Tick Tick Boom

Yesterday was a DAY! I mean a real DAY. Putting aside an awkward moment in the morning, my little guy and I had a fun time at a local amusement park, followed by fun at the supermarket. He and I always enjoy the food shopping together. He eats his way through the market while I shop. We managed to stay in our allotted time frame and even had time to unpack our groceries, eat lunch, and do a little school lunch prep for the remainder of the school week/year before we needed to be at elementary school to celebrate the end of the year with my third grader and his class.

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We arrived at the school with the giant bag filled with art supplies for the class project and a little gift for every child. The beginning of the party went well. The kids were happy. They welcomed my little guy. It was all fine until I casually started to rub my little guy’s head and felt a clump of something in his hair.

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Ok… Let’s backtrack for a minute. Like way back. From the beginning, although anal and certainly Type A, I was definitely the “calm” mom. My kids were the peaceful ones at a group lunch. A little exploding diaper didn’t phase me. When the little one may or may not have drank a bottle of Dimetapp, we went to the doctor and the hospital, but I wasn’t panicking. When he sliced his foot with a cheese slicer and needed lots of stitches, I was grossed out and felt weak in the knees, but I wasn’t a nervous wreck. And when he got locked in my husband’s car with the keys and the school security guards had to break into the car to retrieve him, everyone said, “You are so calm.” In my mind, I knew he would get out and for the moment, he was safe, calm, happy, and it wasn’t 90 degrees outside. So I tried not to panic. One could argue I just stayed calm so my child wouldn’t get anxious, but I think it was just my natural reaction. Some things are worth panicking over. These just seemed like the outcomes were all controllable. The doctors would monitor him for the possible overmedicating. The doctors would stitch his foot. The security guards would get him free from the car.

(Sidebar — writing all of this out, it sounds like my youngest is a serious handful. He’s really not. At least in my eyes…)

So anyway, on Saturday, I had the privilege of watching my middle guy perform as “Rooster” in his acting class’ production of Annie. He had a lot of lines and a solo in the song. Couldn’t be prouder of him as he’s overcome a speech delay to being a confident, shining star. The rule of the theater is that little kids can sit right in front of the stage on the floor. As my little guy sat nudged up against my feet, watching his older brother sing, I casually began rubbing his head. And that’s when I felt a very large lump behind his ear.  And suddenly, my calm disappeared. Maybe to the onlooker, you couldn’t tell that I was internally panicked, but when my mom saw my face after the show, she noticed. She felt the lump, my grandma felt the lump, and then my dad felt the lump. Collective agreement, “go right to the doctor.”

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I nearly threw up as we drove to the doctor’s office, the feel of the limp still lingering on my fingertips. Horrible horrible thoughts ran through my mind as I tried to act naturally and unalarmed in front of the kids. We arrived at the office, waited an hour to be seen, and I am pretty sure I aged a year within that hour. (Let’s just say I have a few extra gray hairs that weren’t there at the start of the day). The doctor felt the lump and said, “It’s definitely an enlarged lymph node.” Panic. Bile rising in my throat. Enlarged lymph node out of nowhere – no illness – family history of lymphoma and leukemia. You do the math. I was in full panic mode. The doctor sensed my sheer terror and tried her best to ensure me that an enlarged lymph node can just happen. It doesn’t have to be something serious. But we agreed to a blood test to be sure his levels were consistent and well….

…And they were. PHEW! While I may have lost a year off of my life within that hour of sheer terror, my baby was okay and it made me think of all the moms whose babies are not okay and I have to take a moment right here and now to acknowledge their bravery and strength. Take a moment to do the same. Because those moms (and dads) are heroes in my eyes.

Fast forward to yesterday. My hand once again casually runs through his hair, gently letting my fingers roll over the lump to make sure it hadn’t grown in shape or size and that’s when I felt the scabby feeling in his hair. I moved his hair aside gently and noticed a flakey part of his skin. I thought maybe eczema and continued to run my fingers through is hair to see if there were any other spots. And lo and behold, another lump. But this one felt hard. I parted his hair and saw what looked like a clump of ingrown hairs, or a small cyst that I’ve often found on my aging Shih Tzu pup. And once again, I wanted to throw up.

