It came as no surprise that I had been bitten by a tick and had the tick disease – Lyme or some other debilitating ailment. After all, I was living in the Costa Rican jungle with 13 animals, 4 of which had tested positive for Ehrlichiosis, another tick disease. It had been a particularly dry dry season and the ticks were partying wildly out there in the dense flora, or so I thought. Then I heard that a house could actually blossom with a tick infestation — started by one pregnant tick that dropped off an animal in the house. She could lay 1000 eggs in a house. It seemed ticks were partying wildly inside my home. Tick disease is no joke — I knew people who had it, and it messes with every aspect of a person’s body and life. I did not want it, and here I had it.
We had been removing ticks from dogs for over a month when I saw a small, somewhat painful lump on my stomach. I mean really small, minuscule would be the best word to describe what I saw. But — I reasoned to myself — those 1000 newborn ticks would be infinitesimal in size. A full grown tick is only the size of a match head. I dug at the thing with my inept tweezers, trying to remove it from my flesh. I could still see a tiny something sticking out from my flesh, and — did I just see it move!? Some of the ticks we removed from the dogs were alive and their creepy little arms and legs would wave around as you transported them, via tweezers, to the drowning jar. ‘Help, help’ — they would seem to be pleading for their lives. I even saw one climb out of the water and up the inside wall of the jar. It very nearly escaped before being plunged back into the drink. We were merciless in the elimination of every tick we encountered imbedded in the flesh of our charges. Still, four out of five dogs tested positive for Ehrlichiosis disease. And the fifth had been on antibiotics for it during the time the others were acquiring it. Nothing like a jungle dog to keep you busy and broke.
But the dogs were all on their prescribed meds. Surely our home was not beset by an infestation and my imagination had simply been overly sensitized by this month-long tick debacle. I put a small bandaid with ointment onto the wound I had created with the tweezers, and said nothing to Aaron, my partner in this jungle enterprise. I only needed his help to tend to the five puncture holes left in my back when one of the eight cats in our care, all supposedly domestic cats but clearly with a measure of insanity thrown in, flung herself at my back for no apparent reason, and clung on with the claws of one paw as her weight dragged her downwards. The tick I would keep to myself.
A day or so passed and it was time to change my bandaids. I yanked them all off and jumped into the shower. Drying off, I was horrified to spot in the mirror a rosy circle around the tick wound! Immediately I checked google for Lyme disease images and, sure enough, my rosy circle looked exactly like the one in the photograph. Well, it was no real surprise — did I really think I was going to come out of this tick fiasco unscathed? And was this house actually a festering breeding ground of near-invisible baby ticks, all skittering around famished for a blood meal? I flew into a whirlwind of panicked brainwork: Where was the closest doctor? How would I get there? Carless, we were a 20 minute walk on a rough jungle road, just to the bus stop. The bus system is notoriously unreliable; a taxi — or a person with a rust bucket vehicle who needs money — is notoriously pricey. I phoned the local medico and spoke in broken Spanish while the receptionist replied in broken English. After telling him my dilemma he said, ‘Oh, you have the tick out? Then don’t worry, it’s all okay now’. He must have missed the part about the red circular rash though I repeated it several times. It actually seemed that he had no interest in understanding what was happening with this pesky extrañjero who was intruding upon his day, nor did he seem compelled to even pretend to possess a hair of empathy for her circumstances. I convinced the man to book me an appointment with the doctor for the next day, composing in my mind a lecture on the possibility that he was temperamentally unsuited for his current vocation.
I had been periodically checking the site where the tiny perpetrator had infected me. At one point I wondered if the red rash wasn’t fading a tiny bit. A bit later I was examining the offending spot in the bathroom mirror when my eyes happened to fall on the claw wounds. Hm. Did they seem to have red rings around them also? Was it possible to get tick disease from the claws of an infected cat? My mind reeled with the mystery of it all. Could I have multiple tick infections; was I a seething hotbed of Lyme disease or Ehrlichiosis?
As the clouds of mystery slowly dissipated and the solution dawned brightly, sheepish relief flooded over me like a tidal wave. The bandaids — purchased here in Costa Rica and clearly made with some caustic type of glue — had caused the red rings! I didn’t have Lyme disease! Our home was not infested! The sky opened up and angels appeared, singing on high — some were even tooting on those horns that you see in the religious pictures. I had had tick disease and I was cured!
Note: This story is dedicated to my friends who do/did have tick disease — I wish the cure was this simple for them.