Is that taperitis? Or my half-imagination?

Taperitis, I learned this week, is a condition which afflicts extreme athletes, during the ‘taper period’ leading up to whatever totally bonkers activity it is they’re about to undertake. It largely manifests as half-imaginary aches and pains in the feet, legs and lower back.

In extreme cases, it can result in a repetitive strain injury or annoyingly aggravated arthritic complaint, brought on by excessive flipping through any publication which is vaguely medical in nature, both on and off line, irrespective of provenance or date-stamp. Rapid onset of tension headaches, blurred vision, jumbled speech patterns, and a recurrence of the chronic symptoms of irritable bowel and insomnia is a given.

Online forums are a particular source of useful information in this respect. Here, armed with a few innocent symptoms, the afflicted can self-diagnose at leisure — imagination now not just fully engaged but overflowing — their impending doom as clearly writ as the newly-erupted spot on the end of their nose.

Taperitis, they reckon (they being the ultra athletes who would know about these things), is your mind playing games with you, taunting you. That totally bonkers thing you’re about to do? Think you’re fit enough? Hah!

Their advice? Ignore it. Taperitis will disappear once you take your first steps along that 50-mile run or bimble off from the Moot Hall in Keswick on the Bob Graham Round, blindfold, backwards, on one leg, without food and drink and not having slept for three weeks — by way of fun and getting one over on your fellow personal challengers.

Up till this afternoon, I’d had an alternative theory. ‘It’s simply your poor, tortured body telling you ‘Noooooo!’ I thought, but never actually said. (They can be quite fierce these personal challenge types). ‘It’s screaming at you! I can hear it from here!’

But then it dawned on me: I too have taperitis.

Yet never — not even in my wildest nightmares — have I entertained the idea of putting my life, health, satisfyingly unclean diet and normal bodily functions on hold for months, just so I can, at some future date, stagger over an invisible line, wrapped in tin foil and bursting for a wee.

Taperitis isn’t just for the ultra-fit. (Take that you extreme sporty types with your mud-spattered, figure-hugging lycra and your rock-shredded trainers!)

Trainers, Taperitis
Above: Rock-shredded trainers anyone?   Main image: Meditation on a bit of sea pink (Armeria maritima) © Hackette on the How

Taperitis is simply the spiralling out of control of our half-imagination and anyone can get it, even you. Especially if you, like me, have achieved ‘a certain age’, past the mid-way point even if you make it to your glorious century and a text from King Billy — life slowly (I hope) but inexorably tapering towards its magnificent pointy end. That point in time when any little creak or sniffle might just be ‘it’.

Not that we should stop fighting every step of the way, chucking self-help and supplements and all manner of voodoo at whatever comes our way but, in knowing, there’s a freedom of sorts.

Every single day from here on in (and backdated a while too), something will twinge, niggle, grumble, twitch, change colour, flake, leak, erupt, drop off, dry out or simply itch.

And all that flipping through anything vaguely medical, online and off, irrespective of provenance or date-stamp, will only make things worse.

Most of the time, they’re right: best to ignore it. Get on with enjoying life. (Unless, of course, it keeps happening or gets markedly worse, in which case, for goodness sake get it looked at!)

Anyway, I was reminded of this the other day, whilst walking alongside the beck with a friend. A little black fly (or that was the description I was given), landed inside my right ear. I knew it was there because all I could hear was the amplified buzz of its little black wings rubbing together.

A quick waft and it had gone but then it started, that ‘half-imagination’!

Quite some time ago, I happened to catch a This Morning interview with Rochelle Harris and in a flash it was back, eating its way into my brain like an earworm. Without the cheesy backing vocals.

Who’s Rochelle Harris? I’ll get to that shortly.

It’s okay for you lot with your two working ear drums and your stereophonic hearing. When you’ve only ever had one side that works, the last thing you need is a broody black fly, tropical bug or, indeed, common housefly, commandeering your only decent ear canal as a handy incubator.

This is how it plays out. First comes the itch, the one you can’t scratch, deep inside the Eustachian tube. Twenty-four hours later, you’ve an inner ear seething with burrowing maggots chomping their way towards your optic nerve, searing tinnitus, certain blindness and eventual death. Yours, that is. Not to mention the immediate onset of deafness prior to this, in the only good ear you’ve got and the accompanying cacophony of pain.

So what do you do? Consult Mr Google, of course.

Try it. This really is a thing. It’s called aural myiasis. Google it, like I did, and I promise you won’t sleep tonight. Not without your head in a pillowcase and all the windows closed.

So: Rochelle Harris. There she was, four years ago, holiday of a lifetime in Peru, little black fly buzzes into her ear, gets wafted, buzzes off. In the matter of moments. Holiday continues. Nothing to worry about. Just a fly.

But on the flight back home, she develops excruciating headaches, facial pain, starts hearing noises in her head and finds fluid leaking from her ear. Not just any old fly, but a New World Screwworm fly, had laid its eggs in her ear. Newly hatched, the flesh eating maggots — all eight of them — burrow 12mm into her ear canal.

Fortunately for Rochelle, surgeons were able to remove the bugs before they did any terminal damage.

Elsewhere, a particularly graphic video shows a surgeon removing hundreds of squirming, centimetre-long housefly maggots from a young man’s ear with a pair of tweezers. Housefly maggots! I refer you back to June last year and the housefly explosion making itself at home at Strawberry How thanks to a certain property developer ploughing up the ancient cow pats opposite.

Tweezerman’s advice? Sleep with a cloth over your head and if your ear is unusually itchy and you’re experiencing discomfort, see a doctor.

Just don’t tell them you’ve been watching online videos in an attempt to self-diagnose. And definitely don’t mention taperitis. They might just send you away with a gently buzzing flea in your ear.


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