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A small incident involving my head Aug 11, 2009   Travel

There was a bit of a problem with a part related to electricity on our plane from Newark to Copenhagen. The pilot tried restarting the entire system by shutting down everything and then starting it up again. But that did not really help. A part was indeed broken and so we were stuck in an airplane, in the sun, with bad air conditioning… I think for about four hours?

I kept sending emails and little sms messages back home and to the office, until the electricity on the blackberry ran out as well, so I reached for the iPod, the trusted little friend, to teach me some Japanese. Real beginner stuff; I can barely count to three. (And that’s probably because I am also a bit of a Mr. itchy knee.)

The earphones I have had for my iPod for a long time now are rather great. They really block out noise without requiring batteries. That’s why I got them. I can push them really deep into my ear canal and the world around me quiets down; so the music, or in this case a person counting in Japanese becomes really loud and clear.

Things were going okay, until one of the ear plugs fell out of my ear. The right one just fell out onto the seat. Very annoying because it did not just fall out, it also lost that rubber piece that actually makes the noise cancellation so good.

How was I going to find a little rubber piece stuck somewhere in the seat of a plane, stuck in the airport, with the night really setting in now, and the sweatiness level increasing all around me?
I tried to just move as little as possible. Perhaps the piece fell actually onto me. Maybe it was just there, all I needed to do it to look really thoroughly.
It took me probably a minute to realize that the the piece was not really as lost as I at first thought.

It had never actually fallen out really.
The rubber piece was simply stuck.
In my head.
I could now feel it with the tip of my finger.
A rubbery piece, fitted very snugly in the depths of my head.
Now that was a bit of an unpleasant feeling.

Great. So here I had an adventure on top of an adventure.
I had to share the story with someone. Hopefully someone who could somehow help me. Oh yes, tweezers are no longer permitted on airplanes.

A very friendly flight assistant, she could have been a long lost sister of pippi longstocking with dyed hair, seemed to react to my story and the way I told it.
Here was my iPod. There were my earplugs. One of them was missing a piece.
“Do you know where I lost the piece?”
I would then point to my right ear.
“It is stuck in here.”

She wanted to help me. Flight attendants are apparently allowed to bring tweezers on board. She began to ask her fellow flight attendants is they had a “pinzette” that word is apparently the same in Polish and in Danish.
(“Tak” means “Thank you” in Danish, yet “Yes” in Polish. And I wonder why.)

I went to the bathroom to check if I was perhaps able to see the object in my ear. The bathrooms on SAS airplanes are rather huge by airline standards. Two windows, all around mirrors. Do I need to say more?
I could not see the piece in my ear. Maybe a shadow. Maybe there were too many mirrors I had to use to actually see anything. All I could really see was that I am losing hair in the back of my head as well.
Big time.

The bathroom did not contain a “Pinzette” just a few towels (frottee), some lotions, cups, some abandoned sewing kit, a shaving kit. Nothing useful really, unless I wanted to sew up or shave my ears.

I left the bathroom and ran into the flight attendant again. She had rubber gloves on, and indeed a nice little Pinzette. She looked excited.
We looked for the brightest spot nearby. It happened to be in front of the still open door of the airplane. We were still grounded. Three airport workers spoke with the purser of the flight, a woman in her 50’s maybe, wearing a butter colored dress that somehow matched the idea that butter might have been one of her favorite food groups.
The purser should have been the calmest person on the plane, but she somehow managed to make everyone slightly nervous, trying to look friendly when it was a bit obvious that it did not really come easy for her.

“I have to tell my boss what I am going to do,” said my rubbergloved flight attendant.
I was seated on one of those jump seats the crew has to tie themselves to during the very moment of takeoff and landing.
The purser did not really seem to care what was about to happen, and so the flight attendant lowered herself to my height and began operation earplug.
I obviously could not see what she was doing, but it appeared that she was not really pinching the rubber piece very hard, and it kept slipping out of the grip of her tweezers.
What kind of tweezers were they anyway? They looked a bit like the cosmetic equivalent of a hammerhead shark. What I was looking for was something pointy and strong, this was not really going to happen?

