Posted by: Shanna Germain | 06/02/2009

Pg. 63: Ticked Off


Atlas shrugged. And then she got bit by a tick.



  • Weather: It has been hot and sunny for the past four days. No really, I mean it. Honest.
  • Mileage: I have been hoofing it all over the place this week. At least four miles most days, some days as many as six or seven.
  • Discovery: It can get cranking hot here when the sun comes out. I’ve spent the last four days sweating my butt off. Which feels like a lie even as I say it. But it’s totally true.
  • Media: Reading. A lot. Everything I can get my hands on and then some. 
  • Worst Thing: See below.
  • Best Thing: Hanging with my friend all week long.
  • Quote of the Day: “Wow, a wise American!” said by the guy at the chippie shop when I said yes to salt and vinegar, and no to ketchup.
  • Word of the Day: Hochmagandy. Fornication, sex.


The first day I arrived on the Isle, while we were driving here in my friends’ car, they gave me a short bit of advice, almost as an afterthought. “Oh, and watch for sheep ticks. If you get one on you, you just grasp it and turn it anti-clockwise and pull it out. They’re in the ferns, but you shouldn’t have a problem.” Only they said it in their delightful and, at the time, uncomprehensible, accent so I got “ticks” “problem” “clockwise” and “pull.” Which seemed enough to keep myself in the know. After all, I’d grown up in central/upstate NY, a place so known for its deer ticks and Lyme Disease that you were considered stupid or death-wishy if you so much as stepped into tall grass without long socks, long pants and enough DEET to kill off a species of eagles.

When my friend was here from the U.S., following along with rather good-hearted enthusiasm on our various hikes, I mentioned that tick issue and suggested he check his legs whenever we returned from a hike. I did this with the same sort of “it’ll never happen” voice that they use when telling you how to jump from the plane in case of engine trouble.

And then a few days ago, I looked down at my arm while applying sunscreen for another hike and there it was, hanging off my skin. A tick. It was little, but it was still a tick. Now I have to admit — my upper arm is not a place where I would have looked for ticks. My ankles, my calves, other places with hair, yes. But not there.

So I screamed. No, no I didn’t, actually, despite the fact that it looked a great deal like a spider, which, had I found a species of spider with its head buried in my arm, I would have screamed. A lot. But instead, I pulled it out carefully, looked at the creature for a while and, when I’d had enough of freaking myself out, I put first aid cream on it (the bite, not the tick) and went on about my hike. (Which just goes to show, by the way, that sunscreen is good for more than just protecting against skin cancer, since there’s likely no other way I would have seen the tick before it had eaten its fill and fallen off).


Tick bite plus the beginning of a bullseye. I know it’s incredibly hard to see in this photo, but if you look to the right, you’ll see a tiny pink bump with what looks like a very light circular bruise around it. There’s also sort of a half-moon of whitened skin around the whole thing, which is more clear along the bottom.

The bite was tiny, and for the first few days there was a bit of a bruise around it, but I’m not the kind who believes in running off to the hospital at a moment’s notice — besides, the websites that I looked at suggested that there was only a 30 percent chance of getting Lymes from a tick bite (which in hindsight, actually seems rather high), so I figured all was well. Then I noticed that the bruise was more of a rash and that it was slowly starting to look more like a bullseye than a plain old splotch. Which, again, I told myself was probably nothing. Until I woke up this morning feeling achy all along my right side, headachy and as though my joints were far to stiff to be moving the way that I’d like. My head was throbbing dully, which made it incredibly hard to think (this is always a sign that I’m sick… this fuzzy-headedness). Shortly, the idea came to me that I should lay down and take a long, hard nap — after I’d only been up for about an hour — and I realized that I needed to bite the bullet and see about getting myself some care.

Lyme disease is one of those tricky ones — many people who have it don’t know it, because they never even notice the tick. So it often goes untreated or is treated late in the game. Because of this, it can turn into something chronic and reoccurring, a long-lasting joint, tissue and muscle problem. It can, occasionally, cause death, but I do believe (hope) that’s rather rare as well. Either way, it’s one of those diseases that’s much better nipped in the bud, and I figured that the old “better safe than sorry” motto was a wise one to take under consideration.

