I thought it was just an idiom. Maybe based on an urban legend, a myth, or an old wives’ tale.
I was wrong.
Four months ago, I got a bug stuck in my ear.
“COME HOME RIGHT NOW! I HAVE A BUG! IN MY EAR! HEY! STOP LAUGHING! THIS IS SERIOUS! I THINK I HAVE TO GO THE HOSPITAL!” is what I screamed to my husband on the phone.
He arrived a few minutes later to find me convulsing and twitching in a way that looked like a tribal dance for schizophrenics.
“Calm down. Are you sure it’s a bug? I don’t see anything,” he said while beaming a flashlight in my ear.
“GET THE TWEEZERS! ARGHHH! IT’S DEFINITELY IN THERE!”
Steve ran for the tweezers. I lay on the couch, bug ear up, as he assumed the position of master at-home surgical operator.
“Honey, I don’t see anything. I think mayb—oh, oh wow, oh my go—okay, it’s okay, I see it now,” he said.
“WHAT?! Why did you say it like that? ARGHHHHH! GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!” Every time I spoke the bug would flutter its wings, crawl deeper and let out its own buzzing scream.
“How did this happen?” he said, tweezers posed in a bug grabbing position above my ear.
“I put my head down. On the pillow. ARGHHHHH! Must have been. Right on top of it. I felt it go in and—ARGHHHHHH!”
“OK, hold still.” These are the last words you want to hear before your significant other sticks a sharp object dangerously close to your eardrum.
“AHHHHHHHHHARRRRRRGHHHHHHHH!” The bug burrowed deeper. It was on a mission to eat my brain, I was sure of it.
“I can’t get it. It’s not that bad though…I saw it. It’s, um, it’s…little-ish. But maybe we should go to the emergency room. You know, just to be safe…”
I ran out of the house in my pajamas and jumped in the car. Steve did 75 miles an hour through one neighborhood after another as I writhed in pain and cussed like a sailor. “Almost there. Just hold on. Almost there!” he kept reassuring me like that would make the brain-eating bug less of threat. I kept my head tilted, my hand squeezing the back of my ear to stop the movement. I tried to focus on one thing, anything other than the bug in my ear. I felt myself slowly but surely losing touch with reality. I always knew insanity was inevitable for me, I just thought that maybe it would happen more organically, like 40 years from now when I’m old and have a house full of trinkets and figurines that I refer to as my “friends.” But no. This bug was dancing on my crazy button and all I could do was thrash about until the blanket of complete lunacy covered me.
“I HAVE A BUG IN MY EAR!” I screamed at the ER nurse behind the desk.
“OK, fill out these forms and take a seat in the waiting room.” She barely glanced at me.
I sat down next to an old man who was throwing up in a bedpan. It was then I realized I had forgotten my glasses. And a bra. And I was wearing two different flip-flops. I sat there, rocking back and forth, clutching my head, blind, braless and wearing mismatched shoes as a bug terrorized my ear canal. After 30 minutes I went back to the nurse at the desk. I gripped the edge of the counter and pulled myself close to her face. She smelled like hand sanitizer and coffee. I could see Steve in the corner of my eye, positioned to pounce if I attacked.
“I don’t think you understand. I need someone to get this bug out of my ear RIGHT NOW. Every second I sit here I can feel it crawling deeper and dee—EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKK!”
“Ma’am, we are very busy tonight. There’s a heroin overdose and a heart attack in front of you. We see people with bugs in their ears five nights out of the week in the summer – this is nothing new. But I promise I will tell the doctor that your case is urgent,” she said without even looking up from her stack of charts as if lethal drug overdoses and chest pains could trump insect invasion of a body orifice.
“Good, yes, do tell the doctor that my case is urgent—BECAUSE THAT’S WHY I’M IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM!” Steve took me by the arm and led me away. I couldn’t sit back down because the bedpan barfer was getting more vocal and I needed to do something, anything. So I paced the hallway and threw dirty looks at the nurse’s station.
I was trying to figure out how to make my eyes say I cut bitches when finally they called my name and took me back to a room. The in-between room. They took my vitals. I was patient, poised and white-knuckling what little of my sanity remained. Then another nurse took us into another room. It was just like the rooms at hospitals on TV – curtained cubes that doctors rush in and out of, screams of patients in pain, clanking instruments and hushed conversations. We waited for three hours in that room until finally, another nurse came in. It had been so long I thought maybe she was a mirage in this desert of sanitized countertops, beige tile floors and artic temperatures.
“Have they given you eardrops yet?” she said.
