Publisher’s Note: This series — “The Adventures of Crawley McPherson, Bug Man” — is a work of fiction. Crawley McPherson and all other characters in this series are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All names, places, locations and incidents are entirely fictional, and any similarity to places or people living or dead is purely coincidental.
“Look at this, Doctor,” the nurse pointed at a wound near the patient’s eye. With grave concern, she peeled back the bandage, revealing numerous cream-colored objects squirming around in a hole in the man’s flesh.
The hospital infection control doctor was horrified. He motioned for her to follow him out into the hall, where he lowered his voice. “I think they’re worms of some kind.”
“Shh, keep it down. Can you imagine what’ll happen if this gets out to the public?”
“Yes sir, that would be awful.”
“Especially if the family finds out. They could file a lawsuit.”
The doctor told her to go get a small penlight, forceps and an irrigation bottle filled with alcohol.
“Whatever they are, we’ve got to clean them out and get them identified.”
While putting on latex gloves to do the procedure, the doctor seemed to be thinking out loud. “My gosh, where did these things come from, and how did they get in this patient? Don’t we have pest control?”
Then he had another thought and turned to the nurse. “We need to get Environmental Services up here, stat! We need a thorough cleaning.”
Keep reading… (Part 2)
It was a cold February morning when Jack Blackwell, owner of Peace-of-Mind Pest Services, got the call about the problem in the nursing home wing of Elmore Memorial Hospital. Some kind of worms in a patient’s wound. The man was an elderly invalid. That was bad enough by itself, but it was Jack’s company that serviced the hospital. He had to do something right away, because the facility was a six-figure yearly account. He picked up the phone to call his technician, Brandon Mills, who serviced the hospital.
It didn’t take Jack long to remind Brandon that pest control in healthcare facilities was extremely sensitive. Health department regulators could shut the place down for pest problems like this.
“Brandon, get out there to Elmore and find out what’s going on. If bugs are showing up in patients’ wounds, then we’ve got a serious problem somewhere.”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “This is way beyond me, sir. Don’t you think this is a job for Crawley?”
“He’s good, but not very diplomatic. He might make waves among the management.”
Brandon had an answer for that. “Yes, but you could send MJ with him. She’s quite a people person.”
Keep reading… (Part 3)
William “Crawley” McPherson drove as quickly as he could to the hospital. He popped a piece of watermelon-flavored hard candy in his mouth. He needed a shot of sugar for this case. He began to fantasize that his pest management truck was a brand-new police cruiser and he was some kind of SWAT team member headed to a fight. Adrenaline coursed through his system. This is what he lived for. He had never been deterred by difficult insect problems. Ever!
MJ O’Donnell was waiting for him at the front entrance to the hospital. All sorts of thoughts ran through his mind when his eyes hit her. But really, he experienced that every time he saw her. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Why she ever decided to become a pest control technician, he’d never know.
Crawley blushed when she opened the hospital door for him, and was careful to avoid eye contact. MJ was a diva who just so happened to know a great deal about bugs, both of which intimidated him.
He didn’t want to feed the whirlwind of emotions swirling inside him, so Crawley shook his head to fling off the thoughts. He couldn’t let himself think of her in that way. She would never like a guy like me.
“Hey, Crawley. Glad you’re here.” MJ waved her arm back toward the inside of the hospital. “This is gonna be a good one.”
Crawley looked around. Got to focus on the task at hand. “Where they at?” he asked.
“This way,” she pointed. “The east wing of the hospital where the elderly reside. That’s where the patient with the bugs was located.”
As they made their way through the hospital’s maze of halls and elevators, Crawley’s eyes darted around behind his thick glasses, trying to take it all in. There were hundreds of potential harborage sites and entry points for flies and other insects. His pulse quickened. It was overwhelming. Where should he start?
A smartly dressed man and woman met them at the main office on the first floor. Introducing themselves as assistants to the hospital administrator, they promised to aid in the investigation any way they could.
“And our hospital CEO has pledged his support in this matter,” the woman added. “He said to tell you we’d provide anything you need. We’ve got to make sure this type of thing doesn’t ever happen again.”
