When I was in my twenties, I often traveled to Israel to visit with friends. It was a four-hour flight from Munich, where I lived. You had to be at the airport at least three hours in advance, because EL AL and any other airline to Israel left from a special terminal with special requirements. In those days it was only the flights to Israel; today we all know what those special requirements are because we go through them every time we fly pretty much anywhere.
I got on the El Al flight, found my seat somewhere in the middle of the plane by a window, and began to read. We were mid-air when a drop of blood fell on the page.
Normally, my nosebleeds were not just a few drops and that’s it. My nosebleeds consisted of flowing blood, and blood clots the size of golf balls clogging my throat and making me gag, forcing me to hold my head over the sink and just let the blood flow. This would be a problem on the plane.
Hopefully, this one won’t be that bad, I thought, discretely asking the stewardess for more tissues after exhausting my supply.
“Here,” the stewardess said, handing me two or three napkins. Noticing what I needed them for she said, “Your nose is bleeding. I’ll get you some ice.”
“Fraulein,” the woman in the seat behind me said, speaking German with a Yiddish accent, “put your head back and apply pressure to your nose. Go ahead, do it,” she insisted.
I thanked her and did as she said.
“No, no,” my neighbor quickly contradicted, “best is to bend your head and apply ice to the nap of the neck.” Then he shouted, “Stewardess where’s that ice!?”
She arrived with ice wrapped in a towel. My neighbor kindly placed it on the nap of my neck, gently tilting my head forward. But the stewardess was still standing there and said, “make sure you put the ice on your forehead.” She waited until I did exactly that.
The minute she left, my neighbor removed the ice from my forehead and placed it back where it was, on the nap of my neck adding, “she shouldn’t see as many nosebleeds as I’ve seen in my life.”
Suddenly, a short, balding man stood in the isle.
“Fraulein, did I hear your nose is bleeding? I’m a doctor. Don’t put the ice on your neck; squeeze the bridge of your nose for five minutes. That’ll do it.”
The woman across the isle shouted, “I raised five children and what always worked was ice on the temples, and head back.”
“You have five children,” the doctor repeated turning to the mother of five, “and a doctor’s advice isn’t worth anything?”
The woman sitting in the seat behind me chimed in, “Why should a doctor know better? Do doctors give birth?” This was a direct jab at the short, balding man standing in the isle.
A woman’s voice from somewhere in the plane shouted, “I used to have nosebleeds all the time. Just don’t do anything and it’ll stop!”
“Let me tell you,” the man passing in the isle said, almost in a whisper, as if he were flying under the radar (no pun intended) while the others in the crowd argued their point, “I’m a lawyer. You could tilt your head in all directions, but is that the solution? Will the nosebleed stop? I doubt it. Better you should stick a piece of tissue in your nostrils and keep your head straight. No need to tilt.” He was on his way to the restroom, or so it conveniently seemed.
On the way back to his seat, the lawyer joined the stewardess, the balding doctor, the woman sitting behind me, my neighbor, the mother of five and a few more people standing in the isle next to my row pleading their case for nosebleeds. By now, my head was bobbing in all directions, trying to keep up with everybody’s suggestions, or rather everybody’s orders.
I sat in my seat on the verge of suffocating, not because I was tilting my head first to the back and then to the front, moving the ice from my forehead to the nap of my neck, to my temples and squeezing the bridge of my nose all at once; but rather because my oxygen supply had been seriously compromised due to the concentration of people in my section of the plane. The vent above my head hissed furiously, trying to keep up with the air intake of the surrounding debating team.
Then, the nosebleed stopped.
“Ah! You see? “ My neighbor shouted as if speaking to everyone else but me, “I told you putting ice in the nap of the neck works.”
“When did the nosebleed stop? Was it two minutes ago or before that?” The lawyer asked.
"It stopped when she did what I told her to do,” the woman sitting in the seat behind me quickly replied, also loud enough for all to hear.
Finally I found the courage to speak up, fearing the gathering in the isle would never leave if I didn't put an end to this.
“I think I need to rest a little now," I said, and turned towards the window, closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.
The crowd dispersed but no without a final remark from the mother of five.
“Thank goodness she didn't throw up. I don't think anyone would have known what to do."