Traumatized by a tick in Narooma

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We had just arrived in Narooma, a pretty coastal town just south of Bateman’s Bay.

We’d heard how beautiful it was and we decided to stop for 6 nights. We pulled up at a picnic table by the inlet for lunch while we worked out where we would stay.

Naroom, NSW, Australia

I was munching on my rice crackers and tuna, and like most mothers, had 3 people talking to me at once, so could not really focus on the pain I suddenly felt behind my left knee.

It felt like a green ant sting, and so my brain kept pushing it away as not as important as stopping Savannah from climbing onto the table and answering Kalyra’s incessant curious questions.

Soon enough the persisting pain took over all thoughts. “There’s something biting my leg.”

I looked down and leapt off the bench.

“Oh my God, Craig. Look, it’s a tick. Oh my god. Please get it off.”

My stomach wound up in knots, I started sweating and shaking. Kalyra looked at me panicked, “What is it Mummy?”

“It’s a tick. Oh God, quick get it off Craig.” He started to pull at it when I remembered you can’t do that.

“No stop. You can’t pull it as the head might break off inside my leg and release toxins.”

“I can’t get it out anyway, it’s so stuck in there.”

That tipped me over. It was deeply embedded making me sicker with each suck on the blood.

“Shit. I think you need to put salt on it don’t you. No get it out with tweezers. Oh crap, I can’t remember. Please help me.” The tears started to come. I knew I was scaring the bejeesus out of Kalyra, but I couldn’t hold back my terror.

A man walked past, and Craig asked if he could help get it out.

“I’m sure you have to pour either Metho or kerosene on it to kill it, and then pull it out with tweezers. Mate, I’d go to the caravan park next door. They can probably help.”

I grabbed my bag and took off, hobbling down the path, whimpering with the slight pain of its’ sucking head creating debilitating disease within me. My heart pounded with the fear of the poison. Oh no, I shouldn’t be running. My blood is pumping faster and spreading the poison quicker. Oh no. I’m gone for.

I tried to slow my hobble down, but I just wanted help to get the sucker out. I raced into the office of the caravan park.

“Please can you help me? I have a tick in my leg and I can’t get it out.”

The man came out composed and took a look. “Oh it’s deeply in there. I don’t want to mess it up for you, I think it’s better you go to the doctor’s surgery just down the street. Don’t worry,” he said gently, “It won’t kill you.”

“You don’t understand. I had tick bite fever before in Africa and it’s the sickest I’ve ever been.”

“Oh dear. Yeah, you better go to the doctor’s.”

Craig and the girls had caught up by then. We started racing down the street.

“Oh Craig, what’s going to happen?” the tears started to come.

“Don’t worry Caz, you’ll be alright.”

I asked Kalyra to hold my hand. “I’m not going near that thing” she said, eyes wide and stormed off on me.

The sucking pain on my leg took me right back to Clifton’s Beach in Cape Town, South Africa. With the backdrop of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head it was one of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever see.

travel makes you stronger getting sick
The beginnings of Tick Bite Fever in Cape Town

But I could barely even see it. I was lying down head buried in the white sand. Raising it to look out to the azure waters hurt. I’d only had a few drinks last night. Either the beer was really bad or something else was going on. I tried to jump in the water, to shake away the pain, even the 10 degree ocean temperature couldn’t do that.

As the day went on, the head got worse, and my body started to feel the feverish beginnings of a really bad flu.

We went back to the hostel, and I skipped the partying for an early night. It was a fitful night sleep with the onset of feverish chills and a blinding headache. When the morning came, I could barely move my head. Each slight movement only tightened the vice and sent pain shooting through my head.

I went to see the doctor down the road. It was a very slow walk, Craig half carried me as I struggled to stop my head pounding with each gentle step. The doctor took some blood tests and later that day I phoned for the results.

“Your white blood cell count is really low. We think it’s viral encephalitis,” he said. “As it’s a virus there isn’t anything we can do, you should start getting better in a few days. “

I was terrified.

