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Volume 15, Issue 28 ~ July 12 - July 18, 2007

Deer Revenge

After a life outdoors, Lyme hit me in the bull’s-eye

Paybacks are Hell.

Over the years in various states according to my journals, I have bagged 117 deer — all whitetails other than two Sikas and one mulie. Today I learned the antlered critters have turned the tables.

They have me in their sights.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a reddish blemish on my forearm but paid little attention to it. Scratches, scars and blemishes are not unusual for me. I root around amidst thorny rose bushes, pick blackberries, fish amidst shoreline brush and hunt and hike in the woods where briars abound.

Long ago, I learned that temporary scars were just part of outdoor life. Accept them or stay on the beaten path.

So when I noticed that blemish on my left arm, I thought nothing about it. Just another bug bite. In a few days it will go away. They always do.

This one persisted. It spread until it was about an inch in diameter. Still, I wasn’t concerned.

It appeared benign. The dull reddish purple softened in color, and as it did so I noticed a tiny reddish-black spot emerging in the center. A day later, the blemish had just about disappeared, which was good. Not so good was what remained: a dull reddish ring with that spot in the center.

It looked like a bull’s-eye.

I Should Have Known

I should have known. For nearly 60 years as an outdoor reporter in publications, radio, television and the lecture circuit, I’ve covered the annoyances of life on the water and afield — and how to avoid them. I should have practiced what I preached. Instead, I was confident, arrogant. It can’t happen to me, I thought.

Sure I should have known what that red bull’s-eye meant: the telltale sign I’d been bitten by a deer tick infected with Lyme disease. But being a New England country boy, I figured there was no cause for concern. It was just a long-healing bug bite, nothing to bother about.

Upon seeing the emerging bull’s-eye, my kin advised me to see a doctor. I promised I would — just to drop the subject. But my daughter Heather was as persistent as the blemish, and she nagged me. To ease her concern, I made an appointment with the family physician.

The appointment didn’t last long. One look at my arm and the doc knew what it was. She promptly ordered an EKG.

“What’s a bug bite to do with my ticker?” I asked.

“Could have much to do with anyone’s heart,” she responded. “Lyme disease can affect a victim in many ways.”

With that diagnosis, she confirmed what I had passed off as not me, believing if I ignored it, it would go away.

It Can Happen to You

Well, dear readers, it doesn’t always go that way. Eighteen months ago, I was confident I would never fall and break my hip. But I did. Six months ago, I never thought I’d have a diagnosis of cancer. But cancer was discovered — only of the prostate, I’m happy to say, and the prognosis is encouraging.

Three months ago I never even thought of a heart attack. Then came three.

If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck.

I’m not making this confession for anything other than to alert you that the old thinking, it can’t happen to me or ignore it and it will go away doesn’t always hold true.

My bull’s-eye is gradually fading. Within a week, it will probably be gone. Had I not seen a doctor, I would have forgotten all about it. But Lyme disease can create havoc with the body: nerves, organs including the heart, painful spells, you name it. It goes wild in the system.

Apparently I’m lucky. The only consequence affecting me is fatigue, absolute fatigue. Many others aren’t so lucky. Like me, they never knew the tiny tick had been feasting on their blood. I never felt the bite. Had it not been in a visible location, I’d have been in trouble.

Ignorance is not always bliss.

Know Your Ticks

The deer tick is much smaller than the dog tick, which is not thought to carry Lyme disease. In the accompanying illustration, the deer tick on the top row, left to right, appears in its immature stage, as an adult male, an adult female and an adult female engorged after feeding.

The common dog tick is at the bottom. Left to right, you see the adult male, adult female with more prominent white horseshoe collar and engorged adult female.

Pictured, too, is the bull’s-eye on my arm.

Adult ticks are most common from May through July, but tick bites can occur after that. The doctor gave me a printout from UpToDate (, which advises avoiding the old ways of removing a tick — if you’re lucky enough to see or feel it — by a smoldering match, cigarette, nail polish, Vaseline or kerosene. All those old remedies can irritate the tick and cause it to behave like a syringe, injecting organism-bearing tick bodily fluids into the wound.

The proper way to remove a tick is to use a set of fine tweezers, grip the tick as close to the skin as possible, then pull it out with steady pressure, no yanking.

Tick bites, of course, can be appreciably avoided by minimizing exposure of the skin by clothing or repellants. But many people don’t bother with such precautions: It can’t happen to them. But it can.

Enough said.

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