This post is about my battle with a tick.
4 months after flying 26 hours to Dunedin, NZ for my St. Lawrence University study abroad semester, I was back on a plane to New England. Scared, twitching, and unsure, I advanced my flight 3 weeks. NZ doctors attributed the twitching, headaches, and fatigue to the onset of MS. As I left behind new friends, incredible fly fishing, and my final exams, I felt defeated.
1. After any outing, check for ticks – prevention is the easiest cure for Lyme Disease.
2. Grab a buddy for the places you can’t see – all your nooks n’ crannies.
3. If you find a tick, do not pull at the body – the head will stay attached and continue to feed.
4. Touch a blown out, but hot match/ lighter to skin adjacent to the tick. It should uproot itself.
5. Dispose of the tick – I prefer hitting it with a lighter. The sucked blood boils and explodes!
6. If you did not find a tick during your check, Bravo!
7. Keep an eye out for a red expanding skin rash.
8. Notify your doctor of any odd symptoms.
The road to recovery is not often as it may seem. While i waited for my test results, fly fishing was the therapeutic cure for my fragmented mind. The moving water and feeding fish eased life’s tensions. After I was diagnosed, I fished often. With plenty of layers protecting my skin from its weakened antibiotic state, I spent brisk mornings and dwelling evenings on the river. Only one thing changed: I tick check thoroughly after every outing.
By Brendan Collins
I’m home. I’m safe. My dog is happy to lick my feet and I’m happy to rub him behind the ears. He’s happy that I’m home. But it’s quiet, the kind that makes me pace the room, trying not to step on any of the seams in the hardwood. I don’t know how to escape. When I wake, the sun remains hidden. I like it that way. I like the way it feels on my skin when it first scoots over the horizon. I have to leave. I roll down the window and breathe. It’s just me, the hum of my malachite green 1990 Saab 900 – Ralph – and the sun. I’m going. The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” vibrates Ralph’s door molding and my fingers beat irregularly against his steering wheel. Thoughts of doctors pointing at test results, speculating over diagnoses no longer fill my head. They said it’s too risky. Everyone always worries about the risks. That’s why everyone is always sick.
The first step is always new, my boots in the mud, toes dipping water, a thick haze lingering, waiting to be shoed away by the sun. The cool water holds me in place. It’s a force. I gingerly walk across the gunky, boulder-strewn bottom until I reach my spot. Water is belly button deep, the limb from a white oak blocks the swift water, creating an eddy for me. The sun makes its way to the tree line. Soon, the reflection from the slow-moving pool above me will be in my eyes. I’m ready for it. I’m ready for the incredible insect hatch that it will bring. Flies will be bathing in the sunlight, fluttering, landing, and scooting about the surface. That’s when it’s the best. I know where all the big brown trout feast. They hang out in the oxygen-rich foam that floats out of larger pools and faster moving riffles. They stay deep during the heat of the day to keep cool, only rising out of the depths for fluttering mayflies or caddis but, they’ll eat anything if the conditions are right. Heck, a brown trout will eat two mice per day if the weather is right. Those are the hogs: swollen belly, greedy but smart.
The question of who is smarter, the fish or the angler often comes into play. The fish are instinctual, the angler a master of deception. I’ve learned the replication of a fluttering mayfly, the characteristic of an escaping muddler, the helplessness of a nymph, the perfection of a dry cast and the sheepish roll cast. Failure taught me that a snag on the river bottom means I’m nymphing right, but a tangle of any kind is unacceptable and embarrassing. It distracts me from the river. Frustrating. It was love that taught me to let the rain drip down the slick of my coat, to persevere when the fish aren’t biting, to listen carefully for feasting birds and leaping trout. It was a sickness that taught me to carry my knife on my waist belt in case I fall on the gunky rocks, to check depth with my wading staff, and to lean on my staff when I feel weak. These are the things that will keep me safe.
I fell in last week. I also fell in today. It is a slow process, like a boat in a list on the verge of capsizing. I thought I could write myself when I should have braced for impact. As I fell, I reached for my knife. I had it clenched in my hand, blade retracted, tethered on one end to my wading belt. It was ready to zip through the thin membrane of my waders, to set me free of their dead weight. Luckily, my eddy protected me from the swift water below. I floated for a second before leaning on my staff, righting myself. My boots filled with water. I could feel the skin on my toes becoming moist the way a slice of bread soaks in a tomato. A close call. There was no one to chuckle at my mistake. Not a soul to watch me bob down the river, unresisting. I’m glad it’s warm. My shirt will dry, but for now, it sticks to my skin the way syrup clings to a countertop. It’s sweet.
