It happened in early summer, and I was fast asleep. At some point around 4 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of a helicopter crash-landing inside my head. I, like all humans on the planet, have experienced bug fly-bys of my ears on many occasions. Bees, for example, seem to really like my ears. They enjoy repeatedly buzzing up behind me, like fat, airborne playground bullies, chasing me around the swingset. Their dumptrucky buzzing is a nice reminder that a bee is almost in my ear. I like to run around my yard, waving my hands around my head and saying, “You won’t even fit in there! And I’ll probably kill you if you try, which I really don’t want to do because you’re the future! You’re the future!” I bet this is pretty funny to my neighbors.
Generally, I dislike flying insects. It seems like they get an unfair advantage. They are already bitey and stingy and too-many-leggy and wearing chitinous exoskeletal armor over their loathsome, malevolent silhouettes. If any bug were as big as a person, we would all freak the fuck out, even if it had a lovely personality. It would take a lot of paradigm adjustment and acceptance, not to mention furniture and undergarment redesign. Twenty percent of all meditation would be to gain control of involuntary shuddering.
So, adding “airborne” to the list of pernicious insect characteristics is unfair on the same scale as granting Donald Trump the ability to make women pregnant with his mind.
Wasps, hornets, and occasionally dragonflies are all creatures I respect and enjoy, unless they are attempting to go inside my ear. I particularly dislike lurking insects, with earwigs firmly in control of the top of the chart. Earwigs are ghastly creatures, some abominable hybrid of a lobster, a scorpion, and that Wrath of Khan Ceti Eel. And they are called “earwigs,” clearly indicating their intentions. I think, if Khan had spent more time on Earth before that whole hostage situation, he would have used earwigs. Fear, struck.
I don’t know what kind of bug went into my ear, because I was asleep when it went in, and while I can identify a short list of bird calls, I am unable to identify the type of insect in question from the sound of its various crunchy bits thropping against my ear canal. It’s a skill I wish to leave unhoned.
So, I woke at 4 a.m. and shot out of bed like, well, like a woman with a bug in her ear. I jumped around, flailing my arms and tipping my head dramatically to one side, pounding my head like a swimmer with water in her ear.
Before this happened, if I was writing a screenplay of me getting a bug in my ear, I would have written me screaming like a sorority girl under a chainsaw. But in the real scene, I sort of fluffily moaned, like a fat ghost. This makes me think I need to practice what I will do if my sister becomes a vampire or my neighbor becomes a zombie, just in case my response to those nightmare scenarios is equally unexpected.
I jumped around, flapping and pounding, for just a few seconds, while the bug did a similar sounding routine in my ear. Then, I heard a sort of wet, squunching sound, followed by frantic buzzing, more squelchy squenchy sounds, then a glurch, then, silence. I rapidly deduced that the insect had struggled itself into my ear wax, and was now ensconced. This thought was equally reassuring and repellant.
I woke up my husband, who was sleep-delirious, but sympathetic, and he shone a flashlight into my ear canal to investigate. “I can’t see anything. But there’s a kind of corner there, in your ear.” He only had one eye open. “You should just go back to sleep. It will work itself out,” he said, which was a terrific suggestion for someone completely different than me in every way.
I stood in the bathroom, stock-still and waiting, for an hour, listening intently to my own ear (as a side note, I’m pretty sure this is how Frank Zappa wrote his songs). I heard nothing. Maybe my husband was right. Just wait until some errant Q-Tip swipe retrieved the unfortunate soul’s remains. You know, in a month or something. I lay down. I reasoned with myself that searching the internet was a terrible idea. I have seen those pictures already, I told myself. All I would get out of the experience was a montage of worst-case scenarios from the National Geographic storyboard team: botflies and maggots and worms, emerging triumphantly like little pioneers from every conceivable part of human anatomy.
While I could no longer hear my ear guest, I could occasionally feel it, a kind of fluttery, tickly sensation, as though my ear was haunted. National Geographic botfly nightmare in mind, I bravely ignored it for as long as I could — which was about fifteen minutes.
I Googled, “Bug in my ear: what should I do?” with a not inconsiderable amount of trepidation. (As promised, image carousel.) Many helpful souls had posted message board accounts of their own harrowing bug invasions, and I read them voraciously. They all sort of agreed on the best approach: pour warm — not hot! — oil into the ear canal, and wait for the bug to drown. The viscosity of the oil was important, since it would need to completely fill the ear and glut the bug’s exoskeletal respiration. Which, while unimaginable not even an hour previously, had become my most passionate desire.
I heated some coconut oil by running hot water over the jar until it liquefied, and then, like a frat boy with a shot of Jaeger, I raised my little glass at my own reflection in the mirror, and dumped the whole thing into my ear. The oil filled my ear canal with a gurgle, and I definitely felt squiggling motion in the deepest part of my ear. I had to keep my head keened to the side to keep the oil in there for 3-5 minutes, which is the universally-accepted bug-drowning time. I cannot overstate to you how very profoundly, entirely yucky this was to me.
