08 March 2009

If only...

Tonight was one of those nights where you wonder whether you're going to win the bad mother of the week award.

If only I had listened to my daughter first thing this morning when she complained that she had bumped her head and asked me to look at it.

If only I had given her the usual daily bath last night.

If only I had brushed and combed her hair this morning like I do every morning and fixed it in braids or pony tails.

If only I had reimplemented daily "inspection" after our walks outdoors.

If only...

But I didn't and tonight after her bath I brushed out her hair and when she complained once more about the "ow-ie" bump on her head, I finally did look (12 hours later) and found firmly attached to the base of her head, an engorged deer tick that in my calculations, had certainly been there for more than 24 hours, crossing the threshold into the dangerous time period for B. Burgdorferi infection, the dangerous little pathogen that causes Lyme disease.

She had a small red, infection site immediately around the tick, not yet a ring, but I expect to see one soon if I can't get her on prophylactic antibiotics tomorrow or Monday. This isn't necessary in most areas of the country but we happen to live in one of the highest risk regions for Lyme disease, where this is common protocol. Seeing the tick's fat little body engorging on her blood with its legs wriggling in ecstasy, my heart just fell. No matter my feelings about something, I can handle almost any sort of situation with perfect calm on the outside. I did not tell Savannah that there was a tick embedded in her head until after I had removed the "ow-ie" so she wouldn't freak out. I consulted three tick removal guides to be sure they were in agreement before removing it and saved the tick in our "tick jar" for identification purposes. It was a deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), which is capable of transmitting B. Burgdorferi, but I can't tell whether it was a nymph or female, most likely the latter.

As soon as I told Savannah what the cause of her "ow-ie" head bump had been, she cried about it and had a lot of questions about ticks. She was very brave. It's gross to think of a tick cementing its mouth to your skin and drinking your blood. (Serendipitously, I'm working on a book right now about animal infectious diseases and just completed a chapter on Lyme disease.)

I had no idea that we were at risk for tick bites this late in the winter. Into late fall of last year we had mandatory tick inspections after each afternoon outside and evening baths with a quick body check in the mirror. I see now we'll have to make it a year-round process that hopefully our future guinea hens will help us solve. In the meantime my penance is a sleepless night in which imaginary ticks crawl over my skin searching for their next meal.

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