Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cicada Holes up in Runner's Ear

I haven't written a post for quite a while, mostly because running these days has been rather routine and uneventful, until yesterday evening. I had the opportunity to get in on two Boulder Trail Runner runs. I ended up doing the first run alone because I arrived five minutes late and tried to catch up to runners I discovered weren't actually there because I had the location for the run of the 5:30 for the following day. After that run I did a little work and then hurried to the trail head for the 8:30 run. I met up with about seven other runners and we headed out at dusk across the South Teller Farm Trail east of Boulder.

The evening had cooled off nicely as it does once the sun sets in Colorado. As we ran an easy conversational pace on the flat non-technical farm road the regulars made acquaintances with a couple of new runners answering questions they had about the different regular runs and typical routes, etc. On this particular run we usually go out about 3.2 miles and turn around at a bridge that crosses the Boulder Creek on the northern extension of the Teller Farm trail. We don't like to dawdle there because mosquitoes descend on us immediately over the water. We made a quick decision to continue on for another mile to add some hills to our run. The moment we started off in the twilight a large winged insect flew right into my ear as if aiming for a bulls eye and burrowed in as if there was only one way to go. I think I let out some sort of noise and thought I saw someone glance back, but they all disappeared into the growing darkness.

I stumbled around for a few seconds disoriented, being attacked at this point by mosquitoes as well. My motorcycle key was safety pinned to my t-shirt, so I released it and tried to get it in alongside whatever creature was in my ear. I thought I might be able to press it to one side and work it out or at least kill it. That wasn't successful; I mostly just irritated it and made it claw more frantically. I rubbed my arms and legs brushing off the mosquitoes and started to run after the group, thinking they'd be able to help, but I realized I might be better off seeking professional help than letting a pack of runners armed with a headlamp and motorcycle key poke around my ear drum so I turned around and headed back from where we had come. Running seemed to agitate it more than walking so I walked. At times it would be still and it was hardly noticeable, but frequently it would try burrowing more, or what to me felt like trying to extend its wings in vain.

I always run with my cell phone so tried to call my son so that he could come meet me at the nearest road, but he didn't answer. I texted my wife, explaining the situation and asked her to continue to try reaching Alex. She reached him and sent him my way, but I had a while to wait. The other runners came by on their return trip and I stopped them and asked if they could take a look with their headlamps; it was a little startling when they said they couldn't see anything, well, maybe something that looked like a leg. I let them continue on and waited, enduring its occasional stirrings.

A friend of Alex's was driving and my phone was almost out of power after having used the map-my-run app over the course of two runs during the day so I asked Alex to Google how to remove a bug from the ear canal. I thought maybe we could avoid going to the emergency room. According to the site he found, olive oil poured into the ear canal would not do harm to me and would kill the bug which would float out. It seemed reasonable, until I had the bottle of olive oil in my hand. I suddenly felt that I'd rather pay the $100 emergency room deductible and have the professionals take care of it. So Alex and his friend followed me to the emergency room.

Part of being able to deal with discomfort, pain, uncertainty, and creepiness of the situation up until the point of arriving at the emergency room was knowing how long each step toward relief would take; walking to the nearest road would be about fifteen minutes, Alex would be there to pick me up in another fifteen, the car ride to the house another ten, then another ten to the ER. But once I was in the ER the length of time I had to endure became an uncertainty. I wasn't unconscious, didn't have a broken bone, I wasn't in a room with everyone wearing masks, I wasn't having contractions too soon in my pregnancy; I was just pacing around the tiny ER room looking fairly normal from the outside. I was finally attended to about an hour and ten minutes after arriving at the hospital.

The doctor said she would put some drops of Lidocaine in the ear which would numb things and also kill the bug. Evidently there is a pain medication addict working at that ER because there was no numbing sensation and bug seemed just as content and maybe even a little more comfortable scratching around with a little lubrication. She left for a bit to look for a "scraping tool" and was consulting with someone on a cell phone at the same time. She injected more of the mysterious Lidocaine replacement liquid and then tried working the tool in along side it and flicking the bug out to no avail. She said she needed a smaller catheter and a larger syringe. Another fifteen minute eternity passed for the bug and I before a nurse came in with a liter of saline solution and a 60 ml syringe. She had me lay down on the cot bug side up. She proceeded to cover my head and neck with towels and fed the catheter down to what seemed like my eardrum. I'm sure she was just squeezing gently on the syringe plunger but it felt like she had the nozzle switched to "power wash" at the car wash. About five long power blasts ant my eardrum and she floated it out intact. She said, "most people say they have a big bug in their ear because in their ear it feels big; you did have a big bug in your ear."

She received it on a gauze pad and set it on the stainless steel work tray. It was still alive and clawed its way around the gauze in a circle as if taking a victory lap. The doctor came back to check on me and take a look at the culprit. She said she could not believe how calm I had been; she said she would have been scratching her face off freaking out if it were her. I would have too, if I thought it would have done any good. It wasn't causing great pain, and it didn't seem like it was making forward progress, so relatively speaking the stalemate was tolerable. The doctor offered me drugs speculating that I might not be able to sleep from the trauma, but knowing it was out was good enough, although a couple of beers didn't hurt. I arrived home after midnight to a house full of miller moths that had found their way it through a window left open without a screen. I spent about an hour swigging beer and swatting the cousins of my evening's nemesis.

This morning, describing the bug to my daughter, she thought it sounded like a cicada. I hope it didn't think it had found a comfy place to hole up for the next 17 years. The top picture from Google Images looks very much like what they flushed out. It did not appear to have red eyes, but it was rather rumpled by that point. My advice, if a big hardy bug decides it likes the cramped quarters of your ear canal, don't mess around with oils better left for salads; stay calm and get it flushed out by the professionals.


  1. Now I'm gonna run with my hands over my ears. Yuk!

  2. I still think I'd rather deal with this once in a lifetime than ticks on a daily basis.