The Sore Head Mystery: A True Case of Medical Self Diagnosis


Medical self diagnosis is a way of life in our family. The sore spot on my head, above and behind the left ear, seemed ridiculously simple to understand.

“Huh,” I noted to my wife, “I’m going to have to be careful how I position the earphone on that side for a few days.”


“It’s a little touchy. I’m guessing the edge may have rubbed over that bone a bit too much while I was hammering and sawing and such. Hey, there’s quite a bump there. I wonder…never noticed the bone on the left side was bigger than the right. Calcification, maybe. I took head shots in the rodeo arena, got knocked out at least half a dozen times over the years.”

Pam knew what I was talking about. As a lifetime athlete with tiny little bird bones, she’s had more skeletal fractures than she can count. It’s been better lately, but the calcification buildup from broken wrist and rib and ankle bones are plentiful enough to make the radiology guy’s eyes pop every time he looks at one of her x-rays.

No big, then. I’d set the work safety earphone a bit forward on that side for the time being. Same with the Bose headphones when listening to YouTube videos.

And that should do it.

Of course, some of these “irritation events” require a bit of TLC for months, even years. And sometimes, as with Pam’s ribs especially, the calcification knots are permanent additions to one’s skeletal structure.

There’s a knot like that atop my right shoulder, a bone buildup on the receiving socket. Careless (i.e. improper) use of a Crossbow exercise machine did that. I’d invented a forward push that didn’t show in the manual. Unfortunately, the move ended up “drawing” the machine’s quarter inch cable over the shoulder.

Just lightly sliding, never enough “bother” for me to even realize anything was wrong until one day I happened to discover that shoulder bone to be “lumpy, not smooth”.


Hundreds of broncs and bulls, every kind of rodeo wreck imaginable with no horrific lasting results…and I give myself a permanent ding with a home workout device?


Well, back to work. Pam asked for a porch to be added to the Border Fort, and a porch Pam shall have.

In fact, we were already using the new structure. The roof wasn’t on yet, but the 7′ x 8′ addition did have four walls and a set of exterior doors in place. We’d sat out there last night, locked in securely enough (unless an invader leaped the eight foot walls in a single bound, a hungry northbound Mexican jaguar or some such). The evening air had been marvelous, the famed Palominas view of the stars beyond that.

Curse the lack of a starlight-capable camera. What a wide angle view that was, the Big Dipper framed by the night-black porch framing!

In the morning, I’d be adding the roof trusses. By evening, with luck, the roofing boards would also be in place.

7:10 a.m. Time to get back to work. A double shift; I’d not been to bed. Sleep is for sissies.

Safety, though…not always a bad idea. Maybe I’d make one concession, swap out the AOSafety brand headphones for the Silencio brand. Different shapes, they are. Might hit the skull at a different angle, reduce the likelihood of worsening the “bump effect” on the bone.

Maybe I'd make one concession, swap out the AOSafety brand headphones for the Silencio brand.

Maybe I’d make one concession, swap out the AOSafety brand headphones for the Silencio brand.

Despite being uncomfortably aware of the sore head problem and having to adjust the left side earphone frequently during use, the rest of the morning went well. Extremely well, in fact. By 9:00 a.m., four porch roof trusses were firmly in place with just one left to go. It had taken a while to figure out the best way to add lumber to one side of the first truss so that it could “reach out” to make contact with the wavy front wall of the original Border Fort, but–

–why is the front wall of the house wavy?

Simple enough. It’s not standard frame “stick built” construction. The center portions of the walls, 11 inches thick, are made of earthbags filled with dirt left over from our septic system leach field excavation. There’s a thick layer of concrete stucco over that, but yeah, it’s a pretty wavy wall.

At nine a.m., I took a break to drive over to Bisbee to get (a) more bags of carrots for the wild desert cottontail rabbits we feed every evening and (b) a bit of Burger King breakfast for Pam and me.

By this time, my reading glasses were beginning to be a problem. They’re worn nearly all the time when I’m up, except when I’m driving. Don’t need them for that.

But the sun gets bright in Arizona…and the left bow of the sunglasses felt a bit irritating, too.

Hm. Well. No big deal.

Except…as the hours went by, the irritation continued to increase. In 99 degree weather, with salt sweat and eye glasses plus headphones and small fogs of sawdust plus regular old desert dust getting into the act, that made sense.

It didn’t make me especially happy, but it did make sense. Been there, done that. Had a work boot ding the upper portion of the instep on my left foot during my off road truck driving days. It took two years and some months of retirement before that situation healed itself.

By the end of this fine Wednesday, despite spending much of the afternoon on the computer, the porch project was looking even better. The rafters were topped with roof boards all the way.

Thursday would be a non-work day, but on Saturday, I’d start adding roofing felt aka tar paper, then the steel roofing panels.

Looking good.

Not, however, feeling so good. When darkness arrived and it was once again time to tackle a night’s worth of writing, the sore head had a few announcements to make.

The chief of those being: It ain’t gonna be that easy, Bud!


Ah, ignore it as best you can, cowboy. Got work to do.

