Life Update: The Big Tick

I had to pull a whole live tick out of my child’s face last week and I’ll be having nightmares for months. In fact if you have a phobia of insecty things, or if the idea of minor medical procedures being performed by a non-professional makes you edgy, then it’s probably best to skip this life update because things are going to get graphic.

I was actually going to write about our holiday to Cornwall for this life update, but reading about people’s non-exotic holidays is never that interesting, is it? They’re always a bit samey, because we all know what a grey day on a windy beach is like and that holidays with young kids are harder work than being at actual work and we’ve all nearly had to do a wee in an empty water bottle when we’ve been stuck in a traffic jam.

The same experiences are regurgitated, family after family – you could almost create a Great British Staycation clichés bingo card! “The weather was a mixed bag but it was nice to have some rainy indoors days, just to feel as though you didn’t have to be enjoying the outside.” Stamp the card. “When it was hot it felt just like abroad, didn’t it Brian?” Stamp. “Who needs Gran Canaria when the sun at home shines like this?” Stamp. “This ice-cream is the best I’ve tasted.” Stamp. “Why did they make the roads so narrow?” Stamp. “Why doesn’t he BLOODY WELL REVERSE INTO THE PASSING SPACE? THERE’S NOWHERE FOR US TO GO, MATE. THE TRAFFIC’S BACKED UP BEHIND US. NO YOU GO BACK – YOU – GO – BACK. BACKWARDS!”


I’ll tell you what wouldn’t be on your average staycation cliché bingo card, though, and that would be this: waking up to find that your five year-old daughter has what looks like an old Coco Pop stuck to her face, trying to pull the Coco Pop off, unsuccessfully, then realising that the Coco Pop has tiny black legs.

Classic holiday happenings.

Honestly, it was like something from Alien II. Once I’d retrieved my glasses so that I could actually see properly, and shone the torch from my iPhone at the side of her head, I could see that my little girl didn’t have old cereal stuck to the side of her face at all; it was the back end of a well-fed tick.

Dear God I almost fainted from sheer, unadulterated disgust. The engorged body, the teeny legs…and the worst thing was this: that I could see its body and I could see its legs…but where was the head?

INSIDE HER FACE, THAT’S WHERE! If you don’t believe me then Google “ticks”. They bury their head parts into the flesh and the body stays outside. It’s like something from a horror movie. The ticks hide in long grass and ferns and undergrowth, which is basically where my kids are magnetically drawn to because they are attracted to anything dirty or dangerous, and then they (the ticks, not my kids) attach themselves to passing fleshy hosts and burrow their horrible little heads into the skin.

Oh, how my hands trembled as I fetched my tweezers. (Yes, I took tweezers on holiday: chin hairs don’t rest just because you do!) The feel of the little hard, crunchy body as I worked the tweezer blades towards my daughter’s soft, perfect skin, trying to unearth as much of the tick’s head as I could before carefully pulling the whole thing out.

Not to blow my own trumpet too much, but I was actually rather good at tick extraction. After getting over the initial fright, after recovering from the shock of there being an alien parasite feeding off my child’s face, I came over all practical, a bit like Doc Martin overcoming his blood phobia in times of great need, and basically I saved the day.

Once the tick was out, I wanted to smash it with a large stone on the beach to make sure that it was properly dead. But the kids wouldn’t let me – they are still at the stage where they see no difference between a fly and a kitten, a biting ant and a llama – and so I preserved it, at their request, within a folded piece of sellotape.

I wanted to explain to them that the sellotape method was a far crueller death. To be slowly suffocated inside your transparent plastic tomb, with four huge giants watching on…the stone on the beach would have been a blessing by comparison. I could almost see the regret on the tick’s face. His legs stuck fast in the sticky glue, his body quarter-filled with blood – he wouldn’t even die on a full stomach.

“What do you want for your last meal, Tick?”

“Ah, what a question, what a question. How many courses?”

“One course. This is death row, Tick, not Claridges.”

“In that case, I’d like a full body’s worth of child blood. And then if it pleases His Honour, a quick and dignified death. Perhaps a singular hammer blow? A brick thrown atop my prone body?”

