Worrying About Worrying About Lyme Disease
One mother reckons with her fear of the illness — and why it freaks us all out so much
This story is part of “Tickpocalypse,” a multi-part special report.
Like most people, I can catalog periods of my life by the things I feared, both physical and existential. As a child I was afraid of normal stuff — the dark, roller coasters, monsters — as well as odd, benign things like tomatoes and escalators. But what I feared most back then was undoubtedly the cockroach, that timeless scourge of urban dwellers across millennia. The memory of walking into the kitchen at night, or of the dreaded wee-hours bathroom trip, cringing, waiting for anything with six legs to dash for cover under the harsh flood of fluorescent light, still makes me shudder.
In my twenties, it was the whine of mosquitoes that threatened my sanity as I crisscrossed the globe with my backpack and my DEET, hoping to avoid both adulthood and malaria as long as possible. With school-aged children came lice — don’t even get me started on those.
Then, in 2014, this city girl with peasant stock bought a country house near the beach. There were grasses tall and short, leaf piles, and an acre of backyard that no one had cared for in decades. Our kids were two and five. We shooed them outside, where they hovered on the back steps, unwilling to venture into nature alone. Eventually, they got the hang of it, ambling around in the grass, half-naked, building fairy houses and picnicking with their stuffed animals.
At first, ticks were an afterthought, somewhere between sugar consumption and rogue flu strains on the Worrisome Thing-o-Meter. I’d issue casual reminders to my husband to check behind the kids’ ears and between their toes during bath time, but we were inconsistent. My inattention to the risk was validated when a friend sent our mothers’ group an email about ticks and Lyme from a local pediatric practice: “A recent increase in awareness of the disease has in some cases spilled over into hysteria, resulting in countless unnecessary prescriptions and blood tests, not to mention anxiety,” it explained. “… if you find a tick on Jimmy’s skin, just remove it [and] throw it out; there’s no need to analyze it… with treatment, Lyme disease is…