Monday, October 30, 2006

Lithuanian Ticks and Other Souvenirs...

There's a first time for everything, and now I, for the first time, can truly empathize with Baxter and his several episodes with ticks... Here's my far-too-long saga:

The alarm clock blasted me awake at 4:30am. We had a 7:30am flight from Vilnius, Lithuania (where we had just spent the better part of a week on a business trip) to Amsterdam. I generally take longer to get ready, so I went in for a shower first. As I toweled-off, I felt something small sticking out of my side. I craned my neck around to look and saw a tiny tick body with legs sticking out of my skin. The head was firmly planted in my side, but the critter didn't appear to have had much luck (or enough time) to fill up on my blood. Of course, I did what any self-respecting arachnophobe would do...I shrieked. My husband came running.

"Wow, that looks like a tick," he said, examining the critter with fascination. "Can you just get this thing out of me?!?" I replied not-so-calmly. As I stood there, naked and semi-frozen in a stupor of sleep deprivation and shock, he went down to the hotel desk to see if they had any tweezers. I must have picked it up the day before at Gruto Parkas -- a lovely park in the Lithuanian countryside that has a collection of huge bronze sculptures and other propaganda from the Soviet era (more on that interesting park another time).

Of course, the front desk did not have tweezers and stores in Lithuania don't tend to be open at 4:45 on a Sunday morning. Now nearly every Website I could find said two things definitively: "never remove a tick with your bare hands" and "always remove a tick as soon as possible" because the longer they're in, the higher your chances of contracting some dreadful disease. None said what to do if you're in a hotel in Lithuania at 4:45 in the morning with no tweezers and a hungry tick in your side. We decided to move forward with the de-ticking anyway, and my husband removed it with his fingernails, skillfully leaving the body intact, but he couldn't get the teeny fangs still in my side. We figured we'd find tweezers in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam drugstores aren't open on Sundays. At least nowhere near our hotel. So, armed with a needle from the hotel's travel sewing kit, some Gruto Parkas matches with Lenin's picture on the box and a small bottle of Lithuanian vodka (antiseptic and anesthesia), my husband (bless his heart) proceeded to surgically remove as much of the fangs as possible, but they were a bit deeper than his (or my) comfort zone allowed. This was going to require more sophisticated equipment.

I didn't particularly like wearing tick fangs in my side, but I wasn't terribly worried about getting sick from it. That changed when I got on IM with my client in Lithuania. I was laughing about having brought with me a living souvenir from Lithuania. My client immediately took on a very grave tone (as much as you can in IM) and informed me in no uncertain terms that Lithuanian ticks are extremely dangerous and can carry a very, very bad disease. Lyme? They have that, but this is worse than that. Tick-borne Encephalitis. I Googled it. You can die from it, and if you don't die, you can be permanantly impaired after suffering immeasurable pain. Ok, at this point I felt a wave of panic come over me. "You must promise to see a doctor as soon as possible," he said. I had no problem promising that.

The next morning we went to an urgent care center at the local hospital in the Amsterdam suburb near our hotel. It was under construction and parts of the ceiling were gone. That should be helpful if the tick-removal is painful, I thought to myself. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, a women came in and asked what I was there for. Assuming she was the doctor, I told her everything. She said "the doctor will be here shortly." We waited another eternity before the on-duty physician came in. I swear, he looked all of about 16.

He took one look at the tick-head wound and said "I can't do anything about this." "Um, aren't you supposed to get the head out?" I asked. "It will come out by itself eventually," he replied. I proceeded to tell him about the encephalitis virus from Lithuania, my clients said there was a vaccine, etc. He left to check with some colleagues and came back a while later with a prescription for antibiotics. "This will kill everything from the tick and you'll be fine." He left. I paid $160 Euros cash for Doogie Howser to tell me "take these pills and don't call me in the morning?" Apparently ticks in the Netherlands aren't as dangerous as Lithuanian ticks and Doogie didn't know or care much about it. This one was up to fate.

I tried to reassure myself that the tick hadn't been in very long, and my sweet clients reassured me that they and their families had been bitten many times and never had the vaccine and never got sick. I read the statistics, and while the encephalitis was a big deal in the 1990s, it is statistically pretty rare. I was on edge for a while, but eventually I got over it and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

Shortly after I got home I saw my doctor and asked about it...he said "let's get it out of there," so today I went in and his assistant proceeded to surgically remove the last bits-o-tick. She said I'd probably have symptoms by now if I had contracted any tick-borne illnesses. Knock on wood, I'm feeling fine, and I'm relieved to have that episode over with! As I was leaving the doctor's office I asked the woman behind the counter how they would code a visit to remove a Lithuanian tick-fang. She replied, "Foreign body removal." Indeed.

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