I get that injuries and ouchies are a part of triathlon. I get it. Really I do. I have an entire category dedicated to them in this blog alone (click HERE). But worse than the stupid self-inflicted injuries that come of my either doing too much, or doing it too soon, or just my being a dumbass, whatever, are those injuries that I unfortunately incur at the hands of someone else; another dumbass, if you will.
Those injuries, well, they tend to really bug me.
I have recently fallen to one of these types of ouchies which is now threatening to set back my regular swim training.
It began about two weeks ago when after one of my pool workouts, my right ear became plugged with water. This in and of itself, is nothing to freak out about and I have long become accustomed to it happening periodically. I figure that when one tends to spend stupid amounts of time submerged in contained bodies of water it’s bound to happen eventually – and it does. What typically happens then is that a day or two will go by before that little pocket of water in my ear shifts and drains out my ear canal in a teny tsunami of warm fluid which, truthfully, feels awesome. I figure most swimmers will liken this to a total “eargasm”. Once this happens, usually after we’ve been lying down on that blocked side for a spell, all is right with the world again.
Sometimes, however, that blockage is a bit more stubborn and simply refuses to give up its stored up bounty of fluid – this is what is referred to as “Swimmers Ear”, or acute otitis externa. This is highly annoying and exactly the case I found myself in exactly one week after that original blockage. The symptoms can stem from echoing, itching or clogged feeling in the ear – and lots of discomfort (often a signal of an inflammation of the skin within the ear canal that occurs when water gets trapped there).
I my case it was “all of the above”.
Of course, I could have been doing lots of stuff during that week to be proactive (click HERE) but, as I’ve stated before, I’m a dumbass, and often when the opportunity to be smart and act accordingly comes along, I tend to fold like a Renaissance triptych. I figured it would just unblock itself eventually.
It didn’t, and so a week later, on a Thursday morning, bright and early, I got up at 6:00am, poured myself a coffee, grabbed my book and headed to the local Urgent Care to have tie issue, hopefully, sorted out.
After about two hours, I was met with by the attending physician in an examination room who proceeded to attempt to flush out the blockage with a syringe full of warm water; not an altogether pleasant experience, believe me. What he was trying to do was wash out a build-up of excessive wax that had gathered in my ear naturally, as protection against moisture and infection.
In this case, though, my bodies wax manufacturing system was working on overdrive and had instead build it up to the point that it was not allowing what water that did manage to breach its defenses, back out again. I guess when it comes to wax manufacturing, by body runs with the efficiency of a Japanese auto factory.
What came out of my right ear as a result of the doctor’s “syringing” looked like something you might place on top of a birthday cake and light except, well, much nastier. Almost immediately afterwards, I was rewarded with that warm gush of fluid out my ear and – low and behold – I could hear normally again.
But then it all went horribly wrong and downward spiraled into a total Yakov Smirnoff opening for the Spin Doctor’s at the Iowa State Fair-like shit show.
You see, we decided that, hey, we may as well do the other ear while we’re at it. After all, if one side is totally gummed up with wax then the other side can’t be too far off, right? So we opted to give my left ear the same working over with another syringeful of water.
Unfortunately, this did not go as smooth as the other ear. Within seconds of blasting the water into my ear I experienced an intense pain that was on my Top 5 of all-time painful moments. Ladies and gentlemen, over the course of my life I have shot an arrow through my hand, subjected myself to being tattooed (click HERE) and endured being kicked square in the Charlie Brown’s by a scorned Eva Roditis on the schoolyard playground back in Grade 3, and this pain was definitely worse than any of those.
If the pain wasn’t enough, hearing (well, barely hearing the doctor that is) the doctor mumble “uh oh” definitely didn’t help matters any. I definitely felt warm fluid coming out my ear but, but this fluid ended up not being water or another wax build-up, but blood…lots and lots of blood.
“I think I just perforated your ear drum”, he says casually.
A ruptured eardrum is a small tear in the thin membrane that separates your outer ear from your inner ear. That membrane, known as the tympanic membrane, is made of tissue that resembles skin. The eardrum serves two important functions in your ear. It senses vibrating sound waves and converts the vibration into nerve impulses that convey the sound to your brain. It also protects the middle ear from bacteria as well as water and foreign objects. Normally, the middle ear is sterile, but when the eardrum is ruptured, bacteria can get into the middle ear and cause an infection known as otitis media.
The doctor then informed me that I wouldn’t be able to swim for at least a week. Shit sticks! Furthermore, I would also undergo injecting four drops of antibiotics (which, as an interesting side-note here, my loving wife would place under her boob to warm up for me prior to dropping them in my ear – meaning my drops would now become affectionately known as “mommies boob juice” – how emasculating is that for an aspiring Ironman swimmer?) into my ear every morning and evening and then see my family doctor for clearance before getting back in the pool.
FML x 2.
