Death by Inhaled Insect

Sweat Bee

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 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 ran 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.

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 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]

7 thoughts on “Death by Inhaled Insect”

  1. Brah! That must have been scary! Thats why even riding motorbikes going short distances here in Thailand, I where eye protection AND a mask even if its one of those cheap one from 7 Eleven.

    1. Yeah Jon, the fear was in the back of my mind… but not up front. If up front, I’d not be able to think clearly. I thought about what I’d do if I lost my ability to breathe. I was going to find some dirt and write a last message with a stick. hahah! Also, I have this idea that when I die, if at all possible, I’m going to have a shaka on one hand and a Suu Suu – peace sign on the other. I’ll lay on top of my hands to freeze them that way so they go stiff like that. How cool would that be? hah! I also cursed myself a bit for not bringing a phone or camera so I could do a last video… damn me. I’ll bring one from now on for sure.

      And yeah, I wear a helmet with visor all the time. Daughter has one too. Wife too. Grandma too!

  2. I inhaled a mosquito often times and my head became painful and my face my scalf starting to itch and then rashes starts to appear. What must be hapening to me. . Im starting to worry.

  3. I’m so sorry…but I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my face. I didn’t want to laugh at your situation, (honestly) because I truly know that feeling. Especially the time I jumped off a Volkswagen as a kid, and a fly flew down my throat. I have also suffered from shortness of breath from time to time, throughout the years. And I especially know the feeling of when one starts to panic, and tries to gasp for that satisfying deep breath of air, and you can’t get it, it only makes it worse. So I’m so glad you made it through in one piece and everything turned out fine. It had to be a terrifying.

  4. My boys father had just passed away, I was talking with my aunt about what happened and a gnat flew in! I could not get air and was freaking out. My kids just lost there dad and a bug is going to kill me!? I don’t think so. I told myself to calm down it was a little bug and I can breathe. Slowly I took in air and coughed hard. My throat hurt for a couple days but I was ok.

    1. I think this happens a lot. People panic. Not knowing, was it a bee or other stinging insect? Would my lungs swell up and throat close? Scary stuff. Probably makes sense to run with a free-flow mask with a screen of some kind to block insects from getting into the lungs. In fact, I’m going to check EBay for them now. Glad you’re ok!

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