Thursday, May 14, 2009

why worry about the swine flu when there's Lyme disease? - or, a frog, a lizard, a tick, a fork, evolution, and a Tetanus shot

I. Eyes on the Prize
Back in March, while visiting my family in south Jersey, we made a trip to the local zoo. It was a windy, cold day and before we left we spent considerable time in the amphibian house where temperatures were more suitably toasty.

We were watching some frogs, or maybe they were toads – I admit, I don't know the difference, have no immediate plans to figure it out, and let's not even go into hedgehogs and porcupines – and I innocently glanced up at the description sign above them. It said (and I paraphrase): “Like all frogs, this species uses its eyeballs to help push their food into their stomachs, moving them down the sockets to squash the food into the body.”

Now, I've already admitted I don't know a heck of a lot about frog-toads, but you can't tell me this shit is common knowledge. I mean, what's with the casual turn of phrase “like all frogs?” This isn't “As you know, most watermelon are pink inside.” or “You're probably aware that many trees lose their leaves in winter.” Even Mike, who seems to me to know just about everything there is to know in the universe except how to play racquetball well, balks. He laughs out of nervousness, then takes a step backwards toward the turtle tank where what appear at first to be limbed stones serenely paddle.

Nature: amazing and disgusting – all in one, shall we say, swallow.

I have a theory on the reason this digestion scenario grosses us out (and, forgive me, I'm presuming you're on my side here). It is completely alien and freaking bizarre while still something we can't entirely divorce ourselves from. After all, it was only a short evolutionary what? millennium? ago that our ancestors crawled out of the pond and grew legs and lungs. We could safely still refer to ourselves, and some do, as fish with legs. In other words, whose to say one of us doesn't have an Uncle Bubba somewhere who shows off his special talents at Thanksgiving dinner, jamming canned cranberry sauce down the hatch with the help of those baby blues.

II. Blood Brothers & Foreshadowing
Over Easter weekend we spent 3 lovely days at an organic farm and wilderness preserve outside of Palo Alto, California. While we were there, we went for a hike and spotted a horned toad. Here's where I get to wow you with my knowledge of nature, momentarily at least. As you may already know, a horned toad is not, in fact a toad, but a lizard. (See, and even if you didn't already know that, you wouldn't be so surprised/horrified that you'd want to sprint away and wretch. Careful use of language, people, is key.)

As we'd begun our trek, we'd passed a group of people coming down the hill. One of the men called out to us. “Watch out for the squirrels!”

We were still taking this odd warning in when another man passed. “Forget the squirrels, watch out for the ticks! - It's high season. Don't touch the grass. Two percent Lyme disease.”

“But don't worry about that,” he'd continued making an extraordinary leap in evolutionary thought within seconds, “The important thing is the hike. Do the hike.” Fins to legs, just like that.

Our heads spinning with all kinds of dubiously helpful advice, we'd trod on until at last we found ourselves within a camera's reach of the aforementioned horned toad at which point I splayed out, belly down and shimmied through the leaves to take its picture.

We saw some ticks on the hike, but none of them bothered us, though my sweater was banished outdoors for the night to be safe.

Shortly after returning home from that visit, we received the new issue of Isaac's kid magazine which featured some common and not-so-common ways that various animals protect themselves. And that's how we learned about the horned toad. As you know, they squirt blood from their eyes to frighten away enemies.

Yeah, it might work, ya think?? Like when some poor hungry coyote gets a face full of blood. He may not even be scared so much as unequivocally offended. As in, “Dude, that's just WRONG.”

III. Flying with Flu

Just this past weekend we were in Massachusetts visiting Mike's family, staying at his parents' house.

Before we could get there though, there was the proverbial delay on the San Francisco to Boston leg complete with all the Bostonians storming the desk, blackberries blazing, getting their east coast in an uproar as if that would fix our broken plane, so eager were they to be in an unsanitary enclosed area with strangers from around the world.