“We appreciate that,” MJ replied, smiling. “One thing we’ll need right off is a map of all rooms on the wing and what they’re used for. We’ve got to determine where flies or other insects are entering the building, and ways to intercept them before they reach the patients.”
“We’re just here to take care of your fly problem,” Crawley said, oblivious to all the political pleasantries.
The man seemed taken aback at Crawley’s abruptness. “Who said it’s a fly problem?”
“It’s obviously fly maggots related to a fly problem.”
MJ’s eyebrows went up.
“Well, I wasn’t informed of that,” the man said. “I only was told it was worms or bugs of some kind.”
“Ain’t no worms in a person’s wound, but fly maggots sure can do that.”
The man seemed to give up. “It’s my understanding that the incident occurred in Room 235.” He looked around. “We can escort you up —”
“Where’s your dumpsters at?”
The man’s eyebrows shot up and his cheeks reddened. All graciousness now evaporated. “I can assure you our trash disposal processes are well-run and attended to.”
“Oh, I think Mr. McPherson is only suggesting that it’s important for us to consider all aspects of the hospital environmental systems,” MJ spoke calmly in Crawley’s defense. “It’s all part of our inspection process.”
Crawley was undeterred, and made his way over to one of the big windows. “Mmm. Where’s them dumpsters at? I’ve gotta look at ’em. And how could them flies be breeding outside during the winter?”
“But shouldn’t we start with the patient’s room?” the woman persisted. “That’s where the problem is.”
“Sure, I guess, but it don’t make me no nevermind. I can guarantee that’s not where the problem started.”
MJ grabbed his elbow. “C’mon, Crawley, we probably should let these nice people show us the room where the event occurred,” she soothed, “then we can look at the dumpsters. I promise.”
As the foursome walked down the hall of the second floor, Crawley noticed that everything seemed unusually clean and orderly. There were certainly no flies buzzing about.
Crawley stopped by a large metal door on hinges in the hall that seemed to be a laundry chute. “Is this a laundry chute or a garbage chute?” He pushed on the bottom of the door, causing it to swing open toward the inside.
“Uh, you’ll have to ask Environmental about that,” the man said. “I think we may have both.”
“Then where does the trash go?” Crawley asked pointedly.
The man shrugged, “Maybe it shunts it off toward the garbage dumpsters somewhere. Like I said, you’ll have to ask them that.”
Crawley blew out a long breath and started walking down the hall again. “Dumpster compactor chutes are a big problem, believe you me. There’s all sorts of fly entry points goin’ up and down ’em.” Then he noticed an ultraviolet fly trap mounted on the wall outside the stairwell, so he stopped to check its glue board for captured flies. He knew that would be a good indicator of recent fly activity.
“Yeah, buddy!” Crawley grinned. “Lookey what I found.” He displayed one of the dead flies between his thumb and index finger, which he had plucked from the glue board. He whipped out a hand lens with his other hand and examined the fly. “Uh hum, just who I thought you were … Now to find out where you came from.”
The man looked at Crawley like he was crazy.
“Oh, he just really gets into bug problems,” MJ said. “Trust me, he’ll figure it out and we’ll take care of your problem.”
Crawley continued examining the dead fly. “Uh oh, looks like Chrysomya rufifacies.” He frowned. “The hairy maggot blow fly. They’re bad … and can cause myiasis.”
MJ knew what he was talking about. That species was a common cause of fly maggot infestation in wounds, a condition called myiasis. But she also realized the administrative assistants were ready to show them the room where the patient had been located. “C’mon, Crawley. Let’s go look in the room first.”
Room 235 was empty and spotless, like a sterile lab room. There was no doubt the hospital administrator had ordered it cleaned and re-cleaned after the incident.
“Where’s the patient?” MJ asked.
“We made arrangements to have him transferred to a private facility off-campus,” one of the assistants offered. “That way, you guys can better inspect the room for fly breeding.”
Crawley wondered about that. Maybe just to get him outta here and keep the family from finding out what happened. He walked to the window and tried again to orient himself to the layout of the building and grounds.