“WHAT? NO! WE’VE BEEN SITTING IN HERE FOR THREE HOURS!” As I raged, the bug made a move to fly and I thought I was going to stab the nurse.
“Oh dear. Sorry about that! Don’t worry, we’ll get you fixed up!” She was annoyingly peppy and I wanted to tell her that the butterfly print on her scrubs was an insult to my current situation.
She squirted numbing eardrops into my bugged ear. Suddenly I felt a tremendous pressure, like when you’re on a plane and you can’t get your ears to pop and for a second you think your brain might explode. As the liquid flowed into my ear the bug went into spasms, fighting to stay alive and I felt it running from the flood – deeper and deeper into my ear it crawled. I screamed and punched the gurney with my fists and the nurse gave me a smile and patted me on the back. She said the doctor would be in shortly and when she walked out Steve followed her. They stood on the other side of the curtain. All I could see was their feet. The ear drops had temporarily robbed me of auditory ability in my right ear and since I was forced to lay down, my other ear was being smothered by a pillow.
When Steve came back into our curtained holding cell he said, “It’s OK. I promise, it’s all going to be OK,” rubbing my back. I could see the worry in his face. I might be dramatic, but I’m a solider when it comes to pain, and at this point I was hitting an 8.5 on Richter Scale of hysteria.
“I’m never going to be the same again… What if it’s laying eggs? In my ear! OHMYGODIAMGOINGTODIE!!”
“It’s OK – don’t talk. Just sit still.”
Another hour passed. The bug was still fighting. It was a duller, lazier fight, but now I could feel its every movement in my throat, nose and eyes. What kind of creature has this much stamina? I wondered. Then I grabbed Steve’s hand and told him to find a doctor like I was a dying cancer patient with one final request. He stood on the other side of the curtain, his arms crossed in the I-mean-business pose, waiting for a nurse or a doctor or some sign that someone actually worked there.
“Sir, please go back in the room. The doctor will be in shortly,” a fat, wobbly nurse barked.
“We’ve been here, in this room, for four hours. She has a bug in her ear and is in a lot of pain. All she needs is someone to get it out,” Steve said. His tone was somewhere between pleading and demanding, like only a good salesman can pull off.
“OHMYFUCKINGGODAAAAHHHHHDAMNIT!” I screamed as the beast did flying somersaults. Steve stuck his head in to make sure I wasn’t turning into alien. I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I tried to hold my good ear up but then the numbing drops dribbled down the right side of my face. Steve walked back in and resumed his hand holding position. I was thinking about what my tombstone would read – Always willing to lend a ear or maybe, Had an ear for “things” or Truly, all eyes and ears – when a doctor came in.
I sat up so I could hear with my nonbug ear. More drops oozed onto my check and I tried to wiped them away. The doctor introduced himself and asked what had happened. When I tried to talk I realized that the entire right side of my face was numb.
“Ers ah boog en mai eahr!”
“I see you’ve been given the numbing drops. Hopefully some of them actually made it into your ear. Go ahead and lay down on your side.” I did as I was told. My good ear hit the pillow and I sensed for the first time how exhausted I was. I looked up at the doctor. He was saying something but I all I could see was his mouth moving as he waved a shiny silver instrument above my head.
“WHAT?!” I was panicked – blind, deaf, crazy…
“I’M GOING IN TO GET THE BUG.” The doctor said loud enough for me to hear with my good ear. Steve held me down. I braced myself. He went in. Just then the bug did the Macarena in my ear canal. I flinched. Liquid poured from my ear – red tinted eardrops. I could hear a little better but the bug was still in there. The doctor pulled away, both hands in the air like it was a stick up.
“You can’t move! If you move, I will puncture your eardrum!” He motioned for the nurse. “She’s in too much pain still. Give her more of the drops. I’ll come back when she’s relaxed.” The nurse started pouring more drops into my ear.
“NO! WAIT! I’M RELAXED! I SWEAR! PLEASE! Don’t make me wait – just get it out – I promise I won’t move! LOOK! I’M SO RELAXED NOW! PLEASE!” I forced a confident smile to spread out on my sweaty, numb face and bloodshot eyes.
“I’ll be right back. That little guy is determined! Usually when people come in with bugs in their ears it’s a moth or a house fly, but this…this looks like a cockroach,” the doctor turned on his heels and disappeared behind the curtain to deal with the dying person next to us.
A wave of nausea rushed through me. If my brain could vomit it did. A cockroach? A COCKROACH?! Steve squeezed my hand. The nurse pushed my head into the pillow and squeezed what felt like an ocean of drops into my ear. The bug fought more. I cried. The nurse left and Steve and I were alone again with the uninvited guest.
