June 9th, 2006


Ticked Off

I'm in the bathroom, and I notice this small dark spot on my thigh, perhaps a scab, perhaps just a bit of dirt stuck to the skin. I pry at it with a fingernail; it comes off pretty easily. The last little bit clings to the skin the way a scab or a dried blood clot might, which stirkes me as odd because the skin underneath looks perfectly normal and intact. But in a moment, it's off. I study the freed object between my fingers, still trying to figure out what it is.

Little legs wriggle up at me.


Instinctively, I fling it off, then immediately regret doing so because now I don't know where it is. I scan the area around me, and finally spot it on my sleeve. "Agh!" I blow hard on it, and it falls to the floor at one corner of the bathroom. I grab a clump of tissue and squish down upon it. After a moment, I draw back to make sure it's dead.

It's not.

It's crawling along looking as though it didn't even notice that I just tried to kill it.

I try again.

It remains oblivious to my efforts to kill it. I take a closer look. It's got an oval body and eight legs. Tick? I kinda thought ticks only had six, but it's far too indestructible for a spider. Not to mention that spiders are not known for quiescently clinging to body parts. But it came off awfully easily for a tick. And it doesn't look like the engorged black caps I remember prying from my dog as a kid. It's small, maybe 3/16".

It's going to die.

I step on it.

It looks a little put out by this, but only a little.

I step again. scrub squish scrub scrub scrub. I lift my shoe.

It wriggles along the floor.

I remove my shoe and place the flat rubber surface of the front of the sole against the bug's body, and push down. Vigorously.

After a few times of this, it stops squirming.

I flick it onto a paper towel and take the remains back to my desk, thinking I'll try googling to identify it.

At my desk, I google up some tick images. Most ticks don't look the way I remember them looking. Instead, they look rather like the small eight-legged thing I just pulled off my leg and, with great effort, killed.

Or mostly killed. When I unfold the paper towel at my desk to compare it to the images on Google, I find it's started wriggling again. It's like the terminator of the arthopod world. Why won't you just die? I seal it between layers of scotch tape, and it hasn't moved since. It's too small and squished at this point for me to be sure what type it is; after several stabs at identification, I'm left thinking it's either a lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) or a deer tick (some stripe or other of Ixodes -- scapularis? damonni? Not sure.)

I am not normally given to paranoia, but as long as I'm looking at tick pictures, I poke around for information on tick-borne diseases. I know that Lyme disease, for all the media attention, is very rare. A little more likely than being struck by lightning, but I'm pretty sure more people win lotteries each year than get Lyme disease.

But various websites suggest that deer and lone star ticks are potentially carriers, with numbers being thrown about of between 20% and 90% carrying. Even 20% isn't the kind of reassurance I was looking for. The characteristic rash associated with Lyme disease doesn't show up in something like 70%-50% of cases. One website cite flu-like symptoms, and mentions swollen lymph nodes as one symptom. Some sites say migrating rash is one of the symptoms -- "sometimes being mistaken for insect bites or poison ivy". Well, last weekend I moved the lawn, and my calves have been covered in insect bites, or possibly poison ivy exposure, ever since. It'd be easy enough for any other rash to blend right in.

Plus, it's probably too early for me to have any symptoms. And I certainly don't feel sick.

Except the left side of my throat itches. Right over the lymph node. Hmm. Is that area swollen?

Come to think of it, where did that tick come from? I did have a sore throat earlier this week. And there was all that exposure while mowing the lawn Saturday -- what if this wasn't the first tick bite? Another websites helpfully informs me that many people miss the initial tick bite.


Maybe I am given to paranoia after all.