As we boarded the plan from Lukla back to Katmandu, we all felt happy with the high of having made it to Everest Base Camp. I was still nervous about the short flight in the tiny, unpressurized plane but I figured that odds were with us and we already had to worst behind us.
As we boarded the plane we talked excitedly about our plans for arriving in Katmandu. Hot showers, good food, and a day of relaxing. We couldn’t have been more excited.
The plane took off and we cruised up to the now familiar view of the Himalayan Mountains. The flight was short, and within twenty minutes we were approaching Katmandu. I started to feel a pressure in my ears – the feeling you get as they start to pop. I’ve never had a problem with my ears popping on flights before, but for some reason this time I could not clear them. I tried swallowing, pretending to chew and plugging my nose while blowing against my ears.
As the plane started to land, the pressure built more and more until it was all I could think about. I pressed my hands on either side of my head and squeezed as hard as could until the wheels touched down. Finally, with a huge painful pop and a rush of air I felt my ears clear. Immediate relief. I felt 100 times better.
Then, minutes later I felt the pressure begin again in my right ear. Soon it was just as bad it was on the plane. I tried again and again to pop my ears – plugging my nose and blowing harder and harder until it cleared. Moments later, the pressure started again. This went on and one for hours – gradually getting worse with the time between the pressure building getting shorter and shorter.
By 2 pm my right ear was so painful that all I wanted to do was lie in bed and feel bad for myself. I tried everything – drinking water, swallowing, taking sudafed. I did some internet research and thought maybe the issue was a blockage, so I tried some hydrogen peroxide drops. If anything, it just made it worse. Finally, I was desperate and the only option seemed to be the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital and were told that the next doctor wouldn’t be in for two hours. I had no choice but to wait. At 4pm, we were finally sent in to see the doctor. It was a dismaying sight. An Indian man, who looked more suited to be a rock climbing instructor than a doctor, sat in an empty room with a desk. There wasn’t much in the way of doctoring equipment.
The doctor asked me the issue and after I described it he asked me if I had tried plugging my nose and blowing.
Yeah. About four hours ago. Thanks.
With that, he took a brief look in my ear using nothing but a flashlight and told me I would need to see an Ear Noose and Throat doctor. Goodbye.
Of course, the ENT wasn’t available until 6:30. The pain was only getting worse and I had already been waiting for two hours. I couldn’t believe that I now had another long, painful wait in front of me. So we waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally it was time to see the ENT. My hopes were low after our last doctor encounter. I walked in and was relieved to see medical like instruments in the room. Soon I was joined by a stern looking women in a sari. Within minutes she had checked out my ear with an actual viewer and not just a flashlight and had diagnosed my perforated ear drum.
She told me it was caused by the unpressurized plane and my mistake of plugging my nose and blowing. Apparently that is a huge no, no. Sadly, it was exactly what the other doctor had recommended I do to stop the pressure.
She prescribed me a bunch of medications and told me the ear could take up to four months to heal. Which means – no swimming for four months…on my trip to South East Asia. Brilliant.
IMPORTANT: Since I saw this in the comments a lot, I wanted to add something that the doctor told me. You should never EVER plug your nose and blow to relieve the pressure. Apparently doing this was exactly what hurt my ear. Instead you should swallow gently or chew gum.