When a Gnat Flies in Your Ear

The story I’m about to tell happened late in August, on a night so delightfully cool that I decided to shut off the air conditioner and sleep with the windows open.

I’d turned off my nightstand lamp and was in the process of fist-beating my feather pillow into just the right shape so that I could lay my head on it and know it would stay that way. That’s true of feather pillows but not true of those filled with foam rubber, which are what I slept on as a child. They’re so bouncy you can’t ever get comfortable and besides that, they smell funny. Rubbery, you might say.

When I was in high school in the early 1970s, girls’ hair styles required sleeping, or trying to sleep, in huge purple plastic rollers held in place with bobby pins and gobs of Dippity-do. With those rollers mashed between your skull and a foam rubber pillow, it was impossible to get a good night’s rest but I, for one, thought the payoff worth the price. Though my mother disagreed and didn’t hesitate to say so, she eventually bought me a feather pillow that I could mash into a tight ball under my face, leaving the hair rollers suspended in air and allowing me a few hours of shut-eye.

But I digress. Flash forward fifty years from high school, to the aforementioned night when I was lying in the cool darkness of my bedroom, with not a single roller in my hair, enjoying the frog symphony in the nearby lake and woods. Suddenly, without warning, something flew straight into my right ear and set to buzzing.

Naturally, my first inclination was to stick my pinkie in my ear and dig out the offender, which was almost certainly a gnat that had made its way in through the screen. But wait. Might digging for the gnat with my finger not push it further in? And wouldn’t a Q-tip do exactly the same thing? The buzzing intensified and was soon accompanied by a bizarre vibration. This was getting scary. Perhaps I should shine a light in my ear and hope the gnat would fly toward it. Moths and beetles do that, so surely it was worth a try with a gnat. I groped around in the darkness and found my cell phone, which has an impressively bright light and is just the right size to shine into an ear. But though I held it there for what seemed like hours, the buzzing never let up.

Perhaps, I thought, I should squirt peroxide or rubbing alcohol in my ear to drown the gnat. Sadly, the only squirter I could find was a toy water gun with a broken and thus useless trigger.

I began to ponder exactly how far a gnat could travel into the ear canal and how much damage it could do once it got way down in there. It couldn’t make it all the way to my brain, right? What if it was a female gnat looking for a place to lay eggs? That would be horrible. Or what if the gnat died in my ear and caused an infection? Though this likely wasn’t a 9-1-1 emergency, maybe I should get up and drive myself to the hospital and let a medical professional take a look.

As a last resort before doing that, and with the buzzing and vibrating continuing, I lay on my right side and scrunched my pillow into a ball under my face, just as I’d done when I wore the purple plastic hair rollers all those years ago. Maybe gravity would work its magic. And you know what? Despite the buzzing, I quickly fell fast asleep and awoke the next morning with the sun shining in through my open widows and no noise in my ear.

I suppose I’ll never know what happened to that gnat. But so far, so good.

(September 17, 2022)