A cock­roach got stuck in my ear

The Guardian - Weekend - - Content - Hen­drik Helmer Do you have an ex­pe­ri­ence to share? Email ex­pe­ri­ence@the­guardian.com

It was Jan­uary 2014, and I was living in Dar­win, Aus­tralia, with a cou­ple of friends. It had been an un­event­ful Tues­day evening and I went to sleep as nor­mal, around mid­night. I was living in an old­er­style house, which, for ven­ti­la­tion, had a gap of about 45cm be­tween the in­ter­nal walls and the roof.

I woke up at about 2am and re­alised I couldn’t hear in one ear. I was sleepy and per­plexed, but I knew some­thing was in there. It was hard to know what it was; my fin­ger didn’t go in far enough to make con­tact, but it felt like the in­side of my ear had swollen up.

I later learned that a 2cm bush cock­roach had flown over the top of my wall. My ceil­ing fan prob­a­bly blew it straight on to my head and I must have brushed the side of my face with my hand, which scared it. I as­sume it looked for some­where to hide, and ran straight into my right ear. Cock­roaches, I’ve since learned, can’t move back­wards. It was pretty big, so it wouldn’t have had room to move – most of its legs would have been pinned against its body and my ear canal. Its only op­tion was to move for­ward, so it clawed fur­ther in, bur­row­ing deeper with its mouth; it was scratch­ing and chew­ing on my eardrum. It was ex­cru­ci­at­ingly pain­ful, like some­one stick­ing a knit­ting nee­dle in your ear then tap­ping on it.

I knew some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong. I sus­pected it was an in­sect, but when it stopped bur­row­ing, the pain went away. I had to be at work – at a scaf­fold­ing ware­house – in four hours, so I lay back down. But within 15-20 min­utes it started bur­row­ing again.

That hap­pened again and again, and each time the pain got worse. I shook my head to try to get it out. That didn’t do any­thing. Then I got the vac­uum cleaner and held the noz­zle against my ear to try to suck out what­ever it was. That didn’t work ei­ther; the more I ir­ri­tated the thing in my ear, the more pain it caused me.

Then I thought: I’ll flush it out. I put my head in the sink, and filled my ear up with wa­ter, but that ir­ri­tated the bug more than any­thing. The pain crip­pled me. I dropped to a foetal po­si­tion and my mus­cles started go­ing into spasms. There was a shrill tension in­side my head. I was grit­ting my teeth too hard to cry.

I knew I had to go to hos­pi­tal and woke my house­mate, Stu­art. This was at about 4.30am. We got to the emer­gency depart­ment of the Royal Dar­win hos­pi­tal and I de­scribed the pain I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. I said I’d wait as long as I could, but that in 15 min­utes, this thing was go­ing to start bur­row­ing again, and I’d be twitch­ing on the floor. They saw me within five min­utes.

A doc­tor ex­am­ined my ear and was sur­prised to see a cock­roach in there. (I was re­lieved to find out it wasn’t a poi­sonous spi­der.) The doc­tor needed to drown the cock­roach to get it out. She said olive oil would ef­fec­tively get rid of the oxy­gen and kill it. I had to lie on my side, and she poured oil into my ear. It took about 15 min­utes for the cock­roach to die. The pain I’d felt up to that point was noth­ing com­pared to the pain I felt while the cock­roach was in its death throes. Even­tu­ally, it stopped mov­ing. The doc­tor slowly drew it out with a pair of long tweez­ers. It felt re­ally good.

The doc­tor said the cock­roach was prob­a­bly one of the largest in­sects she’d ever heard of be­ing in some­one’s ear. It’s a strange ac­co­lade. She said if it had been in there much longer it could have dam­aged my eardrum, which could have caused hear­ing loss. I had only mild dis­com­fort in my ear, so they dis­charged me straight away. Of course I kept the cock­roach. I put him in a spec­i­men jar and named him Roger. Roger the Roach.

I’ve since learned that in­sects en­ter peo­ple’s ears all the time. I wouldn’t say I’m para­noid about it hap­pen­ing again, but I’m cer­tainly more aware. Still, I don’t bother to wear earplugs or ear­phones in bed. There are lots of worse things in life than hav­ing a bug crawl into your ear.

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