At that point, 9:00 pm. or so on Thursday, I’d been up for 32 straight hours. Fell asleep in the office chair till about 10:30, which was cool. That should get me through the night.

Which it did.

After the night’s writing had been Published and the email answered, though, I finally realized something. Feeling gingerly around that sore bump on my head, I made a discovery.

There was not just one shouldn’t-be-there bump on my noggin. There were three, maybe four of the buggers!

That’s when it dawned on me that there were a few odd sensations happening in that area, too. Nearly half of that side of my head, clear forward to the temple and ranging down to the neck…tingly-tight. Taut. Uncomfortable. A bit of a burning sensation.

The penny dropped. This was not the result of a headphone causing contact irritation. This was something else entirely.


I’d been bit.

Or stung.

Or something.

In a way, it was a relief. Venom, as long as it’s not immediately fatal, can be processed by the body (this body, anyway) in fairly short order. I could heal from a sting or a bite a lot quicker than I could from a bone-rub calcification problem…as long as I did what needed to be done.

Antibiotics first, just in case. It was already 4:30 a.m.; those could be obtained with a phone call and a quick trip to town before long. I was heading that way, anyway.

While waiting, baking soda poultice.

Oh yeah. Man, that helps. Curious, how cold water only makes it burn worse. Nothing else seems to help at all, but you gotta love that baking soda.

Nothing else seems to help at all, but you gotta love that baking soda.

Nothing else seems to help at all, but you gotta love that baking soda.

With that much settled, just one question remained: What sort of critter had nailed me?
Enquiring minds want to know. The sore head mystery must be solved.

Could be spider bites. We have plenty of brown recluse spiders in this area, one of which nearly cost Pam a hand in 1999. Or a black widow. Not so many of them around, but they’ve been seen on occasion. My Dad once got bit on the neck by a black widow when he was stationed with the U.S. Navy in Pensacola during World War II. Nearly killed him, that one did.

None of that felt quite right, though…so, to help me think, I turned to playing Computer Solitaire.

Computer Solitaire is, for me, a contemplation tool. I’m completely 100% convinced it works if I play by the rules I’ve set for myself:

    1. Asking questions, like you might do with a Ouija board if you were foolish, is useless. Computer Solitaire will not answer questions.

    2. I have to have a “degree of certainty” in a statement uttered mentally and repeatedly (i.e. only inside my own head) throughout the game.

    3. If I get all four aces up and all four kings up, my statement is technically correct. I don’t have to win the game. If I don’t, however, there may be some “work to do” before full resolution can appear in my magical world.

In other words, I didn’t start a game by asking, “Recluse spider?”. I started by stating, “Recluse spider!”

Nope. That wasn’t quite it.

Didn’t really think it was. This sore head is a pain, yeah, but the damage is nothing like a typical brown recluse spider attack.


Didn’t play the game for black widows. Just didn’t believe that was likely.

Did try for wolf spiders. There’s a wolfie that lives in my office, hiding out beneath the horrific clutter piled about three feet to the right of my feet. But had that come out as likely (I don’t accept the cards as a given, just an “extra voice”), I’d have been surprised. We love our wolfies, they’re not the type to think human-climbing is a great idea, and I couldn’t imagine having a wolf spider crawling around behind my ear without me noticing its presence.

And then I got it.

Flying native fire ant.

BAM! I knew that was it. It made all kinds of sense. We’ve been loving the new porch so much, leaving the door from the kitchen open at night despite there still being (at this point) all kinds of open space for critters to fly on in, that we’ve been acquiring a number of moths…and some flying fire ants. Never mind that I later realized they weren’t fire ants at all but the much bigger harvester ants–which are also red and which do have stingers in their butts.

Wannabe unmated queens or their consorts, they’ve sent in a few every night for a while now.

One must have landed in my hair; I was sure of it. Yeah, the flying ants are bigger than the others, the worker ants, but they’re still pretty petite. I wouldn’t have noticed. That part of my head sports the best, thickest remaining hair I’ve got.

Flying ant in hair. Pinned down by a suddenly donned earphone rim, trying to stab her way out like a miniature Jodi Arias on a rampage.

And me, focused on the job at hand, unaware I’d been stung. And stung. And stung.

There aren’t too many nerves right there, anyway. Good work, Antie.

So yeah, I played the Computer Solitaire game. “Flying ant!” Bing bang boom, this game is WON!

He’s got it. By George, I think he’s got it. The Sore Head Mystery has been solved in an unorthodox yet classic display of medical self diagnosis. Give the man a medal.

What was it, a week ago that a native fire ant (not a flyer) stung me twice on the inside of my left leg, just above the knee? That’s two native fire ant attacks. They say things come in threes.

Let’s hope “they” are wrong.

Update: No more ant stings, but the summer’s batch of chigger bites ended up being a dandy!

During my trip to town on Friday, I did not wear my straw cowboy hat because it tends to irritate the sting sites.

During my trip to town on Friday, I did not wear my straw cowboy hat because it tends to irritate the sting sites.

One pair of glasses had its left bow summarily snapped off and discarded for the duration.

One pair of glasses had its left bow summarily snapped off and discarded for the duration.