“Don’t you think you should inspect the room for breeding sites instead of looking out the window?” the man asked.
Crawley whirled around and made a face. “Mmm. They must be from somewhere. They sure ain’t coming from in here. It’s too clean.” He looked past the man, toward the door. “Where’s the dumpsters, and how’s the trash collected and taken out of here?”
The man took out his phone. “Let me call Environmental Services. They can deal with you on that. I think we’ve done about all we can do.”
MJ intervened again. “Yes, maybe that would be the appropriate person or persons we need to work with in this important matter. We really appreciate your assistance.”
After the administrative assistants left, MJ stood right in front of Crawley to get his full attention. “Please try to be more cooperative … and … courteous. You’re going to end up causing us to lose this account.”
“I don’t care.” He shook his head like a toddler. “They don’t know nothin’ about pest control. And I do.” He brushed past her and headed to the window again. “I gotta find them dumpsters. That’s where the problem is. I guarantee.”
“Still,” MJ insisted, “it wouldn’t hurt to inspect the room and adjoining ones for flies, huh? We can do that while the Environmental people are on their way up here.”
“I guess that’d be all right, but we ain’t gonna find nothing. Them blow flies I found in that trap were coming this-a-way. Probably came up the stairwell.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re right about that. But we can still look around.”
Crawley shrugged and unwrapped another piece of candy. He needed more sugar.
Leon Williams soon showed up, finding MJ and Crawley in the bathroom inspecting tiles around the shower. “Hi there,” he greeted them. “I’m the director of Environmental Services. Finding anything?”
MJ stood to shake his hand and waved out toward the patient room. “Let’s go back out here. There’s not enough room for three people in here.”
Crawley followed them. Talk, talk, talk. That’s all everybody does around here.
Mr. Williams began retelling the entire incident in an awkward way, obviously carefully choosing his words to put the hospital in the best light possible.
Crawley suddenly jumped up and walked out the door. I’m going to find them dumpsters myself. He darted to the stairwell and ducked inside, even though he heard MJ calling after him.
Keep reading… (Part 4)
After 15 minutes of looking for Crawley up and down the halls of the unit, MJ decided it was time to call Jack. She hated to do it, but for all she knew, Crawley was in the administrator’s office right now questioning him about trash disposal.
As usual, Jack seemed irritated that she called. “Talk to me, MJ,” he said flatly.
“We need you down here at the hospital. Things aren’t going as I thought they would.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“The Environmental people seem to be trying to control where we go and what we look at —”
“Probably for liability reasons.”
“And I’ve lost Crawley,” she blurted out.
“What do you mean, you’ve lost him?”
“He walked out when the people kept trying to tell us everything over and over. They obviously have a sanitized version of the incident.”
“Oh Lord, I hope he’s not stirring up trouble. I’m on my way.”
“He’s sweet, Jack. He wouldn’t cause trouble.”
“Maybe not on purpose, but trouble seems to follow him. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Keep reading… (Part 5)
MJ and Mr. Williams met Jack outside the hospital.
“Hello, Jack.” The man extended a hand. “I’m Leon, director of Environmental Services. You and I have met before.”
“Yes, I remember you.” Jack looked at MJ. “Is everything all right? Any luck finding the source of the infestation?”
“We’ve just been looking around the building and grounds while waiting for you.”
“I presume he’s investigating on his own somewhere.”
A puzzled look crossed Mr. Williams’ face. “Can’t you just call him?”
MJ and Jack looked at each other. They both knew he wouldn’t answer a phone call while on a case like this.
“Crawley earlier insisted we look at the dumpsters,” MJ changed the subject. “Can we do that? Where are they located?”
When MJ realized Mr. Williams was confused, she tried to clarify. “We don’t know the layout of this place. Our technician, Brandon Mills, usually services this account.”
“Well sure, we can look at them,” Mr. Williams said. “This way.”
With that, he turned and headed straight inside the multi-story building.
MJ was shocked. Dumpsters inside?
