Last year, my husband and I purchased our first house. Lucky for us new homeowners, the house needed minimal work. Any fixer-upping was mostly stuff we wanted to do, rather than repairs that were absolute necessities.
But one annoying, consistent downside of our new home was the presence of cockroaches—otherwise known as palmetto bugs down here—thanks to the Florida climate.
Anyone who has lived in a humid location is probably well-acquainted with these flying, horrifying monsters. I learned that they tend to take shelter in homes in hot or wet weather, although they can show up out of nowhere. Well, roaches kept making appearances in our home, so I finally called a local exterminator.
A few weeks ago, he walked around and sprayed the outside of the house as well as the baseboards in every room in the interior. My husband and I felt good about this. We decided to spend $85 every three months for what we felt was important for our peace of mind. Unfortunately, our sense of relief that we wouldn’t find any more roaches was a little premature.
Last month, in the middle of the night, I woke up startled. It felt like someone had placed a chip of ice in my left earhole—but it was something way worse.
I shot up out of bed, disoriented, and stumbled to the bathroom. I could feel that my ear was not right. I grabbed a cotton swab and gently inserted it into my ear to see what was up and I felt something move.
When I pulled the cotton swab out, there were two dark brown, skinny pieces stuck to the tip. Moments later, I came to the realization that they were legs. LEGS. Legs that could only belong to an adventurous palmetto bug exploring my ear canal.
I started to hyperventilate, and my husband searched furiously for his glasses and joined me in the bathroom. He looked into my ear and confirmed that there was a roach trying to burrow its way to my brain. (OK, I know the ear canal isn’t a hop, skip, and a jump away from the brain, but that’s immediately where my mind went.)
In that moment, my husband was my only hope. He grabbed a pair of tweezers, located the thickest part of the roach that was visible (I KNOW) and tried to very delicately extract it. (For what it’s worth, my husband is a professional percussionist, and all of his hand movements are very precise.)
Unfortunately, he only managed to pull two of its spiky legs off. At that point, it was clear I needed to go to the ER.
While my husband made a frazzled attempt to locate clothing, his wallet, and keys, I managed to put on a bra and yoga pants, pull my hair into a messy bun, and corral our dog into the gated area in our kitchen where she can roam freely when we are out of the house—all while having a MOVING ROACH IN MY EAR.
Women can get shit done, let me tell you.
As I walked to the car, I could feel the roach trying to wiggle deeper into my ear canal. It was an awful feeling, one that was not necessarily painful, but psychologically torturous. Think of that humming sound you hear when you plug your ears and press really hard—that’s what I heard and felt, on the left side of my head as the roach tried to crawl. It was bizarre.
Thankfully, the hospital is only about two miles from where we live, and there were few cars on the road at 2 A.M., so we got there pretty fast. He dropped me at the entrance and went to park the car.
Lucky for me, it was a slow evening in the ER, with just one woman accompanied by two little girls in the waiting room. I approached the front desk to tell them my issue. The man sitting behind the desk immediately asked me if I was experiencing pain, probably due to the twisted look of horror on my face. I told him I was not in pain, although I felt like I was going to vomit. I explained to him that a roach crawled into my ear while I was asleep and it was stuck. He asked a nurse to check out my ear with an otoscope (in case I was lying???) and then confirmed to me and my husband that there was a roach in my ear.
He told me to stay calm and sent us back to the lobby so that I could get a wristband. I hobbled along with my head cocked to the side in the hopes that gravity might take hold of the offending insect and dislodge it. (Spoiler: It didn’t.) I was also whimper-crying, which must have been horrifying for the two little girls in the lobby to witness. I was aware that I needed to get myself together because I didn’t want them to hear us talking and then have nightmares for the rest of their lives about bugs burrowing into their ears.
Once I received my medical wristband, I was taken back to a room where another nurse attempted to take my blood pressure, but it wasn’t working. I was too overwhelmed, and the cuff kept squeezing my arm, all while the roach was still attempting to set up camp in my head. I finally shouted (not at her, just into the void, also it was kind of hard to hear because something was obstructing my ear) that I suffer from high blood pressure and am on medication for it, so there was no way she was going to get a reading that wasn’t stroke level. She agreed to remove the cuff.
Next, I was asked to lie down with my left ear facing upward so that the doctor could come look inside it. He also confirmed that a roach was indeed in my ear (OMFG I AM AWARE, PEOPLE). He told a nurse to get him some Lidocaine, a topical numbing agent, that would temporarily cause a loss of feeling in my ear and simultaneously kill the roach. I was still whimpering, but also grateful/annoyed as my husband attempted to calm me down.
