Bugs for breakfast

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on September 19, 2018 # Health, Mobility

In the spirit of September being Spinal Cord Injury awareness month, I thought it appropriate to recount some of the misadventures I've experienced paralyzed with… Bugs. Let's face it, most of us do not care for bugs, whether it may be spiders, roly-polys, roaches, fire ants or even earwig pincher bugs. For the most part up until my spinal cord injury, bugs were bugs and I merely just avoided them. But now, the bug situation has taken on a new light as I have had some recent experiences that have tested my ability to stay calm when, paralyzed, some bugs and I have become closer than I'd like to admit.

A couple months ago, I was dead asleep in the middle of the night dreaming that something was crawling across my left cheek. Realizing the threadlike footprints moving along my facial fuzz was not a dream yet reality, I quickly opened my eyes with my heart pounding in my chest. There was a black spider crawling across my face. My paralyzed arms lay helpless under the covers and, alone in my apartment, I had no one to call for help. All I could do was lay in bed in the dark calmly waiting for my new eight-legged friend to finish his slow-moving journey across my cheek to the tip of my nose and other cheek in desperate hopes the spider would not take respite in my blonde hair. Aside from trying to blow off the little guy from my nose with my breath as he stalled there for what seemed like an eternity, I tried to remain completely calm the entire time, remembering somewhere on a National Geographic show that animals – including spiders and other bugs – can smell fear. I guess it worked as I escaped unscathed, yet completely traumatized and even worse… Wide awake at 3 AM.

Aside from spiders, my bug nemesis is the horrific and ugly earwig pincher bug. I grew up amongst rumors these black bugs with lengthy pincher extensions, if given the chance, would crawl into your ear pinching your eardrums or worse lay eggs – all the while sleeping and completely unaware of the bug invasion. My brothers probably fabricated the stories just to scare their little sister but nevertheless, even as an adult, these bugs horrify me. Earwig bugs are infamous as burrowers and are particularly startling when exposed and unearthed as they scurry away to their next dark hole. They are basically like a bug of darkness, and in my opinion, evil all the way through. So maybe it was apropos that my next bug interaction as of recent was in fact with an earwig pincher bug, yet this time the story becomes that of a horror movie.

One thing a quadriplegic has in every pocket, backpack, and drawer are straws; straws make it easy to drink when the hands don't work as well and in my case particularly helpful for a caregiver to put a drink to my mouth. Being the ultimate underground hippie and environmentalist that I am, instead of using wasteful plastic straws, I chose to invest in a wonderful collection of glass and metal straws washed daily and kept in my kitchen. I find great pride in saving mother Earth in utilizing such non-wasteful straws, yet as of recent realized an important lesson which is: earwigs like to burrow in my straws.

And so the story goes while lying flat on my back in bed the other morning and taking a sip of a protein shake at 8 AM, I inadvertently sipped into my mouth an alive earwig pincher bug that was attempting to take a new home within one of my metal straws. I will never forget the look of horror on my caregivers’ eyes as she took the moving, hard, black bug out of my mouth, screaming as the insect moved under her fingers until it had a proper burial down my bathroom sink seconds later. The irony is I thought there was a piece of plastic in my mouth, little did I know that my bug nemesis was attempting a safe haven in a device that I use for other reasons. I don't think there are words to describe the shrieks of horror from both myself and my caregiver as we realized I almost ingested an earwig bug, and more importantly that I was unable to take the bug out of my mouth on my own. All I can say is thank God she was there, thank God for Listerine mouthwash and thank God that the show Naked and Afraid has taught me never to be afraid of bugs for breakfast.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.