With a sonorous smack, Whitey smashed the spider and squished it between his palm and the white brick wall. This act was preceded by a yelp of surprise and disgust at the presence of the offending arachnid, and with the intruder successfully dispatched, a shout of victory clamored from his throat. He unceremoniously swiped his hand across his pant leg so as to be rid of the evidence of his kill before folding his arms over his chest and settling back to continue watching his television program.
A few minutes later, my name was hollered thrice in quick succession followed by a frantic, imperative instruction to “come here.” I climbed down from my perch on the top bunk and crossed the floor of the six-man cell I shared with Whitey and four other men. Whitey was on the top bunk across from me with his back to me. Standing next to his bunk, I inquired, “What’s up?” but before he could answer or I could add any follow-up queries, I looked up at his face and cussed involuntarily and vociferously.
“Is there something wrong with my eye?” Whitey asked, a tremor of fearful uncertainty in his voice. It would’ve been a comically absurd question if his appearance hadn’t been so truly horrifying.
After having smeared the spider’s innards against the wall, apparently some of those remains stayed on Whitey’s hand even after he wiped it on his pants. When he innocently and nonchalantly rubbed his eye, he also inadvertently transferred spider residue directly onto the sensitive tissue of his right eye resulting in a nearly immediate reaction and an alarmingly ample amount of swelling. Of course all of this was surmised by me in hindsight. In the immediacy of the moment, I had no idea what was happening or why, but it looked like Whitey’s eyeball was about to burst out of its socket. My definitive response resounded throughout the cell.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed.
Perhaps not my most eloquent phrasing, but it was effective in gaining the attention of the other guys in the room who all suddenly wanted to peek and gawk at the prodigious protuberance which had until recently been as plain as any other eyeball. I watched it swell larger, pushing itself outward against the suddenly claustrophobic confines of the orbital bones. I couldn’t believe it was still clinging to its place inside Whitey’s skull and hadn’t already plunked out of its home and onto Whitey’s cheek. Despite having taken a First Aid and First Responders course on two separate occasions, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t recall any chapter or lecture that covered bulging eyeballs. My CPR training and certification was both lapsed and entirely useless. For a long moment all I could do was stare transfixed and helpless at the gross distortion of my friend Whitey’s face.
Eventually I managed to take some initiative and send someone scurrying down the hallway to get a C/O. When the C/O arrived, he looked and sounded supremely annoyed as he inquired about the “so-called ‘Medical Emergency.’” One look at Whitey’s deformed features froze him in his spot for an instant before he retreated wordlessly and with extreme haste back to where he’d come from. Stunned silence filled the room. Within two minutes, the C/O came charging back to the cell, keys jangling a racket as they rattled on his belt. He ordered Whitey to follow him, said that he’d be going to Healthcare immediately, and a van was coming to carry him there. To the officer’s credit, he told Whitey not to bother putting his prison blues on—the uniform an inmate must wear when venturing outside his building—and instead hustled Whitey up the hall simultaneously leading, dragging, and pushing him until he was out the door and on his way towards treatment.
In Healthcare, they determined that the spider guts were indeed the culprit, and pumped Whitey full of antihistamine to combat his adverse reaction. He was kept several hours for observation, but was back on his bunk before night’s end with the swelling having mostly diminished.
I often use this as a cautionary tale, and whenever I kill a bug—even when I smack it with a shoe and use toilet paper to dispose of the corpse—I was my hands vigorously with soap and hot water afterwards. The memory of Whitey’s wonky eyeball is enough to always make me scrub just a little bit harder.