I felt the bump on my head at dinner with friends in Roslindale.
I scratched. Something dislodged near my temple, snagged in my hair, then fell to the table: A dog tick.
Despite jokes from the table about getting too close to the subject I was writing about, I was perplexed: Since embarking on a series about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, I thought I had become vigilant about not getting bitten at all.
Sure, I was on Martha’s Vineyard, a hotspot for the disease, two days before, but I had done all the required tick checks on my seven-year-old and myself. But I clearly missed a tick—and not a tiny poppyseed-sized deer tick that transmits Lyme. Dog ticks are big. I had no idea how it was able to crawl up the length of my body without me noticing, although I was grateful it hadn’t yet attached to my head to feed.
It turns out I wasn’t as careful as I thought. I didn’t spray my clothes with permethrin, a tick repellent. I wore light-colored, long pants, but I didn’t tuck the pants into my socks because I felt it looked silly and I was too hot to put a long-sleeved shirt on. While I conducted a tick check after coming inside, I didn’t throw clothes in the dryer after tromping around in the woods—a surefire way to kill moisture-loving ticks in 10 minutes.
So here’s what I now do: There is no reason to cut back on joyous time hiking, running through the woods, rolling in the grass or playing outside. But my trail-blazing seven-year-old tries to remember not to veer off paths into shady woods and tall grasses. She regularly rubs her legs to feel for bumps, and I do a more thorough check when she comes indoors. We take showers after playing outside for extended periods to more easily spot ticks and wash them off. The dryer in our house is put to far more use. I’ve purchased permethrin.
As for the tick, I placed it in a sealed plastic bag and took a picture of it with my friends. The waitress looked on quizzically. I brought the tick to work the next day—call it show and tell—the same day a colleague sent me a nervous e-mail saying she had dug out a tiny deer tick embedded in her leg.
I still haven’t thrown the dead tick out. That’s because every time I look at it, I remember to tuck my pants into my socks when I’m venturing into tick territory. No matter how ridiculous it looks.