ticks, which are bigger and sort of lumber around on your skin, which gives you plenty of time to grab the thing and flush it down the toilet. I have flushed so many ticks down the toilet that I have imagined them growing really, really big, like giant ninja ticks just waiting to crawl back up over the s-bend to get me when I least expect it.

I have a history with ticks.Years ago, when I had only adopted my dog Sally about two weeks earlier, my friend (who was staying with me) and I took her for a ride in the car and a short walk in a park a few miles away down a country road. We didn’t go anywhere particularly tick-ish and kept to the path. Sal was on the leash, and all was well. On the way home we saw a stray dog wandering in the road. Now, I can’t just drive on by stray dogs in the road. So I stopped, saw that the dog had tags, put her in the car, took her to her home, locked her in the garden and called her owner at work to tell her what I’d done. Now, to wrangle the dog into my car, I’d had to get a bit up close and personal, and this dog had clearly been having a high old time in the woods. At two in the morning I woke up suddenly, knowing, just knowing, that I had a tick on me. And I knew where it was – OK, this is personal, so don’t laugh – it was under my right breast and it was stuck. I screamed. Heck, I said. Only I didn’t say heck. My friend came running into the bathroom and said, “Oh, shit.” Then she proceeded to tell me that her husband had managed to get a tick out of his ankle by holding a lighted match to its butt. “What happened?” I asked. “Oh, his ankle came up like a balloon.”

I went straight to the emergency room. The nurse in charge gave me some grief, asking why a little old tick couldn’t wait until a more reasonable hour, then retracted when she saw the look on my face. It was a face that suggested there was no more reasonable hour than right now to GET THIS THING OUT OF ME!!! I was put into a cubicle to await the doctor, who was attending to some kids who’d wrapped a car around a payphone, and in that whole emergency room there was only one magazine. Good Housekeeping. So I picked it up and opened it at random. I am not kidding when I tell you this, it is the absolute honest truth – I opened that magazine to a double page spread on TICKS! How to avoid getting bitten, and what to do if you are. According to the author, once a tick had its head in your body, you have six hours before it starts releasing its toxins. OK, so we walked the dog at four, came home, had dinner, chatted for a while ... and it was now getting on for three o’clock in the morning. GET THIS THING OUT OF ME!!!! (I screamed inwardly. It may have been a tick, but I wasn’t the one who had just written off my dad’s Mercedes).

At this point the doctor came into the cubicle, and I thought, heck (again) – they really are getting younger, and me with this tick burrowing into my body from a place just under my right breast. I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then he told me to lay back while he pulled over the magnifying glass.

(I wish ...)

Five minutes later the tick was out and I don’t know what toxins that thing had let loose, but even my ribs were reverberating with pain. I left the emergency room and wandered across the parking lot to my car, only to hear someone running up behind me. It was the man who had signed me in to the emergency room, a sort of general helper person. He explained that he really worked for the park service and was moonlighting at the hospital to make extra money. “You did the right thing coming here, you know. I heard that nurse and she was plain wrong.” And he went on to tell me about the strict guidelines they have in the park service for dealing with ticks. I went home knowing way more about ticks than I ever thought I needed to know.

Now, if you are wondering why I am writing about ticks, when I have so many other things I could write about, well, it’s like this. I went for a walk this evening with my friend, Kas. While we were walking along, chatting, we realized that her dog, Samba, was not actually with us, so we back-tracked. He was down in a thicket and it was clear he had managed to get himself into a sort of deep hole (and he’s a big dog, part Great Dane) and was having trouble getting out. It was probably a damp hole, because he was in search of water. Ticks, in case you didn’t know, love warm, damp places. So I went into the thicket as far as I could to encourage him to get out, and he eventually scrambled up to us, panting and a bit distressed. I gave him a hug and we all sat together for a while.