As the doctor administered the Lidocaine, the roach began to…react. Feeling a roach in the throes of death, lodged in a very sensitive part of your body, is unlike anything I can adequately explain.
For that reason, I won’t bother trying to explain it and will just hope no one else has to experience this very unique situation. Use your imagination.
It took about two minutes for the roach to die (RIP, asshole). Then, using big, curved tweezers, the doctor removed a few chunks of roach. I kept my eyes shut, but each time the doctor extracted a piece, the nurses and my husband would tell me to look. Like, no thanks. Why would I want to see that?
Once three pieces of roach were removed, the doctor showed them to us on a little napkin. They were small. When intact and in all of its roach glory, I would guess that it was about the size of my pinky nail down to my first knuckle. So it wasn’t super huge—but it was still a roach. In my ear.
The medical team left my husband and me alone in the room for few minutes so that I could take a breather before doing one last check to make sure no body parts were left behind. Then, they discharged me with a prescription for oral antibiotics and a type that I would need to put directly into my ear.
Now, it was about 3:45 A.M., and my husband and I were both wide awake. We decided to take a trip to Walmart to buy earplugs. As you could probably guess, I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night.
My ear remained numb for 24 hours, but I still noticed some residual pain and crackling when I yawned after I regained feeling. No, the nightmare wasn’t over.
I assumed that my ear wouldn’t feel normal right away after the insect getting stuck and then all of the poking and prodding that was required to get it out. But as the week went on, I didn’t notice any improvement in the soreness or my ability to hear out of my left ear.
I had to see my family physician to renew my daily meds anyway. So when I went in about a week later for my appointment, I told her about my ordeal. She was horrified for me. I explained to her that I still had some lingering discomfort and hearing loss, prompting her to ask if she could peek in my ear herself to see if there was any visible damage or wax buildup.
She did see some type of blockage, so she asked a physician assistant to flush my ear in the hopes that removing any wax buildup would help my hearing and alleviate the residual pain. Once my ear had been flushed about four times, the PA used the otoscope to check inside.
The PA said she saw what she believed to be a spiky insect leg. I was grossed out and upset, but I just wanted them to get it out so the whole experience could finally be over. My physician proceeded to remove the leg and flush my ear again, only to examine it and see even more remnants. She ended up pulling out six more pieces of the roach’s carcass—nine days after the incident took place.
Remember: I was told in the ER that the entire roach had been removed. I saw the evidence myself! At the time, however, I was traumatized, tired, and weeping, so I didn’t think to really concentrate on what I was looking at. But apparently what the ER removed was not the entire roach.
After my doctor removed what she could, she kindly rubbed my back until I stopped weeping. She quietly told me there might be more in my ear and that she was going to make me an emergency ENT appointment for the same day.
I went home and tried to relax for a few hours before heading to the ENT. I kept thinking about the pieces that were extracted at the ER. Did they find the head? Antennae? I couldn’t recall. But I could only hope that the ENT would only need to remove another teensy leg or two.
Once I got situated in the fancy chair in his office later that day, the ENT placed some sort of microscope beside my ear. He didn’t say much, but he did confirm there was still “something in there.”
Using a tool that looked like very large scissors, he extracted THE ENTIRE HEAD, UPPER TORSO, MORE LIMBS, AND ANTENNAE. I just sobbed. This go-around, without a numbing agent, I could feel every extraction and hear a lovely crunching sound as the pieces were dislodged. The ENT assured me that he got all of the remaining pieces of the roach.
He also told me that he extracted bugs from peoples’ ears at least once a month—and I was the second person that day who needed it.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that so much of the roach sat in my ear for over a week and the potential infection I could have developed. I felt so lucky that my physician took the time to examine my ear again and spotted those stubborn pieces.
Now I am roach-free and feeling better. I do think that my ear will heal faster than my psyche.
I need therapy for a lot of reasons, but this experience blows all of those other reasons out of the water.
We had the pest control company come and respray our house. And while it’s doubtful that this incident will ever happen to me again, I can’t imagine sleeping without earplugs any time in the near future.
I am so grateful for my doctor as well at the ENT who fit me in for an emergency visit. They are my heroes for helping me through that very traumatic moment in my life.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to my husband, to whom I promised on our wedding day two years ago that I would always strive to make our lives interesting and adventurous. Thanks to this recent roach situation, I would say that I am exceeding expectations and am off the hook for a while.
Katie Holley is the sister-in-law of an editor at SELF.
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