Revisiting the Wood Tick Story

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When you embrace the idea of being a parent of a large family, you just accept that there will be plenty of stories to tell when it’s all over with.   Not all of these stories reflect well on you, but that’s usually what makes them funny.

This post was originally posted by me on a previous blog, but we are in the midst of tick season right now, and as a public service it is worth revisiting.   Don’t try this at home…

I am about to write a post that proves that a pair of college graduates – one of whom took his share of Chemistry, Physics, and other courses on the way to becoming an actuary – can do something so stupid that any reasonable person would ask “What were you thinking?” Believe me, if someone else had done it, I would be calling the other person an idiot. And therefore, for consistency’s sake, let me be the first to say to myself, “You are an idiot.”

With that out of the way, allow me to tell the true story of last Sunday evening. We had all had a long couple of days. Prayer time was finished and it was time for the tykes to get into bed. And then, the fateful words were uttered: “Alex has a wood tick in his head!”

Well, I have lived with ticks all my life, and it was not time to panic now. And so, my wife and I casually observed said wood tick. Sure enough, there it was, sucking the blood out of my eldest son’s head. Deep down, I was hoping it would suck out some of the thoughts that enter the kid’s brain from time to time, but I knew that was fantasy. I had to take care of the immediate problem at hand.

Well, my wife is generally proficient with the tweezers. Be it a sliver or a tick, when the tweezers come out, the kids scatter. But in the end, they are unable to escape the fate that belies them, and after a few screams along the lines of “You’re killing me!” my wife triumphantly raises the tweezers with the enemy foreign object, and screams her battle cry, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad!”

But this night would be different. The tick was in deep, and it had strategically burrowed itself in amongst numerous hair follicles. I believe the tick knew that this would cause immense pain to its victim when the victim’s mother would accidentally latch onto the surrounding follicles while trying to pull it out. In any case, the tweezers on this night were not doing the job.

It was time to explore the old wives tales.

My wife’s first suggestion was to light a match and hold it up to the tick. Apparently, the theory is that the tick is smart enough to feel the heat and try to escape by backing out. Now, we’re talking about an animal that burrows a hole into other living things, sucks blood until it’s so big it has to let go, and once it falls off it can’t move anywhere and lays around until it’s either crushed or eaten. Survival instinct just doesn’t appear to be high on the priority list.

I balked at the match idea, considering the fact that I would be holding a lit match near the head of my six year old son, who would most likely be diagnosed with ADHD if we ever concerned ourself with actually getting him looked at.

Instead, I moved onto the next brilliant wives tale. If you hold a bottle of alcohol over the tick, it will back out. I’ve been told it’s because it can’t breathe and the alcohol bothers them. Well, the first mistake was thinking that this kid would actually sit there and let me hold the bottle tight enough so it wouldn’t leak all over the place. After two minutes of hearing “You’re hurting me!” with a lot of corollary movement and rubbing alcohol having been sent flying everywhere, it was decided that this technique probably wouldn’t work anyway, but certainly wouldn’t work in our case.

Crying and doused in alchol, with wood-tick still engorged, the son is losing faith in his parents’ tick-fighting prowess.

All of our kids are witnessing this activity, save the four year old who fell asleep during prayer time, like he always does.

Now, here’s where the story gets ridiculous. And you will see it coming, and you’ll think, “Um… DUH!” or some variant thereof. As embarrassing as it is, I must go on.

My wife, frustrated at the stupidity in thinking this whole rubbing alcohol approach had any chance of working, and mad at herself for allowing me to talk her into the idea, says to me, “This is not working at all. Let’s try the match thing.” As a loving husband who wishes to please my wife, and desires to see my son tick-free, I eschew all sense of reason and all knowledge of all things science, and how one thing reacts with another, and I answer “Alright. Give me a match.”

Now, there was probably 10 seconds or so from the time I declared those words to the time that the lit match was approaching the tick. That should be enough time for someone who took two semesters of Organic Chemistry to remember that rubbing alcohol and fire are a great combination if you want to set your house on fire. They are not so great a combination if your desire is to not set your child on fire.

Unfortunately, all we could think of was getting that tick out. It blocked all other thoughts that were attempting to leap from synapse to synapse in a frenzy, attempting to pull back my hand and say “You fool! Don’t do this!” But they were too late. The match approached the tick. And then…

Poof! The entire back of my son’s head was in flames. Now, let me be clear here… within two seconds we had that flame out and it all happened so quick that there were no burns. But man, he freaked out – and rightly so. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he dove to the ground. The other kids also freaked. I lost track of my two daughters until they came charging towards Alex and doused him with water, which only freaked him out more. We yelled “What are you doing?” and they’re all like “He was on fire!”

Meanwhile, the tick was still enjoying its meal.

In the end, I called a nurse’s line, and explained about the tick and asked how best to get it out. I, um, forgot to relay the part about dousing my kid with rubbing alcohol and setting him on fire. Oops.

Anyway, she basically said you can forget about all these old wives tales. Just pull the thing out and hope for the best. Well, we did, and the head stayed behind. So, now we keep an eye on it and if we are unable to dig it out after the swelling goes down a bit, we’ll have to take him in and get it removed so it doesn’t get infected. [Edit: we never had to do that] It’s possible it will work out on its own, but we’ve heard that they often don’t. Yay. Unfortunately, we were unable to get it out without squeezing the body of it, which means some blood probably squirted into the wound. Now we have to watch for any indication of Lyme’s disease, as well, and get him treated if symptoms occur. [Edit:  Thankfully, no Lyme’s – though another child would contract it later on]

So let this be a lesson to you all. Not that you needed it, but never underestimate the stupid things you can do if the situation is just right. I’m still whacking myself in the head and asking how I could possibly have done such a stupid thing.

I guess it’s clear… I’m an idiot.

[Note: I now highly recommend a simple little device called a “Tick Twister.”   It works wonderfully, and has kept our children blaze-free for almost 9 years now.]

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