Wedding Dance of the Flying Ants

While browsing YouTube, looking for a video to embed here, I came across the work of a gay comedian who goes by the name of Ant. He’s really good, and I hope to find time to watch a bit more of his standup, but he’s not a “real” ant.

Back to browsing.

Eventually, a truly amazing “real flying ant” video did surface. The videographer caught a whole bunch of flying ants in the midst of their mating flight, silhouetted against the last light of the day. Mated with techno dance music, the finished product is incredible.

It got me to thinking. How would you feel if you grew up underground, hit puberty, got to spread your wings and fly high and lose your virginity–and then also lost your wings? Never ever ever again in your long, egg laying life would you fly high or even see the light of day.

How the flying ants feel about it, I have no way to know…but one thing is obvious. During that glorious mating flight, the last time they get to be creatures of the air, they surely do make the most of it…except for those who get gobbled up by seagulls in the process, as shown in the following video.

4 thoughts on “The Sore Head Mystery: A True Case of Medical Self Diagnosis

  1. Ouch! I’ve never been bitten by a fire ant. Here, in Long Beach, California, Argentine ants have taken over the entire region and eradicated most native ants. They are tiny and don’t bite but are quite a nuisance, invading houses and yards by armies of thousands.

    I do not like to destroy living creatures but did end up spraying the perimeter of my house with Talstar Pro. Which turned out to be a good thing — I didn’t realize that black widows were nesting in my patio flower pots, and brown widows under my lawn chairs. With two little grand-children frolicking about, they did pose quite a danger.

    But not before one of the black widows bit me on my shin, after having crawled into my pant cuff — unbekownst to me, of course. The bite was surprisingly painful, and the burning sensation didn’t abate for days. However, aside from a quarter-size superficial nectrotizing area on my leg, I had no ill effects.

    Gimpy, the praying mantis, is doing well. She now has learned to grasp the chop stick which I use to feed her the defrosted brine shrimp, and hold it herself. I might try to feed her live small crickets, maybe she might surprise me with her retained hunting skills.

    Thanks again for sharing all of your articles — what an interesting life you had and have. (BTW, the naked Swede story had me roaring with laughter!)

    Warm regards, Ingrid

  2. That’s one thing I’ve kind of always had to come to terms with–that if I want to live out in the country where the wild things are, I’m going to have to terminate some of them. I don’t like doing it, either, but having been raised on a ranch undoubtedly conditioned me to some of those hard facts of life and death early on. Pam and I do try to make sure we only kill what otherwise presents a clear and present danger, of course.

    Venomous spiders are no joke. My Dad was bitten on the neck by one when he was stationed at the Naval base in Pensacola, Florida (World War II) and nearly died. Pam still has troubles with her right hand from a brown recluse bite 17 years ago.

    Gimpy is one smart mantis. I’m impressed.

    Glad you enjoyed the naked Swede story. Carolyn, the lady who laughed the Swede out of our apartment, passed on last year, but she left some great memories behind. 🙂

  3. I sent you an email in response to your response, but it might have ended up in your spam folder. Here is the copy:

    It’s wonderful that you were able to remain friends even after your parting. Carolyn seemed like a person you might want to shake because of her unrealistic views, but cuddle and pet because of her vulnerability and childlike attitude. And Pam seems like a sweetheart to have taken her in as a friend.

    My younger son Tom, who is an airline pilot for American Airlines, has been strung twice by scorpions. The first one got him when he was putting on his night shorts — very close to his most vulnerable male spots. The second time he was stung on his ankle while enjoying his front patio at night, and this time for no apparent provocation. Guess he who called for advice — ME, LOL. Poison control (who I called) was very helpful in monitoring his status and progress. He managed to make his scheduled flight later that day.

    Gimpy, the mantis, owes you a lot! You opened my eyes to her will to survive, and uncanny trust in humans and her enchanting nature. It’s inexplicable how this little creature who has no history of any kind of symbiotic relationship with humans can be so tame and fearless. She did hunt down a wax worm I bought from a reptile store today. She was not stealthy, thumping along with her peg legs like a steam roller, but the dumb caterpillar was oblivious. I’m so proud of my Gimpy :)!

    I hope I don’t embarrass you, but this is what I wrote to my son Tom:

    Hi Tom, I just knew that this man was interesting by reading his article on the praying mantis, encountered while he was weed whacking.
    Ghost32Writer | Wildlife Photography and Other Observations from Cochise County, Arizona.

    Here is more info — he seems like a real rugged individualist, yet has a poetic and sensitive soul. I’ve read quite of few of his articles, and found them intriguing, funny and informative.

    Fred Baker –

  4. Ingrid, I’m really hard to embarrass (though I’ve accidentally embarrassed a fair number of other people over the years), so thanks for what you wrote to your son. Looks like awesome publicity to me, and that’s a good thing–especially since I’ll be putting ads on this site for my forthcoming book (Tam the Tall Tale Teller), hopefully by year’s end (2015).

    Frankly, I love your summary. Could do a lot worse for an obituary, at least if I was figuring to die any time soon.

    Glad to hear Gimpy is doing so well.

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