I came home and began working at my computer, somewhat distracted by what I thought was a little fly on my neck. I brushed at it, and it seemed to go away. Then it came back and this went on for about half an hour while I booked tickets for a play in London. Then I put my hand to my neck and my finger touched this little thing, so I grabbed it to have a look – ITS A TICK!!!! I did not scream inwardly.

Needless to say I have just showered myself silly (this column being penned on Thursday evening) and have everything I was wearing, even my tennies, in the washing machine. Ticks. Can’t stand the little buggers.

Seriously, ticks are no fun. Lyme Disease is only the tip of the tick iceberg in terms of the diseases that can be transmitted. My dear old Sally had a chronic disease called “Erlichia” from a tick bite – it was manageable, sure, but nothing a human would want to go through.

(And all of you who are wondering what happened to Jackie the protector of all life on the planet – sorry, I forgot to put in one exception. Ticks. You won’t see me with a banner with Save The Tick anytime soon.)

Have a tick-free weekend. And for those of our readers here in the USA, let's remember the meaning of Memorial Day.


  1. A couple of years ago, friends took me for a walk in the woods near their house in Martha's Vineyard. Before starting out, they made me cover every inch of my skin against ticks. I didn't enjoy the walk that much because of worry about a potential attack. Ugh!

  2. James O. Born5/22/2009 7:03 AM

    I had an Uncle with a tick. Wiat, that's a different kind , isn't it.


  3. I had an uncle who was a tickle, which is a tease NOT a baby tick.

  4. from Jacqueline

    I was going add a picture of other types of tic (as opposed to tick) but thought, Nah, one tick is enough for me. Oh, and the thought of a tickle being a baby tick makes my skin crawl. Those east coast ticks are more dangerous, apparently because one of the local "host" is the rat, whereas in California, the local "host" is the lizard - and when ticks latch onto lizards, the lizard's blood cleanses toxins out of the tick, so risk of Lyme Disease in the tick population diminishes. Got that little factoid from that Good Housekeeping article. Doesn't make me think any better of the tick, but I sure don't want to come back as a northern California lizard.

  5. Your post today is quite timely! My dog came in from playing outside and brought in a little friend that decided to crawl up my leg. I was watching the series finale of LOST with five minutes to go. Talk about bad timing. Luckily he hadn't bitten me, but I yelled at my poor husband to get him off me immediately or else. I, of course, had to take a very hot shower after that.

    My dog isn't too happy with our "hitchhiker checks" every time we come back in from being out now, but I don't want to take any chances.

  6. from Jacqueline

    Oh, Literary Feline, isn't that a horrible feeling, when you can sense the nasty little you-know-what just crawling over you? My dog knows all about the back-from-the-bush checks, but is a bit worried about the gear I put on to do it - you'd have thought I was looking for WMD. But then, that's what a tick is, as far as I'm concerned. Sod the nuclear fusion, just imagine what Iran could do with ticks!!!!!

  7. We just studied tick-borne diseases in my microbiology class. Always do a tick check of you and your dog when you come back in-check everywhere, ticks are the size of a pinhead before they start to feed. The diseases they can cause are nasty-better safe than sorry.

  8. from Jacqueline

    Good advice, Norby. I will be checking and double checking in future - hate those ticks, and they are so dangerous!

  9. As a person who lives with chronic Lyme your post had me just about screaming too! I am so glad you had the doctor take care of it. Tick born illnesses appear all over the US now as well as Europe. I've read recommendations to wear all white when hiking. The ticks show up and you have a better chance of removing them before you are bitten.

    Ticks, Eeuw!

  10. from Jacqueline

    Martha, I am so sorry to hear about your Lyme Disease - it is a horrible condition. While I was in the emergency room, I asked the doctor about Lyme Disease and he said, "Oh, don't worry, it's no further south in California than Mendocino County." I asked him how the ticks knew the county lines. Later I talked to my doctor about it and she immediately had me tested for Lyme Disease - "He's talking nonsense," she said, "I'm treating three people in this county for Lyme Disease. Neither deer nor ticks know which county they're in!"