Monday, November 16, 2009

Tick Test

I'm extremely allergic to good advice. If you need someone to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm there. Can't get into a can of worms? Yours truly is standing by with the can opener.

My devil-may-care attitude literally bit me the last time I went hiking in Pennsylvania's Valley Forge National Park. It's an expansive, beautiful place with lots of trails where you can walk without the uninvited company of the ticks in the surrounding tall grass and forests.

But with a friend just as eager to commune with nature in an unrestricted way, I not only strayed from the trodden paths, I did it in shorts and a tank top. That's the proven method for broadcasting in tick-speak, "Free flesh. Come and get it!"

The next evening I got caught up in a documentary on the Lyme disease that ticks can carry, and just happened to touch the base of my skull. Jeepers, creepers. There was a tick lounging along the shores of my hairline. I've never trusted hitchhikers, so I decided to pull it out. I'd left the woods twenty-seven hours before. According to what I'd just learned, if this tick was carrying Lyme, it had plenty of time to pass it on to me.

In the morning I called my doctor to discuss taking a blood test. She said the tick itself could be analyzed to see if it was even carrying the bacteria responsible for the disease. Hmm, let's see. I could let a phlebotomist poke repeatedly at my historically unwilling veins, or a lab could prod the mooching insect instead. All I needed to do was find him in the trash I'd thrown him into. So I did what anyone would do. I made a germ-impervious spacesuit out of my ugliest bridesmaid's dress and started routing through the rancid garbage.

I held my breath, untied the trash bag, and peered into the refuse. Mmm, mmm good. Greasy paper towels, used tea bags - eureka! There he was, perched on top of some spaghetti remains, basking in Parmesan. I hoped he enjoyed eating that, because the lab would be submerging him in formaldehyde, which is much less tasty than imported cheese.

Before the tick could even think about washing down his meal with Chianti, I grabbed that lip-smacking freeloader and trapped him in a jar. I made him one sorry tick for ever checking into my hotel. He should have latched onto a deer instead. That way he probably wouldn't have been carted off to a lab, since most deer can't drive, let alone afford the procedure. Thankfully I didn't have to afford it, once I gave the code for "analyzing a tick" to my health insurance carrier.

"Analyzing a tick," they call it. Sounds like psychotherapy. I pictured a Freud descendant stroking his beard, declaring in a German accent to the tick laying on a leather couch, "You seem quite depressed. I recommend some hypnosis to heal your inner larvae."

It turned out the tick wasn't carrying Lyme, so I was thrilled to end my vigil for everything from flu-like symptoms to neurological problems. Even better, I am officially cured of my risk-taking, tall-grass-walking, tick-hosting ways. I'll be doing whatever it takes from now on to avoid ticks. Hiking every weekend will still be on the agenda. I'll just be doing it inside, on the stairs.