Bugs can't help it if they're ugly, but why do they bite?

August 29, 1998

Terry TalbertWhile comparing bite marks with a co-worker a minute ago, it occurred to me how much havoc teeny weeny testy bugs can wreak with our lives.

How powerful the itty bitty things are. What fear they instill in the hearts of men.

As my co-worker and I talked, she was browsing the 'Net in search of information on Lyme disease. She showed me what was left of the mark on her left bicep, a circular pink area she claimed was huge and firehouse red a week ago.

"A spider bite," I said.

"That's what I thought," she said. "But usually they itch like crazy. This one doesn't itch. It's sore to the touch, but it doesn't itch."

"Still sounds like a spider bite," I said. "Sure hope it wasn't a brown recluse."

"I think I would have known that by now," she said, looking askance at me.

I didn't tell her about the lodge owner in Canada who got bitten by one in bed. Half her upper arm looked like it had been gnawed on before it was over and the healing finally began. It looked a lot like that flesh-eating disease you read about.


I was a nice person not to tell my co-worker about that.

Instead, I proceeded to tell her about the sting operation an insect pulled on me at the Sheetz convenience store the night before. "I got stung in the neck," I said. "For absolutely no reason. I have no idea what it was. I never got to see it. I was afraid, because of where it was, that it would go to my brain."

My co-worker didn't say anything. I found that insulting. She could have said something like, "Oh, my God, Terry, you're right. It could have gone to your brain and you would have gone into a coma and died and we all would have missed you greatly."

She didn't say a word. I found that insulting.

After telling her how much it itched, I turned and showed her the swollen spot on my neck.

"It doesn't look too bad," she said, brushing the whole thing off.

I hated that. I hate it when someone's bite is worse than mine, or when their sinus infection is worse than mine. It just irks me. I think it all comes from my childhood, when my brother Ralph always was one up on me. I hate it when other people minimize my tragedies.

Anyway, after a couple of minutes of general bug talk, my co-worker and I turned back to our work. I thought it was all over, until I heard her calling her doctor.

"I have a rather unusual bug bite, and I thought maybe I ought to get it checked out," she began. Then she answered "no" to a bunch of questions.

"I was out in the country in upstate New York, so may be they just have different kind of bugs," my co-worker said. "My main concern is whether it may be Lyme's disease."

She made a doctor's appointment for 3 p.m.

I was fine until then. After I thought about her concerns, I started wondering how long after a sting it takes before one goes into anaphylactic shock and is rendered incapable of drawing breath.

My swollen neck began to itch ominously.

At about the same time, my co-worker developed 10 of the 12 early warning signs of Lyme disease.

I began to wonder if our bites were a sign that the world is coming to an end. Are the bugs conducting some sort of chemical warfare on us, I wondered.

I didn't ever remember being stung for no reason. I mean, I figure I deserved it several years ago when I got attacked after sticking a pitchfork thoughtlessly into a compost pile, and impaling several of the winged ones. You can hardly blame them for attacking my bellybutton en masse.

But an attack for no reason?

The more I thought about it, the more I figured the bites suffered by my co-worker and I were a sign that the end of the world is coming. Either that, or the little buggers were just getting back at us for stepping on them and grinding them unceremoniously into the dust for absolutely no reason, other than their looks.

They can't help it if they're ugly.

Yeah, that's probably it. They're hurt by our insensitivity, and want to hurt us back. That's all it is. Simple retribution. No greater plot. No precursor of the last great flood and fire, right?

Please tell me I'm right.

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