“What are you doing?” The purser was here now. She had completed her chat with the airport workers and we were apparently the next little vignette in her walk of worry through the more and more chaotic airplane.
“The tweezers are too big.” My friendly flight attendant said.
A brief exchange in Danish, or Swedish followed.
The flight attendant looked at me.
“Are you American Sir?”
I was not sure what she meant by that. I am a legal resident. I am a New Yorker… well,
“I guess I am almost an American, yes, you can speak English to me, why?”
I hoped that was the right answer.
The purser looked at my friendly flight attendant.
“Stop helping him right now. If you make a mistake he is going to sue you.”
Her English was not fantastic, but clearly some understanding of the world was really somehow simple…
(And I had apparently not given the correct answer.)
“Maybe we should just…” and she made a movement with her hand that somehow indicated that she would just like to slap me in my face. …
“We can’t do this here right now. Get back to your seat Sir. We will now serve dinner. We will deal with this after dinner.”
My poor helper had to take off her rubber gloves… “Don’t worry, I have children. I take stuff out of their noses all the time.”

Dinner was served.

I felt worse and worse.
What would happen once we closed the airplane door? What happens to the ear canal after takeoff? The pressure changes. And then what?
Was I destined to carry a piece of rubber in my head for the next few days?
What if it moved further inward?
I was not sure, but there was just a slightly uncomfortable sensation about all this.
Was I going to lose my balance?
My hearing?

I could not have dinner before I resolved the issue.
The sewing kit in the bathroom could actually be the answer.
I locked myself in and found the abandoned sewing kit again.
Several colors of thread, two needles, two small white plastic buttons, a small golden safety pin.
There was a solution in here somewhere.

I opened the safety pin and bent it to be more of a straight piece of golden wire with a point. I then inserted the point into one of the little buttons and bent it into shape until I has a golden little tool, a hook custom made to remove rubber objects out of my ear.
I obviously did not want anything sharp to go deep into my ear canal. The bent hook seemed like just the right thing to do.
I decided to not rely on any of the mirrors. They would just confuse me. I would probably end up poking myself in the eye.
So with closed eyes and as gently as I could, I slowly began to look for something that would give the hook just the right amount of resistance.
It was very obvious when the point touched the skin in my ear. It did not really hurt, it just allowed me to somehow create a bit of a mental picture of my ear canal.
After several attempts, the hook gripped something.
I pulled on it gently. A sound as if I were pulling out a shoe out of mud told me that I was indeed pulling something.
Then the hook slipped.
Okay, I had to try again.
I must have attempted to penetrate the rubber with the hook about eleven times. It was a fascinating experience in reality perception really.
There was the resistance, the hook was penetrating the material, there was more resistance, I pulled… the loud noise, the pleasant feeling of a foreign object being removed from the body…
a little more, a little more…
and there is was.
The result of my fishing expedition was in my hand, stuck onto the end of a golden hook. I had managed to bring myself into a dumb situation, but I also managed to get myself out of it somehow.
A pleasant feeling.

When I left the bathroom, there were three flight attendants looking at an instruction manual of sorts. “We are looking for safe instructions how to remove the object from your ear.”
I showed them my little contraption.
My friendly flight attendant looked like she really wanted to hug me. I guess we were all relieved, but it would be a bit odd to hug someone because I just managed to pull a piece of rubber out of my ear.
So we did not hug.
She rubbed my shoulder.
I rubbed her shoulder.
We were both very happy this had all happened without any interference of the purser.
And actually before dinner!

For the rest of the flight, all of the flight attendants came by to see me. Some of them just looked at me, most pointed to their left or right ear and either smiled, or had an inquisitive expression on their face. Their lips would move, but they would not utter a sound. “Are you okay?” “How is your ear?”
It was pretty obvious what they were asking. The words were overly expressive.
Yes, I still had my ear.
And I can still hear.
All of my actions might have actually been very dangerous though.
On a tiny scale, of course.
Compared to us riding on two jet engines across the ocean.
But it was a personal story.

The ear incident.

We arrived in Aalborg about 23 hours after leaving the office at 2pm.
The baggage did not make it;
but that’s not that special.

As I am writing this, the suitcase was actually delivered by the friendly SAS staff.

And Aalborg is alive tonight.

I will need to finish writing now.
Tomorrow will be a truly fascinating day.

New York (Ear Tool) 2009


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