When my cat slinks from one low window to another, her tail puffed like a bottle brush, I know a furry critter lurks outside usually a neighborhood cat with free-range privileges our felines dont enjoy.
The other evening I watched Tina stalking and growling, on patrol, in the safety of her glass confines.
Whos there? I asked her, ready to charge and chase the marauder away.
Normally, if its a cat, a dog, or a squirrel, Im out the door in a nanosecond, fearless, arms flailing, making a madwoman ruckus. Tina cheers me on from her window perch, swallowing and gnashing her teeth.
But this time, I looked out front to see a family of deer, four of them, posing in the grass like yard art at Christmas, their little tails wagging, poised to gnaw on my hydrangea. I had every reason to shoo them away.
Yet I froze. Why?
Because they scare the wind out of me. These delicate, leggy creatures carry the ticks that transmit an affliction Ive suffered four times: Lyme disease.
So I didnt make a move. Tina stared at me in disbelief. Sorry, I told her. I cant.
Im sure Ive lost my cats respect, forever.
But about those bouts of Lyme disease: The first one was when we were vacationing in Rhode Island in the early 90s, and I noticed a nickel-sized itchy red area in a place one doesnt scratch in public. I had a local doctor look at it and also complained of general malaise and achiness. He observed that I was probably entertaining too much and prescribed cortisone cream.
Within 24 hours, my head felt like an ax was slicing into it. No. An ax was slicing into it. Every move I made, no matter how slight, sent jagged pain through my nerves, bones, and muscles. Even my skin hurt. One side of my face drooped with Bells palsy. The little red spot close to my groin morphed into a twelve-inch-in-diameter throbbing bulls eye the telltale Lyme disease rash.
Somehow my husband herded the shards of my writhing, just-let-me-die-in-the-bed self to another doctor, who started me immediately on a heavy dose of antibiotics.
My deer fear began there.
In a recent New York Times column, Gail Collins writes: We have now reached the point where the exurban deer population is so large and so omnipresent that soon theyre going to start setting up trailer camps.
I swear they already have. And my postage-stamp neighborhood must be on their map. But I understand. What choice do the skittish animals have? As development and sprawl continue to encroach on their wooded habitats, were going to see even more deer and much more Lyme disease.
Collins quotes Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist, who says that to get the tick population under control you need deer densities of six to eight per square mile or less. In the urban-rural fringes of many large metropolitan areas, its not unusual to have densities of 100 to 200 per square mile.
I havent taken a census around here, but I have been infected by a local deer tick. As have several friends in town, whose lives have been extremely compromised.
The third time I contracted Lyme, seven years ago, my UNC doctor paraded a group of bug-eyed medical professionals through the exam room to get their first-ever look at the rash. I should have charged admission.
Actually, Im lucky I do get the rash. Plenty of folks dont. Being under the radar can create even worse problems. One friends Lyme raged undiagnosed for two years because she never showed The Rash.
My message to you: Got a headache, joint pains, chills, fever, nausea, numbness? Rash or no rash, dont let your doctor tell you youre just tired, stressed, too extroverted, a hypochondriac, or that down here we dont really have much Lyme disease. Demand a minimum of three weeks of Doxycycline, even before the blood work results are in.
And apologize to your cat for not opening the door and charging into the yard even if it turns out that all the Bambis wanted was to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar.