Removing a plastic straw
It’s not often that one can claim to have pulled a straw from the nose of a seafluffy. But I did that last year.
To give a background as to how that came about, I got the chance to intern for a research team on Earth. The prospect interested me as, being a third generation Martian, I had lived my entire life on Chyrse. My grandfather, who migrated as a youth, often spoke of the beauty of Earth’s biomes, especially after it was redesignated as an agricultural world under the new Federation.
As part of the program, I was assigned to Gillian Lee. A marine conservation biologist, most of her work had centered around tracking and understanding the migrations of the Carpdime’s Seafluffy. Overfishing and general pollution of the world’s oceans had seen many extinctions, including the sea otter and most sea turtles. However, and in their place, seafluffies had starting proliferating. Seafluffies, like the other fluffies lines manufactured by Hasbio, were genetically engineered animals marketed as toys (or biotoys, as they used to be called). They were designed to be wholly dependent on human companionship, and thus fluffies that were abandoned by their owners or had voluntarily escaped initially fared poorly in the wild. However, subsequent generations of fluffies that had survived managed to develop various adaptations due to an unexpected atavism in fluffy genetics. This, along with Earth’s status as an agricultural world in order to provide more food and resources for the densely populated human colonies of Mars, Venus, and L5, meant that the flora and fauna of Earth are generally considered “protected.”
I could go on about the research that went into understanding the adaptation and survivability of seafluffies in our modern times, as well as their importance of understanding their migration and colonies considering their existence as a sentient but primitive species, but I know you want to hear about the straw.
It was a sunny day in August when it happened. We were into the third day of surveying, and we were looking for a seafluffy to catch for the purpose of tagging. Through the robotic eye of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Gillian could see two fluffies playing with each other. Through the warbled giggling they were making in their swimming, the two fluffies occasionally surfaced five minutes during their chase, from which some cheerful dialogue could be heard.
“Nu swim fass, speshuw fwen! Fwuffy wan catch ‘ou!”
“Teehee, speshuw fwen am so swow!”
Not the best candidates for tagging, as these two were clearly mating. However, Gillian had noticed a blurry spot in the camera feed while tracking the playful couple.
“Enhance,” she commanded. The computer enhanced on the blurry spot. With further clarification, it was revealed to be another seafluffy. A loner, he was olive green, with a black mane. He was swimming rather slowly, and possessed rather dour look on his face. Regardless of his mood, the fluffy seemed to be the ideal candidate, as Gillian beckoned to her assistant, Eric.
“Fwen, Giwwian fwen wan dat fwuffy. Gib da tags.”
Eric was a fluffspeaking human. He suffered from fluffspeak syndrome as a child, and was one of the millions of people who had not grown out of it.
Within moments, Eric was in the water with a squeaky toy. Seafluffies tend to avoid humans, as tales of violent human interaction had remained well-known amongst fluffy numbers even after being recognized as protected animals. However, researchers came to understand that through the use of certain gestures as well as offers, a human could parley with a seafluffy. A fluffspeaking human was also more trusted, as fluffies tend to be more empathetic with human fluffspeakers.
Eric performed the standard protocol, showing the toy to the fluffy, as well as doing some basic sign language. Due to the limitations of conversing in water, sea fluffies and humans often communicated with a primitive form of sign language. While not all sea fluffy cultures were aware of this language, we were in luck, as this sea fluffy was able to converse with Eric. Upon understanding Eric’s request through his various arm motions, the lone sea fluffy nodded. It looked like Gillian had a new subject to work with for the survey.
“Are you hurt, Harry?”
Harry, the sea fluffy, was initially silent. He had given his name earlier with Gillian asked him, but he didn’t say much beyond that. Gillian guessed that something was wrong, and that Harry was in pain of some sort. Upon asking that question, Harry didn’t want to answer. Perhaps he was shameful about the fact, a reason why he was swimming alone.
“It am otay, fwen. Nice hummehs hewp guud fwuffy,” Eric spoke. The message was gentle but confident, reflective of the team’s larger agenda of observing and better understanding the seafluffy world. Encouraged by this openness, Harry admitted his problem.
“Fwuffy had wowstest huwtie.”
“I’m sorry to hear. Where does it hurt?”
“In smeww pace. Fwuff hab nummies, and den, ow! Hurtie in da nosie!”
“Can you let me see?” Gillian offered.
With magnifying glass in hand, she inspected the seafluffy’s nostril. A white object seemed to be sticking out. Speaking from experience, Gillian figured out, “Ah, a parasite. Pretty nasty bugger.”
Smiling, she spoke in fluffspeak, “Wowm munstah.”
“Fwuffy nu wike munstahs,” moaned Harry.
“Alright fluffy, don’t worry, we’ll get that worstest hurt out of your smelling place.”
