Inhaling a Bug into Your Lungs Could Kill You
Running down my favorite rainforest trail in southern Thailand I was thinking about inhaling bugs into the lungs because there were quite a few in the air.
We’ve all sucked bugs into our throats, but I think few of us have taken measures to prevent it from happening again.
When I remember to do it, I use a special breathing technique I’ll bet many of us use, some without realizing it. I put my tongue on the roof of my mouth so it blocks a straight shot down my trachea. As I ran down the mountain yesterday I was thinking about writing a post here about jamming the tongue up there while you run and pant open-mouthed, but then I figured most runners already do that. You do, don’t you?
Then my mind drifted off to something else. Ten minutes later the Perfect Storm. I was running fast down the hill, I came around a bend and I thought I saw a floating beasty in the air. I then felt this sizable insect shoot straight into my trachea. It stopped my breathing. I’m not sure whether it was the involuntary closing off of the trachea that happens when someone is drowning, or whether in my panic, I tensed up the muscles in my neck and stopped breathing so I didn’t inhale it further. At any rate, I was hosed.
Since I had very little air in my lungs I tried very gently and slowly to inhale to see if I could get any air that would help me cough more forcefully. I couldn’t get any air in. I hunched over and tensed my stomach muscles so hard that I actually pulled them way down into my groin. I felt the sharp pain of it this morning a couple of times already.
After a few violent coughs I thought I saw something hit the dirt and leaves in front of me. I frantically searched for it to see what it was. I found a little sweat-bee covered in mucous and I figured that was the culprit. Then, despite the bee being out of my throat, I realized it probably stung me when it was in there. It probably stung me in the throat.
While I’m not particularly allergic to bees. Well, I mean, I haven’t been allergic to them ever in my life, but I had never been stung by a sweat-bee in Thailand before. I thought there was a good chance it stung my throat and either my lungs would fill with fluid, or my throat would swell up and prevent air from getting to my lungs.
Rather than panic, which I know is always the worst thing, I thought of my chances to get help if the body did start to shut down.
The chances were mighty slim. I was still 25 minutes away from the bottom of the mountain. I had just run hard for close to two hours, climbing 2,300 vertical feet and 6 miles of trail in 95°F very humid rainforest. I had seen nobody on the trail during my run. I usually don’t. I didn’t have my mobile phone, choosing instead to leave it in the car so I didn’t need to wear a waist-pack. I had no camera so I could record my dying words… I was truly screwed if my breathing shut down.
As I considered dying on the mountain there, I wasn’t really afraid of death. What a great place to die, right? But still, it isn’t time man. Not for another 30-40 years, maybe longer. There are a lot more trails to run and hills to climb.
As I ran down the hill very gently, slowly, and breathing easily, I just waited for my rarely present asthma to kick in, throat to swell, or lungs to fill up with fluid. It was a tense 25 minutes down the trail.
At the bottom of the hill, I realized I wasn’t stung by the bee. I was going to live. Doing some research on the bee later, I found out that the nest of small bees in the base of the tree that I run by whenever I run this trail – are STINGLESS bees. Yeah, there’s such a thing. So, while a sting is not forthcoming, an allergic reaction next time might be!
It’s funny that something so innocuous could turn into a life-death situation. I follow some of you guys and gals running around the mountains of Colorado and all over the world, and I think about your safety. You’ve likely thought some already about bears, mountain lions, and lightning. The normal threats.
Have you thought about a simple bug flying into your trachea?
Just in the couple of years, I’ve been on this trail I’ve inhaled three bugs. This being the worst experience by far. I guess it’s time to wise up and start wearing a bandana around my head, under my nose. I’m supposed to be in the middle of my life at age 48, not the end.
Take a few minutes today and see if there might be something you can change about your runs, your bike ride, whatever it is you do, to make it a little bit safer.
[Image by Barbara Eckstein at Flickr]