In August 2010, after losing my wife to a rare disease, I went to Belize to spend two weeks with a friend I’d known since childhood. He and his wife owned a resort in the jungle, and the peace and solitude were exactly what I needed. I relaxed, read, visited nearby Mayan ruins and worked on my next novel. My friend Tom and his wife gave me all the space I needed. They were ready to listen when I needed to talk, and they didn’t get concerned on the days when I stayed on the porch of my cabana gazing at the Macal River until cocktail hour.
Other guests arranged an overnight trip to Tikal, Guatemala and since I’d never been, I tagged along. We were fortunate to be able to get rooms at Tikal Inn, a very basic resort inside the national park that contains the vast complex of ruins. Staying there gave us the privilege of remaining inside Tikal after the park closed at dusk. We sat on ruins and watched toucans bringing their babies back to the nests. In the trees above, howler monkeys screamed at each other and at us – the intruders in their domain.
We went back to the little inn, had a late dinner and were told to hurry back to our rooms, because the generators would be turned off in thirty minutes. We brushed our teeth, showered and found our flashlights because at ten sharp the place fell into a deep, utter darkness. The sound of insects was everywhere – an important thing to note for my story – and I lay on what was a glorified cot in a “cabin” consisting of four wooden walls up about four feet, and screen wire from there on up to the roof. There was no air conditioning and I slept most of the night naked and without covers – another important thing to note.
On the trip back to the border the next day, I noticed a bright red spot in the fleshy part of my chest just below the sternum. I’d been bitten, perhaps by a spider. My friends at the resort told me to keep an eye on it, and over the remaining days of my trip, nothing happened.
Three months later I began to experience the most unusual pain I had ever felt. For a split-second, I would get a sharp pain from that part of my chest so intense I would cry out. I noticed the spot was bigger and it had a small hole in the middle, resembling a tiny red volcano. I had the sharp pains once or twice every day but one morning in the bathroom when I wasn’t wearing a shirt, I felt the pain and looked. Something tiny and white was coming out of that tiny hole in the volcano!
I looked more closely, but now it was gone. Had I seen something? I went to my doctor, told him I thought something was inside of me, and he looked skeptical. He cut into the hole, found nothing and packed it with gauze. I was sent home with instructions to remove the packing every day and repack it until it healed.
The pains continued and one morning as I removed all the gauze with a tweezers, I prepared the new packing and looked down. I’d missed a little gauze, I thought when I saw something white. I plucked at it and pulled out the most disgusting thing a person needs to find inside his own body. I learned later (from my stepson, who was watching a series called The Monsters Within Us) that I’d been bitten by a botfly in Guatemala. They’re common in Central America, often biting livestock and sometimes humans too. I learned from some Belizeans that the nasty critter had laid eggs inside my chest! I should have dealt with it – squeezing the sore like a pimple until the inhabitants came out – but instead I let it grow and grow for months. Eventually the little babies needed air, and every time I felt the sharp intense pain, it meant one or more of them had come up to the surface. They were burrowing out through that tiny hole.
I still have the egg sac (see photo) and a little scar on my chest to remind me about checking the screen wire if I’m staying outdoors in the jungle. Or not sleeping naked. Or without covers. Or without insecticide.
Like the Monkees in their hit song, when it comes to botflies, I’m a Believer.