Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tick, Tick, Tick

The mild (read: nonexistent) winter of 2012 has resulted in warnings about a prolific season for insects and critters  from people who know about and monitor such things. It never got cold enough to kill off, well, anything. Heck, it was the first winter in quite possibly my entire life when I didn't even pull on a pair of gloves. The absence of a solid winter freeze meant a spring of wretched  allergies for everyone, and even though it's only April, the ticks and mosquitoes are already out in full force.  I've been sneezing, personally responsible for a spike in tissue sales, and scratching at bug bites like a monkey for what feels like forever but is probably closer to a month. Good times.

While generally annoyed by any biting creature that leaves behind an itchy reminder of its bloodsucking infiltration of my person, I've been thoroughly skeeved out about ticks since back in the last century. In the mid-1990s I met Meg just after she'd contracted Lyme Disease from a tick bite while gardening in her yard on Cape Cod. She was pregnant at the time and endured partial facial paralysis for several months from Bell's Palsy, which lasted until she delivered the baby. As a kid who never much cared for bugs, dirt or sweating, I reached adulthood backed by years of solid experience of summers invested in hiding indoors reading books to avoid insects and life in general. This methodology proved highly effective until the summer of 2008 when the stray cat I coaxed into my house and life converted my bug-free sanctuary into a flea-ridden hellhole. Daily routines expanded to include obsessive vacuuming coupled with frequent use of a lint roller and the wearing of Deep Woods insect repellant on the feet and ankles while indoors. Two failed home bug bombs led to the contracting of the services of a professional exterminator, a relationship that has endured for four years. During the period of flea infestation I became highly adept at sensing abnormalities (such as a lone flea) upon my flesh and could run the lint roller over all surfaces to collect fleas and their larvae with the speed of a Marvel Comics superhero.

Fortunately (and probably in large part due to my extensive avoidance techniques), I enjoyed minimal personal contact with ticks. There was the two-week archeological dig  at Land Between the Lakes back in October 2003 or so, when I sprayed liberally with Deep Woods eau de DEET, kept pant legs and shirt tucked in and still found a tick on my stomach one night after returning home. One tick over a two-week period spent daily in the woods felt like success. After performing at City of Clarksville's 2010 Riverfest along the Cumberland River, I felt an itch, and upon removing my belly dance costume, dealt with the glorious task of removing a tick that was busily burrowing into my bosom.  

The spring of 2012, however, is proving to be a record breaker.

In the space of one week in late April, I had already removed a tick from each dog, both of which seemed to be already expired and interpreted by me to mean the flea and tick solution is working. Then, sensing something unusual and tickly on my own skin, examined the situation and found a tiny, orangish dot with little crawly legs traversing the expanse of milky skin between my lady pillows. The next night, again sensing something amiss, I discovered a larger, darker reddish brown demon burrowing into my inner thigh, thus triggering a new, near-permanent state of high alert. I can now detect an eyelash or a dust mote on my skin the instant it lands, which, with my new hyper-acute sense of awareness carry the weight of a log or a boulder.

And that brings us to today, a day spent schlepping material possessions from the confines of the basement and inner sanctum of my home out to the front lawn -- and in the case of much of it, back from whence it came -- in the home retail ritual known as a Yard Sale. The rigors of dragging an ottoman, various chairs, boxes of  books, coffee mugs and other assorted housewares out to the front yard to be arranged on tables previously trotted up the driveway to the yard, and then unwinding the whole operation seven hours later, left me feeling thoroughly spent and in need of a lovely nap. It's cheaper and more convenient than going to a gym, but by the end of it, the leg that was broken six months ago was throbbing and aching (except for the parts that are still numb), and the leg that is doing the bulk of the work of transporting me around was even more fatigued than usual. My lower back hurt and my shoulders and neck were screaming with exertion and tension. The couch beckoned for a nap or to watch a movie (or a combination of the two).  We settled in -- Moose nestled into the pillows by my shoulder, and Winston down by my feet.

As I usually do when they are laying against me (or completely on me), I was petting my fur babies.  I felt a little bump on Moose's belly which turned out to be a tick. I disrupted our scene of domestic tranquility to fetch the now specially designated tick removing tweezers and pull the thing off. Like the one on him the other day, this one seemed less than alive.

Exhausted from moving heavy stuff in 80+ degree heat while now simultaneously harboring a refreshed state of tick high alert, I thought I felt something on my own stomach. Bingo! It was a tick, but unlike the one just removed from Moose, mine was still scuttling around and attempting to become one with my flesh. The tweezers came back out and so did the tick, which was entrapped on a piece of tape like his compatriot from Moose. By now, the idea of napping was nothing more than one of those flimsy morning dreams that evaporate with the bleat of the alarm clock. When the dogs rotated positions, it was Winston's turn for petting and tick inspection, which revealed one in the crease where his leg joins his body.  A banner day -- everybody gets a tick.

The calm of an evening featuring two hours of  Big Bang Theory episodes in syndication and a Lifetime network movie starring Lindsey Lohan, fueled by a supremely satisfying supper of double portobello veggie burgers with Provolone cheese and lettuce on an everything bagel accompanied by a Sam Adams Boston Lager, was interrupted by intrusive thoughts of ticks. The tranquility destroyers were two thoughts recurring to the point of obsession -- What will happen when I find a tick in a place I can't reach to remove it? And what if there is already a tick lodged in such a location and I just haven't found it yet? As I was shoving these ideas aside for the umpteenth time, I was snapped to attention by a poking feeling beyond my side and more around towards my back. The first assumption was the mandatory care tag in my new summer camisole, but contortions and yoga twists revealed it to be another freeking tick -- the second such discovery in an hour or two.

It's feeling out of control. Is it safe to use heavy duty repellant all over, every day like body lotion? Is there a body lotion with DEET that desn't smell like insect repellant and make my nose become stuffy? Does canine Frontline work on people? I sense a new research project in my immediate future, but it's probably just another tick. I'll tackle those new questions right after trying to memorize the symptoms of tick-borne illnesses like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. With four ticks removed from myself in one week's time, I am quickly losing faith in my odds. It's making my skin crawl.

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