Experience: A cockroach got stuck in my ear

It clawed further in, burrowing deeper with its mouth. It was excruciatingly painful

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 older-style house, which, for ventilation, had a gap of about 45 cm 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 puzzled, but I knew something was in there. It was hard to know what it was; my thumb didn’t go in far enough to attain contact, but it felt like the inside of my ear had swollen up.

I afterward learned that a 2cm bush cockroach had flown over the top of my wall. My ceiling fan likely blew it straight on to my head and I must have brushed the side of my face with my hand, which frightened 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 alternative 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 severely incorrect. I suspected it was an bug, but when it stopped burrowing, the pain is away. I had to be at work- at a scaffolding warehouse- in four hours, so I lay back down. But within 15 -2 0 minutes it started burrowing again.

That happened over and over again, and each time the pain get worse. I shook my head to try to get onto 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 annoyed the thing in my ear, the more pain it caused me.

Then I supposed: I’ll flush it out. I set my head in the sink, and filled my ear up with water, but that irritated the glitch more than anything. The pain crippled me. I dropped to a foetal position and my muscles started going to get cramp. 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 4.30 am. 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 assured me within five minutes.

A doctor investigated my ear and was amazed to find a cockroach in there.( I was alleviated 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 petroleum into my ear. It took about 15 minutes for the cockroach to succumb. The ache I’d felt up to that point was nothing compared to the ache I felt while the cockroach was in its death throes. Eventually, it stopped moving. The doctor slowly depicted it out with a pair of long tweezers. It felt really good.

The doctor said the cockroach was likely one of the largest bugs she’d ever heard of being in someone’s ear. It’s a strange commendation. 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 inconvenience 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 became aware 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.

* As tell to Sophie Haydock.

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