The curse had been passed. Poor Baby was now the tick magnet and James tried not to act too relieved that the burden was no longer his to carry.
Baby had been wandering in our jungle of a back yard babbling happily and waving at the rabid guard dog, Lourdi, who lived next door. All seemed well; however, a few days later while flying to Switzerland to visit my sister, I discovered something. Baby was sitting on my lap squirming like a Mexican jumping bean, when I felt a lump behind her ear. On closer inspection it turned out to be—you guessed it—a tick!
James, of course, freaked out—bellowing something like, “Why the @#*$ do we keep getting ticks!” He was pretty frustrated.
I responded calmly (as always) that a least we were preparing to land in a country where the medical care was probably similar to what we were used to. Prishtina’s hospital was run-down and often short on supplies. I knew the Type-A Swiss counterpart would not have the same problem.
Then James reminded me of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF). That’s a mouthful and a pretty nasty disease to boot. CCHF is a deadly tick born virus with a 30% mortality rate that makes you bleed out of every orifice of your body until your kidneys explode and you die. There are more precise definitions out there, but trust me it’s way more nasty and dangerous that the tick viruses in America. Unfortunately, Kosovo had several outbreaks of the disease while we lived there and of course we were very concerned Baby might have been bitten by a tick that carried the virus.
Armed with the knowledge that comes from watching many episodes of ER, we acted quickly. Once we landed in Switzerland, I removed the tick and saved it in a plastic baggie for testing. James called and set up a doctor’s appointment. We were still scared, watching Baby’s every move for signs of early fever, but we knew she’d be in the best of hands the next day at her pediatric appointment.
I think she was in good hands, I think, but language barriers are a strange thing. You never really understand what’s going on. And for any non-American reader, I’m going to stop you right here. No I didn’t speak French, German, Italian or Romansh (the official languages of Switzerland). Yes, I know Americans are so lazy with languages. Yes, it is ridiculous, but give me a break. They speak Albanian in Kosovo and that was my main priority at the moment, language-wise.
We took Baby to the doctor. James explained the situation, while I anxiously held the tick baggie in the air, assuming that at any second a med-tech would rush it out of my hands and to a laboratory for testing. It took several versions of the story, with much gesturing and dancing, but finally the doctor seemed to understand the situation.
“I think we will watch her. She will be fine.”
“Fine?” I asked, “But what should we be watching for? What are the symptoms of infection?”
“She will be fine. But if she gets sick bring her back and we give her antibiotics.”
“Well, we’re actually going back to Kosovo in a few days,” I explained. “Could we possibly give her antibiotics as a precaution? I not sure they’d have as effective of medications there.”
“We could, but no, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Antibiotics are so BORING! Unless they are needed, they are so BORING, so I don’t like to give them.”
Boring? As in, “OMG. I’m, like, on antibiotics right now and they are soooooo boring! I mean, I have to pop this stupid pill in my mouth once a day and it’s making me CRAZY! Jeez, why can’t the doctors come up with more exciting treatments like pharmaceutical laser courses and extreme renal therapy?!”
We tried to repeat our question a few times, mainly to see if we’d get a different response (I am nothing if not annoyingly persistent. James might call it naggy), but we didn’t. She just kept tell us how boring antibiotics were. I’m still not sure what this means eight years on.
So next we tried another concern of ours. Lead paint.
Baby was at that cute, but terrifying age where EVERYTHING within a 50 foot radius made its way into her mouth. To those of you who have not been blessed with a little one, I cannot overemphasize how incredibly stressful this is. Try this exercise. Lie down in front of your TV room couch. Look under the couch at all the garbage that has taken up residence there. Imagine putting all that in your mouth. Repeat this exercise in various parts of your house: the refrigerator, your desk, the shoe closet, behind the toilet. And that’s just the loose objects lying around—never mind the support beams of your house and various pieces of furniture!
Some helpful person back in America, a worst-case-scenario kind of friend, had recently warned us about lead paint and sent us some helpful links to articles about lead poisoning. I’ll boil down the articles for you. If there is any lead in your house, your baby will find it, eat it and destroy their brain. Biggest offender—house paint.
“Make sure to test the paint on your walls if you home was painted before 1977. That’s when lead paint was outlawed in the US,” the article helpfully informed us.
Here’s the problem: I asked the Kosovars when their landmark law prohibiting lead paint had been passed, but they just looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that they were struggling under a repressive ethnocentric political regime that severely limited their personal freedoms in the late 70’s. Maybe they didn’t have the time to worry about lead paint. Or maybe they were just playing it fast and loose with their paint laws.
Anyhow, since Baby was our first born, it was my moral imperative to overreact to this type of situation. When I knew we’d be flying to Switzerlandin a few days, I chipped several large chunks of paint off our walls and put them in a plastic baggy to bring with us.
After the whole antibiotic/boring fiasco, I pulled out plastic baggie #2 (I think the doctor had ripped the first one out of my hand and thrown it in the trash). She gazed at it with barely concealed irritation as I began with my second life-threatening concern.
“We wondered if we could get these paint samples checked for lead? In America, there’s an agency you can send your samples to. I’m not sure what the procedure is here.”
Again, lots of explaining, gesturing and dancing. Finally understanding (maybe).
“We do not have lead in our paint in Europe,” the doctor informed me. “You Americans have it, I know, but never in Europe do we have lead in our paint.”
Now, if I had spoken French, German, Italian or Romansh, this is what I would have responded: “I’m sorry doctor. Do you mean to tell me that you know the paint content statistics of every single country of Europe which has 47 countries and a landmass almost the size of the United States? You know the paint content statistics since paint was invented and used in Europe? And not once has lead been used in paint in one of these numerous years and countries?”
But I didn’t say that. I could tell she was getting pretty annoyed with us by this time and Baby still needed her immunizations. So I shut up. She gave Baby her shots and hustled us out of her office as fast as humanly possible. And I mailed the paint sample to my mom back in America. I would have sent her that tick too, if it hadn’t ended up in a biohazard trash can.
Epilogue: Baby did not have Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. Paint did not have lead.