I had a friend who worked with insane people, one of her patients turned mad after contracting viral encephalitis. All I could think of was her stories of crazy Rose.

Over the next couple of days my symptoms worsened. I was nauseous, feverish, and my joints swelled so badly I couldn’t bend my arms or legs and needed assistance walking. I couldn’t get in and out of the tent we had pitched in the hostel garden. The hostel beds were full, but one of the workers so generously gave up his bed for me.

After a couple of days of intense pain and sickness, I went back to the doctors. “Because you are not getting better, it cannot be viral encephalitis, the only other thing it can be is tick bite fever.”

I’d never even heard of it. I don’t even remember being bitten by the tick.

I did remember having similar headaches in Malawi, but they soon went away. The doctor said, it could have been tick bite fever then and it can return. It returned with a vengeance this time.

He prescribed Doxycycline for me, which I had previously been using for malaria prevention. The swelling started clearing up the next day and the headaches began to ease. The fatigue and nausea continued for a few more days, but after a week I had made a full recovery.

Now, as I ran to the doctor’s all I could feel was how sick I once was because of a tick, and I was scared I was about to go through that again.

I told the receptionist what had happened and asked if the doctor could get the tick out.

“Sure, I’ll get you in. There’s a lot of ticks around lately because it’s so dry. Don’t worry it can’t hurt you.“

“You don’t understand. I’ve had tick bite fever in Africa before, it made me really sick. I don’t want to go through that again.”

The doctor took me into the room. She smothered the tick with vaseline to suffocate and kill it and then pulled it out with tweezers, head and body in tact. Kalyra watched on with hideous fascination. I tried to explain why Mummy was so scared without freaking her out too much.

I asked the doc If I would get sick and she said, “Perhaps. People react in different ways and there are a lot of variables.”

She told me not to panic and just deal with it when it came. I felt much better once the tick was out, but was on high alert for signs for the next few days. Headaches did arrive, probably from stress, but it didn’t result in anything… so far.

I told our Facebook community and a few people warned me of Lyme disease and how it can badly impact a person’s health for life. I did a Google search and freaked myself out.

The symptoms of Lyme disease were exactly the same as the tick bite fever I experienced in Africa. And the remedy was the same: Doxycycline.

It makes me wonder what effects it has had on my health since then without me realizing that was behind it.

To most people a tick would not be scary. It wasn’t to me, until I experienced tick bite fever.

And that’s why something so small latching onto my body, sends me into a panic greater than if I saw a tornado hovering in the distance.

Have you ever been bitten by a tick? Or something worse?

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22 thoughts on “Traumatized by a tick in Narooma”

  1. I’ve never had a tic bite but last year we paddled over to Cumberland Island in Georgia and then walked through the woods to the beach. Hours later when we got back to the hotel my husband found a tick on him. Then we started looking. He had SEVEN ticks on him but no bites. I don’t think I’ve taken the risk they pose seriously enough and I can understand why you freaked.

  2. Hi Caz,

    I’m glad to hear you’re okay. I live in upstate New York–the Lyme Disease capital of the world. Lyme Disease and related co-infections has ruined my life right now, so consider yourself lucky! I didn’t even know it was prevalent in Africa, so thank you for that information. It’s terrible that a.) ticks are so widespread and that b.) there isn’t enough research, prevention, or treatment available. Lyme recently killed a teen in my town, almost killed my mother several times, and currently has me unable to work or travel for a long time. Treatments are ongoing and the disease is awful, so I’m very happy you seem to have gotten off relatively unharmed. Please continue to spread the word so that others know it’s out there!

  3. Oh those ticks are just nasty little creatures aren’t they! Here where I live, we’ve only had to worry about Lyme disease in recent years – apparently the little Lyme-infested varieties have made their way here – makes me want nothing to do with hiking in the forest during tick season. ugh.

    Hope everything will turn out ok for you post-bite – I’m sure it will – seems like you got it out quite fast, so I’m sure that lessens the likelihood of it passing anything nasty your way!!

  4. That’s awful! I’ve been bitten once, and had to take the full antibiotic course as a precaution against Lyme. But it’s been years and nothing bad has happened so I think I got by without it:) Glad you got it out, and that you’re okay, but I just have to add that pouring kerosene or any other flammable thing on a tick to kill it is not recommended- “Trying to choke them by putting something like grease on them isn’t advised either. All methods that involve irritating the tick, potentially increase the chance that the tick produces extra saliva or vomits its stomach contents, which could contain pathogens. Removing a tick with your fingers or with flat tip conventional tweezers also gives a chance that the tick is squeezed, and is therefore not recommended.” So glad you didn’t follow that advice and pour kerosene on it!

  5. I shouldn’t laugh!! But this story is hilarious! I feel so bad for you getting tick fever!! I am also MORTIFIED about stuff like that. However, I have grown up and lived in Northern Wisconsin my whole life and it is loaded with ticks around here. I absolutely can not stand those nasty little things.

    1. Laugh away! I am only now I am okay. I really dropped my bundle and I’ve put an awful lot of fear into Kalyra, which I’m kicking myself for. She now asks at least 10 times everywhere we go, “Are there ticks in this place?” I don’t think she’ll ever recover.

  6. Where we live it’s quite common to be bitten by a tick. We’re in the outdoors a lot and there’s quite many ticks in The Netherlands, about a quarter of them carries Lyme. I’ve been told however that if you remove it from your body within 24 hrs the chance of getting Lyme is very minimal. Maybe it’s a suggestion to carry a special tick tweezer (not sure what the exact English name is??) in your first aid kit? We always carry it everywhere, however usually found out after we came home only that we were bitten (me twice this year, my boyfriend three times this year). I can totally understand your panick though esp. because of your earlier exeperiences in South Africa. Ticks are scary little creatures…

    1. Might have to get us one of those tweezer things. I’ve got the vaseline stocked up in the first aid kit now.That’s good to hear about the 24 hours. It makes sense because when I had it in AFrica, I didn’t even know one had bitten me so it could have been on me for some time. Such an icky feeling

      1. Yes, the ticks are yuck. Just the idea of them makes me feel disgusted. What we do when are camping in spring (because that’s when the ticks come out here) is a mandatory tick check at night. It takes just a minute to check your whole body (and check each other’s backs) but it can help so much. Anyway, enjoy the rest of your trip!

  7. I can completely relate to your fear! Before we moved to London, we lived out in the countryside of Tennessee by a creek, a prime spot for ticks. We got free ranging chickens to help minimize the ticks, but before too long I got my first one, and then my second, and so on. I never stopped freaking out about it. That is one thing I do NOT miss about living in the country. I’m so glad you didn’t have the same reaction this time that you did in Africa, but it’s still a super scary experience to have to go through.

  8. Caz I worry about these a lot – my parents live on a property and the kids have had a couple of ticks now. Get yourself a ‘Tick Twister’… the new way of thinking is that if you put alcohol or some kind of poison on them, it doesn’t necessarily make them back out. It makes them freak out! And they release their poison into you. These tick twisters twist the little bastards out without breaking off the head… painful, but effective and safer. They’re used for animals and people. I keep one in my car now just in case.

  9. OMG! I’m so glad you posted this experience! I knew they were always on dogs, horses, etc. But had no idea that’s how you could get Lyme disease. Thank you so much! Glad you are well.

  10. Our dog used to get ticks all round her ears when I was a kid. They grossed us out but never really bothered me till I fell in a ditch after a party one night. Woke up the next morning and found a tick on my upper thigh! I freaked out big time. I knew I was supposed to suffocate it with oil or Vaso, and had done it hundreds of times for our Collie but I just grabbed and pulled. Pretty stupid but I just wanted it out! Luckily I got the whole thing out.
    Lucky you were near a doctor’s though, Caz. Glad you’re all right.
    Keep on truckin’!

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