The thought of having a bug crawl in your ear is nightmarish for many people, but for Katie Holley of Melbourne, Florida, that nightmare recently became a reality.
This week, Holley penned a surprisingly hilarious essay for Self.com about waking up one night in April feeling "a weird movement" in her ear, as if something were burrowing inside. She rushed to the bathroom for a cotton swab and gently wiped inside her ear. On the swab she saw two "skinny black lines" that looked an awful lot like roach legs.
"I started to hyperventilate," Holley told TODAY. Her husband, Jordan, was soon awake, peering inside her ear with his iPhone's flashlight. Within moments, Jordan calmly announced he could see the back end of a palmetto bug, a type of cockroach familiar to anyone who's lived in the Sunshine State and other hot, humid climates.
As Holley went into "meltdown" mode, Jordan, a percussionist with steady hands, gently inserted tweezers in her ear to try to grab the roach. "I was kind of twitching because the roach was twitching," Holley recalled. "I don't want to say it hurt, but it was very uncomfortable and strange and also uncomfortable psychologically."
Jordan extracted one of the roach's leg, then another, before the couple decided they'd better drive to the ER of a nearby hospital. On the way, Holley felt the bug wriggle angrily. "I could feel its arms or whatever, and probably its antennae moving. I could hear it all, too," she said.
In the waiting room, she forced herself to think rationally.
"I was weeping. I was completely traumatized, but I was still smart enough to know, 'OK, this is disgusting but I'm not in a life-or-death situation. They don't bite. It's not going to lay eggs in my ear. It's not going to touch my brain. That's not how the ear canal works!'" she recalled.
When she finally she saw a doctor, he applied Lidocaine, a local anesthetic, to her ear to numb it — and to kill the roach.
"He poured it in and for about two minutes, I felt (the roach) thrashing about, which is disgusting," she said. "Then he removed it in three small pieces and told me that was it. He was like, 'We got it all!'"
Unfortunately, Holley's relief didn't last long.
Nine days later, at her own doctor's office, Holley revealed she was still experiencing a "heaviness" in her ear as well as residual pain. An examination of her ear revealed something dark still wedged inside. "That's when I started weeping again," Holley said, laughing.
After flushing Holley's ear, the doctor began removing additional roach parts — six pieces in all. Seeing still more, she arranged for Holley to visit an ear, nose and throat specialist that afternoon.
The ENT went to work immediately. "He grabbed these crazy looking curved scissors ... and he had me lay on my side and ... and he pulled out the head and upper torso and two-inch antennae. All in one piece," she said. "And that was it."
Unfortunately, without Lidocaine the second time around, Holley could feel — and hear — everything the doctors did, which she says was the most traumatizing part of her ordeal.
"I could literally hear the sounds of the legs being dragged against my ear canal and feel the crunch of it," Holley said. "It's disgusting. It's horrible!"
But the ENT also shared some info that made her feel less alone: It's not all that rare for bugs to crawl into people's ears. In fact, he removed one from another patient's ear earlier that day.
"It didn't make me feel better," said Holley, who now sleeps with cotton balls stuffed in both ears, "but I was like, 'OK, I'm not the only person this has ever happened to. At least there's somebody else out there.'"