“Thank yous, nice whady,” said the fluffy. Despite having a severely blocked nose, perhaps cause by the parasite, he was looking forward.
Gillian was carrying a pair of pliers. She knew she had to be careful – these things were sharp, and, if the seafluffy moved about too much, she might end up poking his eye out. Placing her hand gently on the sea fluffy’s head, she places the pliers on the offending object that was at the entrance of the fluffy’s nose.
“Close your eyes sweetie.”
The fluffy did so. With her grip firmly on the pliers, she pulled on the offending worm as hard as she could. The crew could see the poor fluffy flinching, trying his best to keep his eyes closed.
“Oh god,” murmured Gillian. Though her grip slipped, she had managed pulled a bit of the parasite out of the seafluffy’s nostril. It was definitely longer than she anticipated, sticking out of the poor seafluffy’s nose. “Jesus fucking christ” she cursed, as she pointed out, “that is fricking long.”
“OWIE!!” cried the fluffy, the blood was starting to drip out of his nostril.
“Oh dear, he’s bleeding,” Gillian went, stating the obvious. “Is that a hook worm?” I asked. “No, I think it’s a tube worm,” noted Gillian. “Huwties… biggest huwties…” spluttered Harry, his face overcome by the pain.
“I’m sorry little fluffy.” cooed Gillian, as she stroked the back of the sea fluffy’s neck. Speaking with a reassuring voice, she assured him, “You’ll feel much better once we get this meanie worm monster out of you.”
“Wowstest wurm munstah…” cried Harry, the blood dripping from his nose down to his lips.
Gillian gave another tug on the worm with the pliers. The parasite seemed to have rooted itself firmly into poor Harry’s body, and the scar tissue that had formed from the intrusion was now being disturbed. An imaginable the pain rocked throughout the fluffy’s body, as he recoiled.
“OW!” Harry’s mouth was mouth open, his teeth bared, as he voiced his utter pain and frustration.
Rubbing the back of his neck and massaging him, Eric calmed the fluffy down.
“It am otay, it am otay,” Eric spoke, trying to maintain Harry’s trust in the human crew. “It am biggest huwties, bu’ fwuffy wiww feew aww betta afta wuwm munstah hab foreba sweepies.”
Gillian tried again. Placing the pliers on the, she gave a hard pull. However, the worm would not budge, and, feeling the weight of the object affecting whatever raw tissue was exposed by this parasite, the fluffy could only yell out an “AAAAAH! OWW!”
“Wurm munstah am gibbing da wowstest huwties,” Harry lamented.
“Yus, yus, but mummah must do am bestest.”
Sniffing, Harry knew that there was nothing else that could be done.
After about two pulls, enough of the parasite could be seen, the offending thing sticking out of Harry’s nose. Rather instinctively, Eric placed his hands on the object.
“Be gentle, Eric.”
But Eric was only human.
Alerted by Harry’s pain, Gillian quickly slapping Eric’s wrist, chastising him.
“No no… no… stop it… you’re being too hard.”
Eric stepped back, and apologized. “Sowwy Jiww fwen. Fwuffy onwy hewp wawa fwuffy fwen.”
“I know, but you’re being too rough. Let me handle it.”
As the blood dripped down the side of the boat, Gilliam voiced a fear about the parasite.
“It’s longer than we anticipated. I fear it may have gone into his brain.”
While grotesque a fear, it was not unheard of.
“So we should just cut it?”
“Might be the best thing that we can do. Cut it, then apply iodine on the spot.”
As she said this, Gillian unsheathed the scissors component of the Swiss army knife, carefully hovering the blades just above the fluffy’s nostril. With one quick motion she cuts off a portion of the parasite’s body. However, the sudden motion from the action moved whatever raw tissue had been rooted by this burrowing pest caused poor Harry to let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Following that, Harry was breathing heavily, the fat blubber from under his chin visible through the wet fluff. Gillian proceeded to massage his back, as she pointed out, “You’ll feel better soon.”
Eric bent down, and picked up the portion of the parasite that had been cut off. But something was wrong. While there was organic matter coating the white material, the material of the parasite itself was not organic at all. As a human, Eric knew full well that this material was of a very different origin. An artificial origin.
“Dis nu am wuwm munstah. Dis am pwastik.”
“Wait a minute. Plastic?!”
“Dat am wite. Dis am pwastic.”
Plastic! But how did plastic land up in Harry’s poor nose?
“Let me look at it.”
Bringing the piece of plastic up, Gillian observed. Centuries of at the bottom of the seabed, as well being lodged in Harry’s nostril for at least a few weeks had shown a little discolouration.
“I don’t believe it. It’s a straw. A plastic straw.”
