We were sitting at the Heritage in Waynesboro, Virginia, drinking beer, playing cribbage, fully enjoying the much deserved fourth Zero day of our 58 day (so far) hike through Appalachia when two thru-hikers placed a blank sheet of paper and a pen at our table, asking us our name, number and our three greatest fears. I don’t think they actually cared about our fears, but it was a nice touch, and the only question Em and I took seriously.
That’s not totally true. I told them I was fearless, they said, “Come on, everyone is afraid of something,” so I wrote:
Now that was true.
Em has been talking about Lyme Disease since before Day 1. I want to say I heard and identified with her fears, because that makes me a better friend, but every time she started talking about deer ticks this and Lyme’s Disease that, I sort of nodded in agreement without really listening, as if she were talking about a fear of heights or dandelions (neither of which affected me in any way), and not the very real chance of becoming infected with a very real disease, with very serious consequences.
Early on, she would point out all the areas ticks like to hang out, talk about how they cling to the little grass stems with their little ticky toes, reaching out their little ticky fingers to latch on to my hot pink compression socks, then crawl up until they find a safe spot, and dig in. As she described this scenario in detail, my mind wandered to that movie, A Bug’s Life, and I sort of started rooting for the animated version of the tick.
Then I found a deer tick crawling on my shoe and I snapped back to reality.
Since I can remember, I’ve had this obsession with checking my scalp, running my fingers through my hair, unable to sleep until I’ve touched every inch. I thought it was just a weird thing I had until this hike. I grew up running around the Northwoods of Wisconsin, the Midwest version of deer tick country. http://module.lymediseaseassociation.net/Maps/
I vaguely remember my mom doing tick checks on us kids when we’d come in from outside (I called to confirm this happened), the backs of our knees, our armpits, hairlines. I more clearly remember the tick discovery at my Grandparent’s farm; depending on who found the tick on one of us kids or the dog, the tick met a different fate; Grandma would light a match and burn the little guy, Grandpa would fry it up on the stove and call it dinner. I sort of remember watching a news story about a spike in Lyme Disease in dogs in the area. Perhaps that explains why I equated Lyme Disease with Dog (and I am a Human) then tucked the duo away in a little memory box, never to be opened. But I distinctly remember the way my blood ran cold the first time my fingers brushed a foreign, uninvited bump on my scalp.
Well, I distinctly remember now, thanks to Emily and the AT. Now when I walk through beautiful pastures full of those amber waves of grain, all I see are ticks. When I stop to filter water, my eyes dart around, looking for uninvited guests on my shoes, socks, legs. Every mole looks like a tick. Every itch is a tick bite. I’ve had to reach into my memory box and separate Dog from Lyme, and replace it with Human.
But that’s okay. Because we do fairly thorough checks every night, and honestly, I think my biggest fear is finding a tick and having to deal with it myself.
Which brings me to my best tick discovery story. It also happens to be my second best gynecology visit story, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you should stop reading now.
There I was, laying spread eagle on the table, heels in stirrups, my first visit to the University of Wisconsin gynecologist as a college freshman. The weekend before had been spent in a blur, back home for one of those epic parties friends from high school throw as a last ditch effort to stay a part of each other’s lives. This particular one involved a clearing in the forest, tents and a lot of beer.
I was replaying the events of the weekend silently in my head as the gynecologist did what gynecologists do, when he said something no girl ever wants to hear whilst sitting spread eagle facing her gynecologist.
“Well, well. What have we here?”
My eyes shot open, thoughts collided, derailing to the darkest places possible.
“Uhhhh. I don’t know. What do we have?”
I’ll spare you the rest of the details. The moral of this story is: Ladies, check your lady bits. Men, check your man bits.
It’s tick season, and we’re headed for Pennsylvania.