There are no words in English that can describe the feeling of a moth dying in your ear canal. But let’s start at the beginning.
On the morning of June 28th, 2011, 12-year-old Wade Shlote woke up with a moth in his ear that he couldn’t get out. It hurt him terribly, confounded the ER doctors, and made the local news.
Two months later, two thousand miles to the east and on the 10,570th day of my life, another moth made a very poor and wholly traumatizing decision when it flew into, and got lodged in, my motherf*cking ear.
We were out celebrating Jessie’s 29th birthday. We grabbed Mexican food at Lauriol Plaza and hit up Muzette in Adam’s Morgan for a private karaoke room. At 10:30 PM, stuffed with enchiladas and Korean translations of “My Heart Will Go On,” we all parted ways.
As I made my way to the car, a winged spawn of Hell, descended from the flying dactyls of Hades himself, made a 100mph entrance into my most private of places. I recoiled as though I’d been shot, pawing dumbly at the side of my head as my wife and friends looked on in shock. Had a bomb been detonated? Had I blown an ear drum somehow? Had karaoke, my most mortal musical enemy, finally dealt me a killing blow?
The entire left side of my face was rattling and buzzing. Something was literally beating my eardrum, and it slowly dawned on me that, no, this was not some weird chemical imbalance or temporary aberration; there was a motherflipping moth in my motherflipping ear.
It is hard to find the words to describe what its like having a living creature forcibly occupy your insides, let alone beat its wings like a thunder god against your ear canal. Every time he flapped his wings my entire body bent sideways, my hands clawing and scrambling at my ear trying to get it out. It wasn’t just uncomfortable, it really hurt! Add to it that the whole time I was so grossed out I could nearly puke, and you have the makings of both a horror movie and my life.
Panicked, we abandoned our friends and I drove like a madman to the nearest CVS. Jess, sizzled on her birthday drinks, ran out and came back with a bag full of ear wax remover and Q-tips. By this point I was equal parts crying and yelling, and I dumped literally half a bottle of the remover into my ear. The moth, clearly panicking at the rising water level in this new and not entirely comfortable new habitat, went into wing-flapping overdrive and for ten minutes it was Star and Stripes Forever in my inner-ear. I turned on the flashlight on my iPhone and held it up to my ear, trying to coax the damn thing out. “Follow the light, dammit! Follow the light!”
Well, he found the light alright. In my ear all fell silent, a dull ache the only indication that something was amiss.
That’s right. Some men get tattoos to show how hardcore they are. But me? I drowned a moth in my ear canal. I have nothing left to prove.
The best, though, was getting to the ER and being told what else they pull out of people’s ears. A short list includes ants, spiders, moths and, brace yourself, cockroaches. It’s these kinds of conversations that leave me wanting to spend the rest of my life wearing ear muffs.
I checked in, got my bracelet, sheepishly explained how I was in a particular kind of agony because a bleeping moth flew into my ear, and after answering some questions about all my prior surgeries (I failed to see what an appendectomy in 1999 had to do with an invasion of my ear canals) I was led back to one of the rooms where a kindly ER resident named Dr. Mark told me to lie on my side while he investigated my ear.
“Oh yeah,” he said while peering in, “definitely something in there. I’ll be right back.”
He returned a few seconds later with what looked like a long-nosed bottle opener, told me to relax, and proceeded to nearly kill me while removing the dead moth from my head. I cannot even begin to tell you how much this prodding hurt. And I really tried to man up about it, too, taking a deep breath and everything, but when he pulled on the bug I yelped and growled like an angry dog and Jess had to hold my hand so I didn’t shoot up and give him a colorful talking-to about ear etiquette (there’s really only one rule, and that is the only thing that gets to go in my ear is sound, a rule that was broken not once by three times tonight). The moth, apparently not content to just enter my ear, had made a break for my brain, China, or both and lodged itself against my eardrum.
Finally, though, Dr. Mark saved the day and retrieved the intruder. It was literally over half an inch long, and we all looked at it with a mixture of pride and disgust, like one might the technical specifications of a nuclear-tipped bunker buster.
Dr. Mark left to do the paperwork, and I just stood there for awhile, estimating how long the hot shower would need to be before I started to feel normal again. Anything shorter than two hours isn’t going to cut it, I thought.
As I was standing there, another thought caught me. Moths are attracted to flame, to light, even when it means going to their deaths. The darkness of an ear would seem an unlikely place for a moth to go, so what did this little moth see inside my ear that attracted him so? What light was he following? What illumination in there captured his attention?
One thing is for sure, however. I will never ever use the phrase “put a bug in his ear” ever again…