Around the Bend: Insects can give you a nervous tick

The mild winter seemed too good to be true. And it was. The downright tolerable temperatures allowed an unprecedented number of ticks to survive and, according to the news, they’re out in force this year.

If you’re the kind of person — like me — who lives in a constant state of unease, believing that bugs exist primarily to crawl on you, summer is already a nerve-wracking time of itchy paranoia. Now there’s a bumper crop of critters that want to bury themselves in your skin, suck your blood and spread disease.

Kill me now.

Granted, my bug fears are mostly irrational. The closest I’ve come to a serious insect encounter was a 15-minute standoff with a 2-inch-long water bug in a Washington, D.C., basement laundry room in 1983. I escaped unharmed.

I’ve never had a Japanese beetle fly into my ear so deep it had to be removed at the ER. But that happened to my cousin and now I wear earplugs from May through September.

And I’ve never had a tick on me.

Our cats get ticks all time, so I know the drill: 1. With tweezers held close to the skin, grasp the tick and pull firmly until it lets go. 2. Saying, “Ew, ew, ew,” over and over, rush to the toilet and flush the tick. 3. Shudder uncontrollably for several seconds and wash your hands until the skin is raw.

But nowhere in that procedure is there an instruction to faint dead away, which would be the first item on my list if I ever found a tick lodged under my own skin.

Last weekend, I had to fix a fence in the woods near our house. It was hot, so against my better judgment I wore shorts (I tried tucking the cuffs into my socks but found I couldn’t stand up).

As usual when tramping through the underbrush, I twitched and shrieked every few feet because all I could think about was the spiders, beetles and ants that were fulfilling their life’s dream by landing on me. Adding ticks to the mix put me on the verge of hysteria.

Shortly after stepping out of — or, more accurately, fleeing — the woods and returning to the house, I felt a tickle in the middle of my back. I raced to the bathroom, whipped off my shirt and checked — or tried to; it’s that inaccessible spot you can’t quite see if you haven’t taken advanced yoga classes. To make it more difficult, my eyes have reached that post-40 stage where it’s not easy to distinguish between a tick and a beauty mark.

After a lot of squinting, neck craning, and turning around and around in front of the mirror like a dog chasing its tail, I was able to determine that, in fact, nothing was there.

Just as I put my shirt back on, however, I felt a tiny pinch, this time high on the back of my left thigh. With ninja-like reflexes, I jumped out of my shorts before they hit the floor. Again, I found nothing. (Here it occurred to me that if I am going to spend my summer repeatedly ripping off my clothes in an effort to intercept ticks, I should (a) invest in a wardrobe with Velcro fasteners and (b) avoid public events such as Festival on-the-Green, where high-speed ninja-stripping is considered bad form.)

But it wasn’t over. Just after climbing back into my shorts I caught sight of a tiny black dot meandering down my leg, moving a bit too quickly to be a beauty mark. I picked it up with a fingernail and brought it close to my eyes to get a good look.

Just as I had suspected: It was a hazy blob of some sort.

I put on my reading glasses.

The blob turned out to be a tiny flying insect, probably something venomous but definitely not a tick. (Apparently, ticks freak me out so much I am now OK with holding a potentially deadly insect on my bare finger. Go figure.)

So it was only a near-tick experience. No harm done. Or was there? The relentless anxiety is taking a toll on my quality of life.

It’s bad enough that I can’t go outside without imagining blood-sucking parasites burrowing into my skin. But it gets worse: The other day I caught myself praying for the upcoming winter to be bitterly cold.

Somebody call a doctor. If there’s such a thing as tick madness, I’ve got it. 

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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