“I’ll see what I can do, Tick. Most likely you’ll get a few hours of quality blood-feeding before you’re rudely plucked off. And I can’t guarantee you any dignity – sometimes it’s a drowning in a teacup, other times it’s death by starvation on a petri dish, watched by many through the lens of a microscope.”

“Well,” says Tick, “we must endure, we must endure. Such is the life I signed up for! Now could I trouble you for a change of the chamber pot?”

Anyway, tick removed, children calmed, we left the tick, which looked as though it had been accidentally run through the world’s smallest laminating machine, next to the kettle in our rented holiday flat. And forgot to take it away with us. So that’ll be a nice surprise for the next paying guests, a dead tick in a piece of sellotape. We also lost the window-opening key, which means they’ll absolutely bake in there, especially if there’s a heatwave, but at least they can spend some of their sweaty time examining a real-life miniature vampire, entombed in his see-through casket.

Disclaimer, because obviously this story involves a child and everyone gets incredibly hot under the collar when it comes to small people: yes I researched how to remove the tick properly, yes I washed the tweezers before I plucked my chin hairs the next day, yes I know to keep an eye out for signs of Lyme disease. Actually that last one is quite serious, but thankfully rare, so I’ll be vigilant but not obsessive and I don’t need any scary anecdotal material, thanks ever so!

The rest of the holiday was quite uneventful, other than the dog nearly killing himself by eating a stomachful of sand (emergency vet trip, almost the same cost as the entire holiday) and the five year-old (again) nearly standing on a jellyfish. Throw in the dog projectile vomming on a moody neighbour’s doormat, the three year-old refusing to sleep and me forgetting to buy any food and overall it was a pretty fine time.

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  1. Rebecca
    August 18, 2020 / 5:27 pm

    You dealt with this a lot more calmly than I would have done! It’s a bit late now but Victoria Health do a tic removal card for £5, I nearly bought it but though do I need it but definitely ordering one now!

  2. Trimperley
    August 7, 2020 / 9:46 pm

    Love the photo of the 3 of you.

    I had a cat who constantly caught ticks on his ear. There used to be a flea spray called Nuvan Top. I’d give the cat’s ears a good spray and the tick would fall off. I must have inhaled loads of the stuff over the years. Then they banned it because it contained organophosphates. Heaven knows what that flea spray has done to my lungs. Wish I’d known about peppermint oil then.

  3. Jo
    August 7, 2020 / 2:00 pm

    This was a great way to start my day hahaha Thank you for sharing! I’m so sorry about the tick, but look how it spiced up this blog post! :)

  4. August 7, 2020 / 1:25 pm

    I have become a pro at removing ticks by now, although my husband catches more than the kids. Never one from the face though, eugh!

    Anne from Doctor Anne

  5. Lindsay
    August 5, 2020 / 1:07 pm

    Thank you so much for the Peppermint Oil tip Cathy – just ordered some!

    • Lianne
      August 6, 2020 / 12:32 am

      Don’t use peppermint oil on ticks! It’ll make them squirt the bacteria into the host. Haven’t read all the comments but don’t put anything on them – just use tweezers or the special tick tools to get them out carefully.

  6. Lindsay
    August 5, 2020 / 12:43 pm

    Definitely pick up some of the little green hook shaped tick removers (2 different sizes), there are lots of ticks around here in sunny Wiltshire!
    We do “tick watch” on our return from country walks
    Something else for Mum to keep in her handbag!
    I love reading your posts, they’ve really entertained me whist Shielding, thank you! x

  7. Nicole
    August 5, 2020 / 11:16 am

    I first read “Gran” Canaria and thought it was a relative of yours, haha. Seems like I need a holiday too. Always fun to read your posts. Greetings from Switzerland

  8. Diane
    August 5, 2020 / 9:53 am

    I had a big one on the top of my head, I felt it attach! So painful, whereas you don’t normally feel them. Took my husband trying different sizes of tick remover and, finally my eyebrow (chin) tweezers to get it off. Eugghhh!

  9. Becky
    August 5, 2020 / 7:11 am

    Did removing the tick hurt? I know my kids will definitely pick up a tick at some point!

    • August 5, 2020 / 10:06 am

      I don’t think so, not too much. Fleeting? More the shock!