When we did board, two hours late, there was an older Asian couple with no English in our seats. Mike adeptly motioned that they were perhaps meant to be on the other side of the aisle and they quickly moved. It took a bit to notice that the gentleman seemed unwell. Several sneezes into our 5 ½-hour pleasure trip, I turn to Mike.

“So glad Captain Swine Flu was sitting here before he was sitting there. Not that it matters, we're all infected now.”

“He sneezed like twice,” my husband replies.

“It was more than that.”

“Four times?”

“That's enough.”

“That lady's cute,” Mike says.


(Mike points to the man's wife sleeping curled into a ball across the aisle.)

“Oh, you mean Mrs. Swine Flu? Adorable.”

This partner of mine is easily charmed. Could explain how he ended up with me.

IV. Progress Goes Tick, Tock

Our stay at my in-laws (or, as I like to call it, the Church of Our Mother-in-Law of Perpetual Motion) included a trip to Northampton, of course, an afternoon in the new kids' museum in their town, much time delving into Grandma's basement for Isaac, a ride in the wheelbarrow driven by Grandpa, a raucous game of cards, and, naturally, the extended family gathering. This one wasn't as extended as some of them can get. It was mellow, with cousins to chase and bocce ball to try out. Then, at some point, someone, I'm gonna say it was my darling son, suggested a walk in the woods.

It was a brief, uneventful encounter, marching through oak leaves and pine needles trying not to step on the ladyslipper orchids. Just enough time for Mike and his sister to lament the way the trees have been thinned over the years, more and more houses visible.

We soon returned to the g-parents' sun room and the feeding frenzy. Sometime after the dips and veggies and before the pineapple upsidedown cake, Mike's sister discovered a tick on her neck. Ew. In 20 years in those woods, Mike claims, never a tick. Things evolve and, when you least expect it, changes snap into place. Still, somehow, we think evolution only happens to the other guy.

V. Continental Drift & Making Evolutionary History

Despite delays on the Mass Pike due to construction (thanks for the advanced warning, not!), we made it to the airport with a healthy amount of time to spare, but not so much that we'd be sitting around the gate forever.

We were happily planted on the shuttle bus from the rental car place to the terminal, when I began to wonder why my sunburn of a week ago was beginning to hurt all over again...

(Inward Scream) ... “Mike, I have a tick!”

“Okay. We'll take care of it.”

He's supposed to say that. He has no idea if we can “take care of it.” How? Where? Ew. Ew. EW. It's been there a day. I'll die of Lyme disease. I want Isaac to know I tried. There's a bug eating my side!!! I need a hospital, not a plane. But anyway, we'll crash and a tick will be the least of my problems, except that my body, amazingly preserved, discovered after the human race has evolved into furry robots, will be examined and I'll be on the front cover of National Geographic with a tick in my side and they'll discuss – through the computers implanted in what used to be their knees – the quaint nature of ancient parasitic organisms. I HAVE A TICK SUCKING MY BLOOD AND I WANT TO VOMIT!!!!!

There it is again – that evolution of thought. Quick as lightning. Don't be left behind.

We go to the newsstand and ask where we can buy tweezers. We can't buy tweezers, they won't pass security.

We go to the nail salon and ask if we can borrow tweezers. (Try this; people REALLY like you when you do.)

We go to information and ask where the medical center is for the airport. Really far. Our plane leaves in an hour.

We go to the gate and ask if they have a first aid kit...uh, tweezers...a tick. “I'll check the plane,” she says. Finally, hope. “I'd be wigging out too, if I were you.” Compassion.

She returns with the dullest pair of plastic tweezers I've ever seen, and an alcohol wipe. “Thank you.” (I'm going to die.)

Mike and Isaac are buying a sandwich. I walk in circles while people speed past me, onward to a future I'll never know.

“Did you get it?” It's not my husband's voice. It's an unfamiliar voice behind me. Again, “Did you get it?” I turn and see the crew from the plane – the ones who must have procured the plasto-tweezers. “Yes.” I smile. “Did it work?' “I haven't tried yet.” “Well, good luck!”