What I did not do was read about the proper technique for evacuating the coconut slurry/bug remains from my ear. I think I just assumed I would lean over the sink and it would glop out into the sink bowl, whereupon I would shout triumphantly, weep, then vomit. So when the timer went off (six minutes, just in case this bug was some kind of insect Michael Phelps) I jerkily leaned over and the coconut oil sort of seeped more than poured out of my ear.
Panicked, I lurched awkwardly over the sink, bent sideways in a modified windmill stretch, to stop the oil from just running down my shirt. It came out quickly then, but in my contorted human-staple position, I could not simultaneously watch the oil and extract it. In my haste, I had also neglected to stopper the sink. I realized this as the oil poured out and disappeared. I stood there for a long time, hoping with electric intensity for the bug’s complete expulsion. “I can always do it again,” I reassured myself, picturing the bug clinging to my cochlea like a tiny Kong on the Empire State building.
Careful examination of the sink bowl revealed a small clump of buggy things, including one discernable wing, and what looked like embrangled legs. No torso. No bug head, on which assumedly one would find pinchery bug monster fangs. Here were the things I was hoping, in the order I was hoping them:
1. The whole bug was out, but its heavy pincher/torso area had slipped down the drain.
2. If the bug or any bug detritus remained in my ear, it was dead.
3. If any part of the bug was still alive, it was small, and male.
4. If the living bug torso was alive and female, it was barren.
My doctor’s office would not open for another full two hours, and since the bug ear crisis had not been an emergency when the bug was certainly alive and in my ear, it was logically not an emergency now. I would wait. There was just one little problem: it was nearly 6 a.m., and I knew I needed to get ready, because, in the round, magical world of perfectly inverted miracles, I had a job interview at 8:30 a.m.
I went through my morning ablutions, cleaning and adorning myself. As I carefully applied makeup, it occurred to me that while my life had suddenly become some facsimile of the movie Brazil, I was handling it pretty well. I congratulated myself while I ironed my pants. “I’m unexpectedly good at this,” I said to my business-clad reflection. I called the doctor, and made my appointment for 10:30.
I arrived at the job interview, and was ushered into a huge conference room with a sprawling, lovely wooden table. Within ten minutes, five different managers were all sitting around the table, with copies of my résumé and lists of questions. I was focused enough on the interview to ignore the possible plus one for quite a while, but felt something trickling down my neck. I reached my hand up, and discovered a line of coconut oil, running down my neck from my ear. I quickly wiped it away, and cleaned my hand on my pants leg. Unfortunately, it seemed that some kind of fluid tension had broken in my ear, releasing a small trove of oil to the whims of gravity. I began a furtive campaign to wipe the now steady stream of oil every few seconds, nervous that the oil would puddle around my collar, or saturate the front of my blouse like a gunshot wound, or the weirdest sweat pattern ever seen. My various clandestine, now spastic wiping techniques were relentless, and while I was explaining the ways I was intrinsically a team player, I was staring lustily and fixedly at the clean, dry napkin under my coffee mug, willing it into my ear canal. I simply could not understand how so much more oil was still in my ear.
The interviewers came to the end of their questions. The big boss asked me what it would take for me to join their team. After discussing that, the conversation veered off into ideas for improvement, previous experiences, best practices, and more coffee. Also, 13,796 covert oil wipes. The clock on the wall approached 10:20, and the looming specter of missing the doctor’s appointment and spending another day with my bug passenger was more than I could handle. Finally, I said, “I hate to do this, but I have to tell you guys something. I have a bug in my ear. I have an appointment to have it removed in ten minutes, so I really have to go.” The entire table stood up simultaneously, and I started to giggle uncontrollably. “It’s such a relief to tell you that!” I giggled. “I’ve been really trying to keep it together!” We shook hands, and I literally ran to the doctor’s office, where the doctor verified that the only thing left in my ear was ear wax, coconut oil (how was that possible?!) and tiny bits of what must have been bug detritus.
I’ll be honest with you: having a bug in your ear is horrible, but not as bad as I thought it would be. Especially since it was in there a while. After a couple hours, I couldn’t panic about it anymore. It was kind of like one of those Wile E. Coyote falling scenes where he falls for a really, really, really long time. It turns out, you only scream for the first thousand feet or so. Then you might occasionally scream, but after an hour, hour and a half, you just get used to your new life of falling, or mopping bug-infused oil from your cleavage while discussing benchmarking in a competitive sales environment.
And for the record — all hyperbole aside — if it was an earwig I would have yowled like a lunatic-banshee, and then punched myself in the face until I passed out.
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