    • E.
      August 5, 2020 / 9:16 pm

      We had to remove one from my three years old recently. He calmly waited without reaction. Knowing him it was certainly not painful at all (the tick was big and well hidden on his head under his hairs)

  10. Cathy
    August 5, 2020 / 6:59 am

    Here’s a tick removal tip from Down Under, the land that is literally plagued with ticks!

    Put a drop of peppermint essential oil directly onto the tick and wait a few minutes. It’s extremely irritating to the tick and it will release its grip and back itself out of the wound trying to get away from the peppermint oil. I used this method on my husband when he would get ticks crawling up inside his shorts when gardening. It really works, just takes a few minutes. And because sometimes the prodding and poking with tweezers can cause the tick to release more poison this method ensures that doesn’t happen.

    I wish I’d known about the peppermint oil method when we still had a dog :-( . For the pets, it’s probably good to still have one of those tools where you twist the tick out, they definitely work better than tweezers. I think you could use the oil on pets – as it’s only one drop I don’t think it would cause any problems (you could wipe it away after the tick is gone). Share this with your friends in tick-prone areas.

    • August 5, 2020 / 10:07 am

      That’s such a good tip, thank you!

      • E.
        August 5, 2020 / 9:19 pm

        I read that it is a bad idea. A stressed tick might regurgitate, increasing the risk of transmitting illnesses (Lyme disease and encephalitis here in Switzerland). Best is to remove it slowly

  11. Joanna
    August 4, 2020 / 8:55 pm

    Lyme disease is actually very popular now (mainly because of climate change). In the UK we do not test it so many people are not aware they have it unfortunately… but in countries like Austria or Poland the blood tests are recommended after every tick bite…
    I don’t want to scare you – def not my aim. But if you can do it privately, test the little one for Lyme disease. It’s apparently much easier to cure it in the beginning of disease rather than a couple years into the disease… my husband is Polish and a number of his friends were diagnosed with it hence the knowledge…

    • August 5, 2020 / 10:08 am

      You’d get the rash though, right? Isn’t it visible if you get it?

      • Sam
        August 5, 2020 / 1:04 pm

        Not always. NHS advice is to go to GP if you get flu-like symptoms or the rash after being bitten

      • Lianne
        August 6, 2020 / 12:35 am

        Not necessarily. I live in Switzerland (close the the world hot spot for ticks). My husband had Lyme this year. No rash! Did feel flu-y though…

    • Meg
      August 30, 2020 / 9:23 pm

      I doubt Ruth is losing any sleep over this at this point, but it might be worth pointing out that as far as my research has taken me, it takes a good 18-36 for Mr. Coco Pop to transmit Lyme. And I doubt little miss had Coco Pop on her cheek for more than an hour….fear not.

  12. Ashley
    August 4, 2020 / 6:30 pm

    It might be a good thing you didn’t employ the stone method. I once removed an engorged tick from my parents’ dog and crushed it with a brick, and the result was a 15 foot spray of blood across the driveway!

  13. Sara
    August 4, 2020 / 5:06 pm

    If it’s any consolation, we have a lot of ticks where I grew up and it’s almost a daily event some summers, to remove the ones that have found their way up your legs… I guess lyme disease vary geographically perhaps but we’ve had singular cases in 35 years time.

    And oh, this summer I’ve plucked one from a belly button (1,5 year old, standard placement) and one from a clitoris (6 yo, NOT STANDARD PLACEMENT!).

  14. Oana
    August 4, 2020 / 3:24 pm

    This legit the best blog post I have ever read in my entire life.

  15. Nanaka
    August 4, 2020 / 2:27 pm

    Good lord. The very reason why I don’t have a cat – because, back in the day when I lived my carefree child life, I remember my mum removing one tick each summer (at least) from our two cats. EEEEWWWW! I took an oath back then never to catch one myself, and luckily succeeded. So far. Gulp.

    Kudos to you!!!! I also cracked up at the Doc Martin reference :o)

  16. Gillian Pidler
    August 4, 2020 / 1:38 pm

    I so want to be a fly on the wall whenever whoever finds the dead tick!! Ewww it’s bad enough when my cat gets one, but my child, omg.

  17. Ann
    August 4, 2020 / 1:31 pm

    Hilarious holiday anecdotes! Thanks so much, Ruth!
    Hope everything will stay fine, Lymewise

  18. Nicole
    August 4, 2020 / 11:36 am

    Oh Ruth, I feel your pain.

