New insect hospital raises eyebrows, if not bugs

Gandhi once said that a society can be judged by how it treats its animals. If so, Green Lake has moved up a notch on the grand countdown of civilizations, now that drifter Patti Jo Bedford has opened up the Green Lake Insect Hospital.

“Careful with this one, Ben,” Bedford warns her assistant, Nurse Ben “Skippy” Reed, as they deftly hoist a wounded cricket onto the operating table. Reed examines the creature as Bedford shows me a number of waiting patients- two apparently dead flies, a male mantis with no head and a grasshopper who the doctor describes as “testy.” “This is a typical night,” Bedford says, “but of course, when you’re in medicine like we are, you learn to expect anything and everything.” She turns back to find Reed shouting “oops!” and holding two cricket legs in his hands. “Anything and everything, see what I mean?”

Bedford grew up in the “bug country” of central Illinois, where she spent her days outside, “getting bit and stung by everything under the sun. Ticks, bees, hornets, horseflies, you name it. I got bit by spiders- they’re nasty, nasty bugs. But I always felt like the attacks weren’t out of anger. It felt more like the bugs were drawn to me, like I had a special bond with them.”

Bedford tried to parlay that bond into a career as an exterminator, but her compassion for insects, not to mention her lack of training or required licensing, led to the end of Bedford Pest Control. Frustrated, out of money and bored, Bedford began throwing her equipment off of an Illinois freeway overpass. Reed, a drifter who was “trying to hitchhike all the way to Bangkok” was knocked unconscious by the falling brushes and spray tools, and their unique relationship was born. “It’s a relationship born of bad times, but also love,” says Reed. “Wait, not love… sex. Like, all the time. Cool, huh?”

It’s a cool fall evening, and the mood is tense in Intensive Care. “Hold on, June bug! Damn it, we’re losing him, Skippy,” cries Bedford as she and Reed try to stave off the demise of a bug missing three legs and cut in half. She tries a last-ditch graft of a moth’s wing, but Reed stumbles over an operating table and accidentally stabs the bug through the abdomen. The Green Lake Insect Hospital hasn’t saved any bugs yet, but not for want of trying. “Kids bring in sick bugs all the time,” says Bedford, “and when things get slow, the kids whack some critters and bring ‘em in so we get practice.” “I don’t know if it’s luck or not, we get to cut a lot of things open, and that’s enough for me. Watch this!” says Reed, as he holds a wasp upside down. “They aren’t so tough when you- YEAOWWW!”

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