Mike and Isaac return with my last meal. We retreat as a family into the 3x5 baby changing room, conveniently located near our gate. We are armed with 1) Neosporin 2) three packs of travel Advil 3) one alcohol wipe 4) dull plastic tweezers 5) one child's fork 6) a Bandaid

“Isaac, why don't you tell Mama a story? You're a good story teller.”

“Like what kind of story? I don't really know any stories.”

Mike is digging around in my side with the tweezers.

“Isaac, TELL Mama a STORY.”


This is the child who could keep his preschool class enraptured with tales since before he turned 3, who would create scenarios that regularly fooled his teacher and even made me believe I might have forgotten that in fact we did ride inside a giant spinning wheel.

“Isaac, honey, maybe you could sing me a song.”


“How about the continents song.”

“Okay! I'll sing it over and over again.”

“Per- OW!-fect.”

“Nort-America, Sout-America,... uh...What's dat odder continent?”

“Europe, Isaac, Europe!”

It was about this time that Mike began scurrying frantically around shouting, “I need the fork! I need the fork!”

David Sedaris has an essay called “Old Faithful.” It's a story about the love of his life. It's also a story about lancing a boil. Well, Mr. Sedaris. I see you one puss-filled lump on your tailbone, cured in the bathroom of your hotel room, and I raise you one embedded tick, gouged out in an airport baby changing room with a kiddie fork! Let's just see who the famous writer is NOW!

“That's the best I can do,” Mike sighs. “The pinchers are still in there.”

“This is so disgusting.”

“You'll be fine.”

“You don't know that.”

“I do.”

“Use the insurance money to send Isaac to a good Montessori, will you?”

VI. La Vita Dulce

The whole plane ride, my side is killing me. The next morning we drop Isaac off at school as if everything were normal, and there wasn't a foreign body lodged in my skin. Then we drive to Doctors on Duty.

I've sat in that waiting room a handful of times before including one Christmas Eve when Mike's calves swelled up like beach balls, red with poison oak. It's been six years since I was there myself. I know this because that's what the woman at the desk tells me after a brief look at her computer. I don't remember the cause, but I do remember the doctor. An affable Italian whose name, it turns out, is the very one slotted into the “on duty” space this morning as well.

When I'm called, I make Mike come with me.

If I didn't already know this doctor, I might suspect he'd pull a Monterey Police Department move and go all woozy when he read the “reason for visit” on my chart. Back when we first moved to the West Coast, Mike was out of town for work and my mom was visiting. Around 3 in the morning, we heard a scratching noise coming from the extra bedroom. I entered to find a young possum attempting to get the hell out through the closed window. Long story short, the police came and when I told the tall, solid, uniformed gentleman standing with a frown at my door the problem, he lost all sense of stoic professionalism, literally crumbled, and began to whine. “Awwww, maaaaaaan! I hate those things!”

But this aging 5-foot nothing doctor was not afraid of a tick, nor, I suspect, a possum. We talked about hiking, ticks, Italy. After extracting the pinchers with real metal tweezers, that didn't hurt nearly as much as Mike's operation (go figure!), he ordered a tetanus shot and a couple pills he said I “didn't really need.”

The tetanus shot (which STILL HURTS) was probably the best idea yet – though we never 'fessed up to the fork.

Isn't modern medicine wonderful? We've come so far.


bobbie said...

Poor baby! I'm really so sorry this all happened to you.

Thank God it's over. Watch for the red circle around the spot of course, but I'm sure your little Italian doctor took care of it.

You managed to make it sound pretty humorous. Try to keep thinking of it that way.

Barbara said...

Ew. Mom's right though -- you did write it all up so well. I'd put you up against Sedaris with this any day. Boil schmoyel.


Dianne said...

I feel terrible for laughing all the way through this but you do tell a great story

how cool would it have been if you could have made blood come out of your eyes to really make folks pay attention

and then as my Nana would have said - "have a sandwich, everything will be fine - just eat a little something"

Dianne said...

I saw your response on Bobbie's Skywatch, thanks!! that made my day, you're a good kid :)

Sally said...

Have been missing your posts. Thanks for the chuckles.

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