I called the health centre here on the Isle and had a rather convoluted and confusing conversation, in which I had to explain a few times that I lived here, but I didn’t live here (meaning, namely, that I didn’t qualify for the government health care program) and then got myself all tangled whether she was saying “sur name” or “first name.” Then she kindly explained that I was going to have to pay and did I still want to come in? I said I thought I’d better, to which she tsked sweetly — as though she was convinced that someone would only come in and actually pay if they were on their deathbed (which, I admit, I was sort of feeling close to by then). She asked if I wanted to know the amount, to which I said, “No. I have to come in either way.” I figured that I was already feeling miserable enough; I didn’t need to be worrying about the cost at the same time. She gave another rather kind tsk and then I got an appointment for just a few hours later, something that is mostly unheard of in the States.

I arrived at the Centre feeling rather miserable, like every step was a huge effort, paid upfront (fifty pounds, which was far less than I expected) and slunk into my chair to wait for my turn. Like everything else about living in a foreign country, the health care was a learning experience. The receptionist says, “So, first is that woman in the tan shirt, sitting at the back, with the kid, and then after she goes, goes the man in the blue shirt. No, not that one. That one. And you go after him. Dr. Burke will ring his bell and then you go to his office.”

I have to admit that I had this image of Dr. Burke coming out, ringing a ginormous cow bell, calling his patients to dinner or something. But it turned out the bell was just this little light on the wall next to his name, and when it was the next patient’s turn, the light started blinking and the little bell went off, and someone would get up and walk down the hallway. It was very odd, because I had to keep track of my man in the blue shirt, so that after he went, it would know it was my turn, but it was also rather efficient.

I should interject the story here and say I’ve heard lots and lots of horror stories about the Scottish health care system. More than I’d like to go into, or even think about really. But I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Dr. Burke was kind, thoughtful, caring. He asked a lot of what seemed like the right questions and looked carefully at my tick bite. He was knowledgeable. He took my allergy to penicillin in stride. He talked about ticks and Lyme disease and the negative concerns about antibiotics.

I left with a prescription for doxycycline, a still-achy step, and a feeling of relief that I’d not only gone to the clinic, but had found the experience un-horrible, to say that least. I took my pills like a good girl, and while they’re not helping yet, I’m sure they’ll kick in eventually. Truly, on the scale of trip illnesses, this one has been scary and a little achy, but nowhere near as painful and debilitating as the foot injury in Mexico and not even comparable to the ooginess and “I’m going to die” experience of getting E. Coli on the way back from El Salvador.

Here’s hoping tomorrow dawns to a me that’s feeling much more coherent and healthy, and a lot less achy and miserable. In the meantime, there’s a nap calling my name. Rather loudly, I might add.

Not so far and not so fast, s.


“I’m cookin’ with gas. I’ve gotta handful of vertebrae and a headful of mad. Yeah. That’s your spinal cord. Baby. Dig it. Who’s the man? I’m the man. I’m a bad man. How bad? Real bad. I’m a 12.0 on the 10.0 scale of badness.” ~The Evil Midnight Bomber, from “The Tick.”


  1. Wow, so they have Lyme in Scotland? I thought it was limited to these unlucky parts. I had it about 10 years ago? or so. NOT fun. My bullseye was on the back of my knee – but it was the sickest I ever felt. I did the antibiotics for 6 weeks. Glad you braved the healthcare thing and got treated.

  2. Eek! I’m glad you’re okay!

    I’m one of those who had repeated abysmal experiences with the British health care system, so I’m especially glad it went well for you. Although I do have to ask: For how long did they prescribe the antibiotic? One of my bad experiences was when they didn’t prescribe it long enough, and I had a relapse several weeks later…in Germany. The German doctor was appalled when he found out they hadn’t given me a full course of antibiotics.

    I’m going to think positive thoughts, though! Feel better soon!

  3. We went hiking in the Viginia woods this weekend and encountered the local fauna. We very stupidly sat in the short grass for a bite of lunch. I looked down in my lap and there as a HUGE tick crawling right up my fly. Brian bravely plucked it off with a Kleenex but I had the creepy crawlies in all the wrong places the whole drive home. Then we read that deer ticks are the size of a period on the page and dog ticks are half an inch long. I don’t know which causes more despair.

    Feel better soon! Good job getting right in to see someone.

  4. After you’ve lived outside the US a while longer, you’ll eventually stop calling the health department over things like this… you’ll just have a beer or two and go about the rest of your day. 🙂

    I feel ya, though — Americans love to worry. I catch myself doing it still over the smallest things… and thus living abroad is in itself a “health dept” of sorts.

    I love your writing, have always loved your writing.

  5. […] adventures of my life, I swear. Got bit by a bloody tick. Am sick as a devil’s […]

  6. […] June 2: Went to the health clinic, was diagnosed with “likely Lyme” and given a week’s worth of Doxycyclin (100 mg. a day) […]

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