“I didn’t want to say anything, but I saw it. Before. At the house. When I was looking in your ear. I saw it. I didn’t want to say anything because I knew you’d freak out if you knew it was a cockroach – don’t freak out. The doctor is coming right back. They’re going to get it out and everything will be OK,” Steve said. I just stared at him. “The nurses are calling you “Foreign Body Girl” out there – you know, because the bug is a foreign body and, um, yeah…” I loved that he was trying to make me laugh but I hated the joke.
We waited for another hour before the doctor came back. By now the bug had stopped moving but the pressure in my ear was making my eyeballs bulge. I thought about what a fucked up saying, “Put a bug in your ear” was and made a silent vow to find the person responsible for such a stupid phrase and kill them.
“Are we ready now?” The doctor was back.
“Ready, SO READY!”
“You might want to hold her down,” the doctor said to Steve. “YOU CAN’T MOVE ONCE I GET THIS IN YOUR EAR, OKAY?” The doctor spoke to me like I was a senile old woman who had just crapped her pants as he waived his surgical tweezer sword in my eye. I nodded. I would have agreed to anything at that point – ear amputation, brain surgery, one billion dollars – if it meant getting the bug out of my ear.
“There it is. Hey little guy, you’re not supposed to be in there – no you’re not! Come here, that’s it, come on…” The doctor was talking to the demon in my ear like it was golden retriever puppy. “Okay, I got it. Here we go—”
“GGGRRRRRRAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGAHHHHHHHHHHHSHITSHITSHITFUCKSHITARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHFUUUUUUUUUCK!” I screamed so loud I even scared myself. When I stopped I heard my last profanity echo through the sterile hospital halls.
(Yes, I documented the whole thing for your viewing pleasure.)
(Yes, I documented the whole thing for your viewing pleasure.)
“Well, there he is. He’s a big boy, that’s for sure!” The doctor held the bug up for me to see, but without glasses all I could make out was a brown blur. “Yep, he really tore up your thoracictimepanicblahblahblahmembrane. Look at that –” He pulled the gauze away from my ear and waived it in front of my tear-stained face. It was covered in blood. “See these sharp spikes?” He held up the monster from my ear between the points of his sharp tweezer tool. “That’s what was scratching you – and I bet these big wings were making it worse.” A flying cockroach. I gagged. The doctor removed his rubber gloves in one swift motion and disappeared behind the curtain again.
Stunned. I stared at the roach. It’s sharp, thorny legs, the inch-long wings, I found its beady little eyes and held it close to my face, searching for some sign of humanity.
“Holy shit.” Steve was in awe. “Well, are you going to give her some medicine or something, like, to prevent an infection?” The nurse turned around and squirted a needle in the air.
“We’ll give her this tetanus shot, some drops and something for the pain – she’ll be fine,” she said it like she was chewing on a yawn. Then she asked me if I was right or left handed and as I whispered my answer she stabbed my left arm with a needle as if I was a pincushion.
We waited another hour, post-bug excavation, to be discharged. It was 5:15 a.m. when we got home. Hopped up on some combination of pain pills they gave me at the hospital, I mumbled about needing earplugs in order to sleep before collapsing into bed.
The next day I woke up groggy, ear-achy and traumatized. I popped a pain pill, made a bowl of cereal and stared into the distance. The memory of the night before kept coming back. I kept thinking something else was going to crawl into my ear. I set my bowl of Lucky Charms aside, went to the fridge and pulled out a beer. It was clear that I was going to have to get drunk in order to cope with the post traumatic stress disorder the cockroach ear rape had caused. I sat on the porch with wadded up tissue in my ears and drank a 12-pack by myself.
It’s been four months since the incident and while I’m still fighting nightmares of insects and ear paranoia, I can at least acknowledge that if it hadn’t been for that over ambitious cockroach, I would not have a story to tell you now (assuming you made it this far without clicking away in a fit of repulsion).
I’m not going to lie, I love the reactions I get when I tell someone what happened – it’s that epic combination of absolute disbelief and horrified disgust that’s usually reserved for things like episodes of “Hoarders” and anything that comes out of Michele Bachmann’s mouth. It’s therapeutic to watch and it fills me with a sick sense of pride because I know I am a true survivor.
I may have officially crossed over to the crazy side that night, but it’s not like I wasn’t already dangerously close to it. And now that I’ve had a bug in my ear, I can pretty much do anything.
As long as bugs aren’t involved.