Anyway, another week goes by of being injected twice daily with “boob juice” and I’m back at my family doctor’s (yesterday) to learn that a) there’s still wax in both ears, b) my ear drum is likely not healed yet, and c) I still can’t swim for approximately another two weeks.
FML x 3.
Needless to say I’m pretty discouraged at this point and now looking for viable options to protect my ear temporarily while it heals so I can at least get back in the pool, meaning, I need ear plugs.
Remember this idiot (click HERE)?
Yeah, I just took another colossus step to becoming them.
Not really knowing anything about ear plugs, I stopped by the local pharmacy to see what options were available. In fact, there was a whole cornucopia of options; an entire rackful located inside an entire aisle of ear and hearing-related products. It was like the pharmaceutical equivalent of a “Turducken“. Who knew there was such a profound market for ear plugs? But then again, come to think of it, my grandma probably kept her local pharmacist driving around in a Rolls Royce for the last 10 years of her life given how much stuff she had crammed into her ears on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, none looked very promising. Most were either the variety used for noise protection, sleeping, or as my grandma used to claim, “keeping the wind out of my ears”. I’m pretty sure one was just a little baggie of candy corn. However, there was this one waterproof variety of which I was still a bit skeptical:
They’re essentially little wads of soft, tacky silicon that you warm up by rolling in the palm of your hand and then stuffing into your ear to create a waterproof seal.
I was dubious but I gave it a shot (at home) anyway and, honestly, it felt like I had just stuffed a Gummy Bear into my ear. Likewise, I was doubtful that they would ever really stay in place in the water and, even then, they were only for a single use only. Needless to say, I didn’t feel safe actually testing these things in the water so they were more or less tossed into the bottomless abyss of shit under my bathroom sink.
Then I found these TYR molded ear plugs at Team Aquatics in Burlington. Besides being manufactured by a recognized swim equipment brand name, they weren’t the disposable variety. Instead they were marketed as “long lasting silicone” plugs made for swimmers, by swimmers.
These definitely looked more promising.
Among the other benefits listed on the package was “allows hearing during use”. I like hearing stuff when I swim, so this was a definitely bonus. I couldn’t hear shit with the other soft silicon Gummy Bear variety in my ears.
However, they were a little more complicated to insert as opposed to just cramming a wad of silicon into your ear.
From the instructions:
“Top straight edge of the ear plug core should be in a perpendicular line with the face. Outer rim fits into the hollow depression behind the ear canal.”
Who knew shoving soothing into your ear could be so difficult?
But then again, the instructions did also add:
“DO NOT PUSH THE EARPLUG SO FAR INTO THE EAR THAT YOU’RE UNABLE TO GET IT OUT.”
Anyway, with a little twisting and prodding I did manage to maneuver them into what I think was the proper “perpendicular line (my) face” :
And – get this – I could still hear fairly well.
For good measure then, I also threw a swim cap on which I never really wear in the pool just to help keep them in place (hey, I already have plugs in my ears to I might as well go whole hog and look the part of the total swim geek) and entered the pool to give them a trial run (swim?).
Upon my first few laps they felt pretty comfortable actually. However, that “allows hearing” thing went right out the window as everything sounded more, well, in utero I guess…which, truthfully, was very relaxing. Maybe it was just because I also couldn’t hear the Ariana Grande bullshit they were playing on the pool deck between strokes anymore, whatever, it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
I was a bit worried that maybe they weren’t completely watertight and that water was now leaking into the gaping hole of my tympanic membrane and I – unbeknownst to me – going deaf with each additional stroke so I kept my swim short to a few drills only (1300m).
Upon finishing, I unstuck the earplugs and everything immediately returned to blissful normality; no muting, no sloshing around in the ear, no nothing.
Besides making me look like a total swim pussy, the plugs had done their job and held tight in preventing water from entering into my ear, meaning, that I can now get back to my usual weekly swim workouts while my ear drum continues to heal for another week or so.
Back to ‘winning’ again!
Oh, and what does the remainder of this “healing” process look like? Well, absolutely nothing for the next 10 days while the membrane rebuilds itself and then I have start adding basic cooking oil into my ears to begin loosening up whatever wax that might still be lingering around in my ear. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Not so much.
Thankfully it’s not forever.
So after Sunday’s “trial swim” I was up early and in the pool at 6:30am ready to get my swim on. Unfortunately, after the first 300m or so, one of the war plugs slipped out and, yeah, nowhere to be found, meaning that I was now forced to abandon my planned workout and doing a stupid amount of kicking drills instead so I could keep my head above water.
And you just know how I love my kicking drills!
After informing the lifeguard what had happened, she put out the APB to all the other bobbers and floaters in the pool. Basically, the whole pool was not on Amber Alert for my missing plug.
After 20 minutes or so, they were found by an old lady…four lanes over…on the opposite of the pool…on the bottom.
So much for “floats in water”.
Thanks, TYR. Great job there.