Now some of you might stop me right here and say, “Maybe you should stop casually rubbing his head.” And maybe you’re right. This week it seems to be leading up to no good. However, his hair is so soft and his face is so squishy, I just can’t help myself.

I quickly gathered my two children, rushed out of the party, grabbed my third from his class and dashed out of the school building with the intention of going straight to the doctor. And as I opened the door, emerging with my hands filled with flowers, backpacks, art supplies, and three children trailing behind me, I saw one of my best mom friends standing outside the building and I ran towards her like a maniac. I may have been screaming, I can’t be sure, but I threw all of my stuff into her arms, another friend standing with her helped me part his hair and I said, “WHAT IS THIS!?”

And what was it? Well upon closer inspection I could see the lump had moving parts. It was a tick embedded in his scalp. I started to freak out (as calmly as a mother not trying to scare her three children can freak out). I pulled the tick from his scalp, my friend dumped a mini bag of pretzels on the floor, and I plopped the tick into the bag, holding it firmly shut as I loaded my kids into the car, yelled at the receptionist at the doctor to get me into an appointment stat, and sped to the doctor’s office.

This wasn’t my first encounter with a tick. Last year, I had a horrible stomach virus and my husband foolishly took the kids to a wooded trail without bug spray or proper clothing. As my husband was showering my oldest later in the evening, he came into my room to tell me that he believed our son had a bug stuck on his chest. Right away I assumed it was a tick and my mommy super strength prevailed as I hauled my feverish, sick ass out of bed and flew into the bathroom. It was a tick and I ran around half hallucinating screaming like a maniac. We removed the tick, treated the area, spoke to the doctor, and they assured me that the tick was probably only on him for a few hours, not long enough to do any real damage. He was fine, but my husband and I were not. Mr. Molbegat received a STERN angry wife speech and we moved on.

Back to yesterday. I arrived at the doctor shaking. How long was the tick in his hair? Was this the reason that he had a very enlarged lymph node behind his ear? Did I miss the early signs? Was he going to have Lyme’s? As a young woman with many autoimmune related health issues, thinking of my four year old having to deal with anything so frustrating made me sick. I threw my kids into the well-room at the doctor (because hell if I am letting any of them get sick before camp next week!), and I ran the tick up to the nurses. “Take this from me before I chop my own hand off.” She laughed, took the pretzel bag with the crawling tick, and brought it to our doctor. And just as I started to take a deep breath, I hear the doctor say, “Wow. 100 calories. 250 mg of sodium. Pretty good for a tick.” I looked at him laughing at the tick crawling around in the 100 calorie snack pack bag and I shouted across the entire office, “Stop laughing! I am freaking out!”

He called me over and said the tick looked very large, which means it’s not a deer tick, but most likely a dog tick and that I could breathe a small sigh of relief that we weren’t looking at a Lyme’s situation. I wasn’t consoled until an hour later when another doctor examined him and said that all three things going on on his scalp were unrelated. Drs. orders were to leave the lymph node alone, put bacitracin on the tick bite area, and take a good shower.  We left the office with the live tick in a specimen jar – our new pet for the week (as we watch for any signs of my little guy having an infection/fever) – and I hauled the kids back to the car, vending machine snacks in hand for good behavior while I panicked, with the words, “Tick checks every night and bug spray every morning” emanating from my lips.

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The rest of our scheduled afternoon plans were not flawless. We were supposed to be at the pool with friends. I ran home, made the kids sandwiches, helped them quickly into their bathing suits, and rushed to the pool. But yeah, I forgot the sandwiches at home. We arrived at the pool, swam for a short time, ran home to get the sandwiches, rushed to evening camp orientation, and throughout it all I repeatedly hear myself saying, “I need a strong drink or a Xanax!” The funny thing is, I don’t really drink that much and don’t take drugs. But after my DAY, saying that out loud seemed appropriate. Instead, I drowned the day in a vegan waffle topped with ice cream at 9pm!

And so, this is my really shitty day that now is a PSA to do tick checks EVERY night and use bug spray every morning. We weren’t in the woods or rolling around in the grass. Our day started at an amusement park and the supermarket. SO BE VIGILANT MY FRIENDS. Run your hands through your kids’ hair every day. Not only is it a great way to feel around for ticks, it’s USUALLY very relaxing. Just not this week.

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