2011.07.27 Let me plant a bug in your ear

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

“Let me plant a bug in your ear.”

That’s a phrase my sister Diane doesn’t want to hear. She’s had enough of it.

I was at Diane’s cottage part of the weekend for a rare gathering of Green children. Dan was in from Seattle. Tom was in from Minnesota. I left Morenci for a few hours.

Tom emerged from his tent around 4 a.m. Saturday for a bathroom visit and encountered his sister in the kitchen. 

“Good morning,” Diane said, followed by, “I have an insect in my ear.”

She could feel it moving around. She could hear it emitting an occasional squeaking sound. It was driving her buggy.

They asked Mr. Google for some assistance and somewhere read that inserting a blade of grass would offer a pathway to freedom for the little critter.

They also read that it might work to shine a light into the ear. That would do one of two things: attract the visitor toward the light or repel it deeper into the ear canal.

I hadn’t thought much about bugs in ears before Saturday morning. That must mean that I’ve never experienced it. Nose and throat? Sure. Many times. Ears? No recollection.

Not everyone is in that position. Travis, my niece’s husband, was quick with a story of a moth that disappeared into one of his ears while hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail with his brother. It was an immense moth, he said, and it was most impressive when the creature emerged and flew away. Actually, he said it nearly made his brother sick.

That sounds like the stuff from which myths are made and there are plenty of good stories about insects in ears. It’s even a topic on the Snopes “urban legend” website.

There was one of those “please read this and send it to everybody else in the world” warnings two summers ago about eating candy at bedtime.

The e-mail tells the fearsome tale of a little boy who fell asleep with sweets in his mouth or near his pillow.

“Ants soon got to him and some ants in fact crawled into his ear which somehow managed to go to his brain. When he woke up, he did not realize that ants had gone to his head.”

Such good writing. A subsequent X-ray discovered ants crawling around in his skull, but surgery was impossible because the ants kept moving. Eventually the boy died of Ant Brain. I’m sure this e-mail, like all of this sort of letter, attracted many believers, or suckers as they’re often called.

That wasn’t the end of the story. Incident Two told the horrifying tale of a hospital patient in Taiwan. He left food by his bedside and once again, “Ants finally got to him.”

Of course he died and the autopsy showed ants living in his head, slowly eating bits of his brain.

The conclusion: “So friends, better be safe than sorry. Never leave food stuff beside your bed when you go to sleep.”

There’s the infamous tale of explorer John Speke who wrote about a beetle that entered his his ear while searching for the source of the Nile River. 

“He began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in.”

His face became contorted. He couldn’t chew. He was nearly deaf for several months. A hole developed between his ear and nose that made an audible whistle. And so forth, but he lived.

There’s a variety of self-help advice on the internet. For example: Kill the insect first. Another example: Do not kill the insect. Don’t use a vacuum. Don’t poke at it with a cotton swab. Use mineral oil. Don’t use oil. 

Diane and Tom were about to go to Step #5: Seek medical advice, but instead, Step #1 came through: Stay Calm. Diane managed to do this which apparently allowed time for the bug to orient itself and leave on its own.

A small ant finally emerged, and we hope Diane has learned not to go to bed with candy in her mouth.

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