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In Our Own Backyard....Of mice and men

Spring has a way of showing up in some very predictable — and not so predictable — ways.

Early last week, the little lake where we live was completely iced over. By midweek, the ice had turned darker and had begun to shrink. I could see our cross country ski tracks standing out in relief against a sea of gray slush, as though we’d crossed the lake just yesterday.

One day a Great Blue Heron plodded his way across the sky above the lake, as if searching for a marshy spot to land and do a little fishing. The next day, we heard our first loons fly over, crying wildly as if they were indignant over not being able to find enough open water to land after they’d trekked all the way north from the Gulf of Mexico (can’t say that I blame them!).

Over the weekend, it was actually warm enough to eat out on the deck (in jackets). And as we sat there, a chorus of amorous owls serenaded us in the distance, and a huge but sluggish house fly settled hopefully on the empty salmon platter.

And then, as I headed out for work on Monday, an enthusiastic V of Canada geese flew overhead, and a pair of mallards startled out of a water-filled ditch along the highway.

It seems as though this long-awaited spring is suddenly bursting forth from all directions — including one that was not nearly so welcome….

It all started right around bedtime one day at the end of last week. My husband, Ken, and I had just turned out the lights and were settling in for sleep when I heard one of our cats come charging into the bedroom. Judging from the sound of her erratic scrambling, I wondered if maybe she was on the trail of a mouse. It seems no matter how airtight our house is, every fall and every spring one or two of the little critters somehow seems to make their way into the house, either seeking shelter from the cold or a cozy place to to build a nest.

I crawled out of bed, turned on the hall light and squinted into the room to see what was amiss. The cat was staring intently at a spot along the wall, with only the very tip of her tail twitching every now and then. Other than that, she remained motionless. I was too tired to pursue it any further, so I shut off the light and went back to bed.

The next morning I got up first, headed out to the kitchen to start the coffee and then walked out to get the morning newspaper. When I got back, my husband was in the kitchen, looking sleepy and more than a little shell-shocked.

“You’ll never guess what just happened to me!” he said. “When I got out of bed, I shoved my foot into my slipper and something bit me!”  

“How do you know something bit you?” I asked skeptically.

“Well, I felt this sharp prick at the end of my toe,” he continued, “and when I took off my slipper to see what it was, a mouse leaped out!”

In the interest of delicacy, I won’t go into detail about what happened next, but suffice it to say that we no longer have mice in our house….

Then we began to wonder what, if any danger, was associated with a mouse bite. As Ken sat down to examine his toe, I booted up the computer, launched a Google search, and typed in “What should you do if you get bitten by a mouse?”

The most common advice was to clean the site well with soap and water and then apply either hydrogen peroxide or an antibiotic cream. It was also advised that you make certain you are up to date on your tetanus shots. My husband, who was by then cleaning out his “wound” (actually, only a red spot on his toe), assured me that he was indeed up to date on his shots.

We were just starting to feel more relaxed about the whole thing when I went on to read what diseases — though rare — that can be contracted through a bite from a mouse or other rodent.

“Get this!” I exclaimed. “It says here you could get Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis, Salmonellosis, Rat Bite Fever, Tuleramia, or Bubonic Plague!”

My husband gave me a long, steady look and I shut down the computer.

The next morning, he looked at his toe before he got out of bed. Other than a faint pink mark, everything looked just fine. He slid out of bed, tugged on his shirt and jeans and headed for the kitchen — barefoot.