“Plastic straw?! But those are banned on Earth!”
“Yes they are. But this looks like a really old straw.”
“That thing must be at least two hundred years old!!”
“Uh huh,” noted Gillian, as she realized what had to be done. “We have to get it out. It’s a foreign object, and it’ll do worse damage to Harry if it stays in there.”
With the straw lodged in his nose, a trickle of blood coming in, his mouth drooling, the fluffy was looking tired. However old and unique this straw may be to us humans, it meant little to him. This ancient piece of trash had caused him nothing but misery.
Feeling a little concerned for his plight, I inquired, “Shouldn’t we get him to a vet?”
“The only permits we have regarding fluffies is for sampling. Also, the nearest port doesn’t have vet. It’d be days before we can get back home. No, we’ll have to try and get it out now.”
Gillian sighed. Seeing the white polymer sticking out of Harry’s nose, she took in a deep breath, and steeled herself.
“Be brave little fluffy, we’re almost there. We’re going to get this crap out of you.”
Harry was flailing his flippers about. The pain from the attempts at pulling the straw out were taking a toll on his body, as he admitted, “Fwuffy n wan huwties nu moar.”
“I’m so sorry, baby. I know this hurts a lot.”
Feeling for the fluffy, I noted, “I’m just wondering how he was able to live for so long with that shit up his nose.”
Gillian applied the pliers again. She felt that she was close to removing the straw this time. As she tugged once more, the sea fluffy open his mouth, trying his best not to scream any further, as his face continue to flinch. However, this was yet another unsuccessful pull.
“Oh man, I’m sorry.”
Harry was too tired to scream. Saliva and drool intermingled and had formed a clear brine on the floor.Another attempt, and the pliers flew off yet again. Harry recoiled, the pain making him wanting to break free. Despite being held firmly by two humans, he was a fighter, and managed to make us budge. The strength that this fluffy was putting into his squirm surprised me. I had long assumed that fluffies weren’t that strong, haven’t grown up with seeing domesticated fluffies back home. But Harry’s struggle, as well as his determination to see through this ordeal was proving me wrong.
I looked at Gillian. She had been tugging at the straw for at least a few minutes now. She was determined, but perhaps a little tired.
“Can I give it a try, Gill?”
Taking in a deep breath, she passed the pliers to me. As I got into position, I remembered the one time I had to remove the cork on a particular difficult bottle of wine. My uncle was struggling to open the bottle, especially since the top part of the cork had broken off. I remembered offering to remove the cork, and he relented. All it took was just a right amount of effort, and a little luck. A luck in feeling the right sensitivity, as I pulled hard on the offending object.
Covered in mucus, blood and tissue, the straw emerged out of the seafluffy’s nose. Though somewhat frayed, perhaps unintentionally eaten by the hapless Harry, it retained its hardness, a reflection of the enduring strength of the old plastics.
“Fuck,” I cursed out.
“Let’s see this fucker.”
Obliging Gillian’s request, I brought the pliers up to her eye level. Despite its age, the plastic was still strong, having survived centuries of existence at the bottom of the ocean. Gillian remarked on a minor misdemeanour, from an age gone by, that had caused all this agony.
“A freaking centuries old straw up this poor fluffy’s nostril,” she muttered.
Harry was looking down at the ground. Though the ordeal was over, he was tired. Even though he was relieved, his lungs were tired from all the screaming he did.
Treating the wound was rather routine. Iodine was placed around the nostril, and while Harry did start screaming again, he no longer had the dour look when we first met him.
”Fwu… fwuff am feewing otay.“
And after a few minutes, Harry was released from our boat.
That was the end of that story. But there was something interesting that happened about a week ago.
Though I only spent a few months on Earth, I had developed many good contacts on the planet, including Gillian herself. I caught up with her the past week, and we talked about that story.
“I met Harry again. While surveying in the same area, we found that he had hooked up with a mare from a neighbouring herd.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” I remembered that Harry was tagged, so his movements would be tracked.
“Indeed. But what was surprising was that he came to us.”
My eyes perked up by that revelation, as I asked, “He recognized you?”
“He recognized the ROV. He and his mate swam away for a while, and they came back. He had this coin in his mouth, and the mate had a bouquet of flowers. Both of them were offered to me as a gift.”
Gillian showed the faded coin to me. Although the human face was somewhat unrecognizable, a year could be clearly seen.
“1985! Wow, looks like you found a bit of treasure!”
“Indeed. One of the archaeologists are look into investigating the area that Harry’s had visited.”
Considering the curious nature of fluffies, it seemed natural that a fluffy could find both human treasure, and human trash, at the bottom.
“Seems like these fluffies have a knack for finding random stuff on the seabed.”
“Yeah. Sometimes its bad, sometimes, its great.”