    I had to take a tick off my 3yo eyelid. Eyelid!!

    You need to get a set of O’Tom tick twisters. They make it so much easier to get the disgusting little blighters out. Although I have no tips to make your skin stop crawling any faster.

  19. Lynn
    August 4, 2020 / 10:59 am

    Oh Ruth, you are hilarious. This story will be retold in your family many many times. Give yourself a huge pat on the back, or a Magnum, as a reward for adding “Surgeon” to your parental CV.

  20. Kirsty Thomson
    August 4, 2020 / 10:22 am

    Tick extraction, included in things you NEVER thought parenting would involve Mine was pulling out an ACTUAL tooth. When you are afraid of the dentist anyway it is bloody traumatising (for me, not the child. He was fine).

      • Kirsty Thomson
        August 4, 2020 / 10:49 pm

        It was a really, really loose, wobbly tooth. So wobbly in fact, that you could twist it a full 360 degrees AROUND, and when it was let go, kind of flopped forward and just hung there. But it would not fall out! I was terrified it would fall out in his sleep, he would then swallow it, and choke to death, so I decided to pull it out! I got his permission to do it IN ADVANCE, no matter what he (now) says, and pulled! There was a tiny bit of blood, howling for five minutes, then he was really happy because of the tooth fairy! It makes my flesh crawl to this day remembering it! So if you haven’t had wobbly teeth yet, plenty of time to brush up on your dentistry

        • August 5, 2020 / 10:08 am

          Oh, I remember teeth hanging on by a tiny thread, and you used to push them about with your tongue! Kudos for being able to do it, it’s amazing the gross things you can suddenly achieve when you’re a parent.

  21. Katy
    August 4, 2020 / 9:30 am

    Oh Ruth! That sounds hideous. Great writing though. You can have a relaxing time now you’re home (ha!) xx

  22. Chloe
    August 4, 2020 / 9:12 am

    I loved this post! Needed a laugh after forgetting that we had a plumber coming to fix the ceiling in the kitchen ceiling – the most inconvenient place to have people in the house in a pandemic – and smashing a glass in my haste to clear the kitchen.

    Reminded me of our own tick adventure a couple of years ago. Our daughter had a tick on her leg and developed the dreaded ‘bullseye’. We were going to Minorca a few days later so had to take the powdered medicine with us to make up as it had to be kept cold once made. Our entire fortnight was dominated by forcing bitter medicine into our daughter four times a day. Joyous!

    I highly recommend getting a ‘tick o tom’ set. You get a big one for big boys and a little one for the ones who have only just attached.

    • August 4, 2020 / 4:54 pm

      Oh nooo! Then what happens? Antibiotics?

  23. Vero
    August 4, 2020 / 8:22 am

    Sounds like you had a swell time ! I too have a tick phobia. My youngest is a tick magnet. I remember showering him when he was smaller and vigorously rubbing what I thought was dirt, until the dirt moved. I am ashamed to say I was hysterical and ran to our chemist, whilst he was still in the bath, for a tick removal device (he wasn’t at the drowning age mind you). I have since bought many of those devices and donated these to my lovely neighbours who are so kind as to remove the ticks on my cat, Harry, as I just can not, it fills me with disgust just thinking about it. I loathe insects.

  24. August 4, 2020 / 4:19 am

    Your story is kinda adventurous. It’s like a short action and horror movie, and it makes me laugh so hard haha

  25. Lisa
    August 4, 2020 / 12:14 am

    Oh dear! I look forward to the updates so much I’m sorry it was so traumatic. I think ticks have to be on for a certain amount of time before they can infect with Lyme, so fingers crossed.

  26. Julia
    August 3, 2020 / 11:09 pm

    The method my mom used on us (thankfully, motherhood has so far spared me of ticks) was to heat up the tip of a fork or other such pointy object on the stove (really heat it to red) and then touch the tick with it. The tick releases itself. What she said was this prevented any part –eek– of the beast from staying there stuck to the skin.

  27. Carol
    August 3, 2020 / 10:41 pm

    My dog had a tick once and I was too repulsed to remove it, my boyfriend had to step in. The thought of one of them choosing my child’s face (their FACE! FACE!!!) to burrow into is too much. I think you have been very brave.

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