Once in the building, the trio headed downstairs to a dungeon-like concrete area, with a sloping driveway from the main street to the basement.
Mr. Williams paused, and looked at MJ. “I can get you some disposable booties, if you like. It’s pretty nasty down here.”
She smiled, but shook her head, “No thanks. All part of the job.”
Further down the concrete slope, light coming from the outside partially illuminated a huge green compactor dumpster sitting in the middle of the room, with a garbage chute connecting it from above. The floor was coated with some type of gooey slime.
“Did this junk come out of that dumpster? Is it leaking?” MJ asked.
“They don’t leak,” Mr. Williams returned.
“How in the world do you empty the thing?”
“A truck comes down that slope, hooks up to it, and hauls it off twice a week.”
Just then, they saw a flashlight beam bouncing erratically along the walls and beneath the dumpster. Then they spotted the outline of a crooked little man, bent over inspecting underneath the dumpster. Crawley! How did he get down here?
When they got to him, he was holding what looked like a popsicle stick coated with about a half-inch of black goo, as if he had been digging around under the dumpster. He displayed his usual big toothy grin. “I think this is where they’re breeding at.”
“How do you know that?” Jack asked. “Have you actually seen any maggots?”
“A few, but they’re definitely up under there. I think this here dumpster box is old and cracked, and when they smash the garbage, stuff leaks out under it. Food, blood, and all sorts of stuff like that. That’s perfect breeding grounds for fly maggots.”
“I can assure you we have a contract with the dumpster company and they maintain it properly,” Mr. Williams said, frowning. “I think they even clean out from under it once a
week or so.”
“No way,” Crawley said. “There’s all sorts of gunk and waste residue in the receptacle part of this thing, and also under it. Look, I’ll show y’all.”
He then lay down flat on the floor, sticking his head and right arm way under the dumpster.
“Please don’t do that,” MJ hollered. “It’s filthy down there.”
All they could hear were garbled words coming from under the dumpster as he crawled further. Presently, he slithered back out and stood up, holding a big wad of dark goo about as big as a baseball.
“Look at your uniform!” Jack seemed indignant.
“I don’t care.” He was busy digging through the gooey mess looking for fly larvae, thrusting a goo-covered flashlight into MJ’s hands. “Hold the light for me, please.”
Sure enough, in the middle of the sample he had retrieved from under the dumpster, Crawley uncovered several creamy white, worm-like critters about a half-inch long. They were wiggling and writhing around in the gooey stuff. He carefully held up one of the maggots in MJ’s light.
“Look at them little hairs on his body.” He pointed with the other hand. “That means it’s the hairy maggot blow fly.”
Crawley puffed out his chest.
“I told y’all that’s where they was at. They wasn’t no need in spending all that time upstairs.”
“But if you’re right, how did the flies get upstairs into the patients’ rooms?” Mr. Williams asked.
Crawley looked up and pointed. “When the adult flies emerge from these here larvae, all they gotta do is fly up that chute and go out through cracks, crevices and other openings into the hospital halls.”
Mr. Williams seemed to be in shock. “Then what should we do?”
“You’ve got to clean all this up with a steam cleaner, spray the floor and walls with a good residual pesticide, and seal off
all the —”
Jack interrupted. “I think we’ve seen enough.” He reached for Mr. Williams’ elbow. “You and I can continue this conversation in your office, Leon. I can write you up a detailed pest management plan.”
Crawley fell silent.
When MJ saw the disappointment on his face, she pressed close to him and whispered, “It’s okay, Crawley.”
When they got back outside, Jack and Mr. Williams went one way and Crawley and MJ went another.
“You solved it, Crawley, and you know it.” MJ tried to console him. “You said the problem was from the dumpsters all along. I’m proud of you.”
“Mmm …” He didn’t want to talk about it. Chalk another win up for Jack, and another setback for Crawley.
He sighed. Would he ever get the recognition he so desperately needed?
Dr. Jerome Goddard is an extension medical/veterinary entomologist at Mississippi State University. He is also a PMP Hall of Famer (Class of 2012). He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.