I need to keep escaping. I hate the thought of the outdoorsman that writes about the wild’s ability to heal but visits his mum for tea and crackers. Sleep is best when it’s under the stars and broken by the awakening sun. Morning is best practiced when I rinse off in the river and warm in front of a smoldering fire with a thick cup of coffee. At the end of my day, I enjoy a glass of milk while glancing through weather reports, checking river conditions, and changing Ralph’s oil for our next adventure. But the doctors told me that it’s not safe. They said I need to be careful. When they told me, they had an unmistakable note in their voice, the kind of tone that made me feel like I should have known the consequences. A timeline showed that I contracted Lyme Disease in the fall of last year. The doctor pointed to his computer screen and discussed the risks of going into the outdoors. His tone made me wonder how anybody ever discovered anything.
I removed and emptied my waders like a bucket of dirty water, but there was no use in drying off. The sun beat down on my exposed skin, my shirt steaming. So, I tossed a muddler at the bank across from my eddy, a good cast. It created a large kurplunk ten yards up the river, a technique used to get their attention, and then I let it swing down flow. Stripping in, taking the line, I felt the first hit. Missed it. As I kept stripping, bang! He hit again, his golden belly glistening under the surface of the water. I pulled in line with my left hand, raising my rod with my right hand, feeling life on the other end. Hooked. I kept the pressure on, tip up and reeled in a football field worth of stripped line, setting the drag to let the fight begin. He darted towards the bank seeking shelter. His best bet was to use the turbulent water just downstream of me, but I’d be damned if I let that happen. I kept the pressure on and forced him across the river, still not tiring. My four-weight rod beckoning to his every move like a snow loaded limb about to snap. He’s big I thought, a hog. Darting towards the eddy, I got ready to scoop him up with my net, but he wasn’t finished yet. He had a plan – to get tangled in the fallen tree creating my eddy – and he executed. I was outsmarted, but I hadn’t lost him. I could see his tail, peeping out of the water, his mouth and gills held down by the tangle. I reached in with my net, scooped him up and freed him from his shackles. He was a beautiful brown trout, golden with dark blue spots and a yellow belly. I could tell by scarring on his underside that he was a holdover – a stocked fish that had survived more than one season – a rare sight. He had a thick nose, good girth in the midsection, and a wide V-shaped tail. Healthy. I held him by his underside, letting the water rush over his gills. He was tired after a long battle. His gills pulsated, oozing oxygen-rich water. I knew how he felt. Exhausted and beat up. Slipping through my hands, I watched as he swam away, his golden skin reflecting light about the water.
I was alone again. The air warmer, the birds louder, but the river remained the same. The trees swayed and ruffled like the wind chime on my front porch, but it was softer, healthier. I reeled in the rest of my line, hooked the first eye of my rod with the prized muddler, secured my gear and left my eddy. There were more holdovers to be had in that deep flow, but I knew why they had become holdovers. They are bred in a hatchery – a facility which houses spawning fish for artificial reproduction purposes and juvenile fish for rearing – that houses hundreds of them in an interworking series of pools. Each day, they are drop fed pellets until fattened and near maturity. That’s when they’re netted, bagged and trucked to every river in the state. Then, a truck backs up to the railing where they’re dumped out like a load of mulch into a driveway, hundreds of them at a time smacking the surface of the water, waiting for their first pellet feeding that will not come. They don’t stand a chance. That’s why holdover fish are really something. They beat the odds and I sympathized with them.
Feeling accomplished, I walked slowly through the thick vegetation so not to rip my waders on the rambler rose. I headed back to Ralph for refreshments and a siesta. He is safety. When his four cylinders come to life, the whoosh of his turbo lightens my mood. He reminds me of how easy things can be. It’s like that first bite of sandwich. When I slide open my cooler, unwrap a turkey, swiss, and pickle sandwich, I forget about my wet bread feet. The first crunchy bite washed down with a Genesee Cream Ale or two and that siesta I was talking about never seemed so good; the sun is beating down, the shade a refreshing hideaway. I strip off my waders, boots first, and reveal my wet trunk. It feels good to peel off my socks like a latex glove and lay them on Ralph’s roof. His green complexion warms their wool carefully, keeping them from becoming crusty. I prepare to doze off. I scoot my butt across his bonnet, edge my back against his windshield, and wiggle my toes in the breeze.