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Looks Like Pepperoni!

Ever wondered what a round piece of skin looks like, when it's unattached to its owner? Well, if so, here's the answer: It kind of looks like a slab of pizza pepperoni.

There is no real prelude to this story or particular modification. The only reason why it came to be was because I was curious, interested and wanted to see how far I could push myself. My artist wanted to perform the procedure, first and foremost, and he wanted someone he knew was capable.

Given Matt Cottrell has been piercing me and scarring me for the past two years now, he pretty much knew my limits as well as I did my own. He brought up the idea of skin removal after his successful attempts at plain scarification with a scalpel. I had had a star carved into my leg and while I liked the results, the post-scarring irritation that was required and the not-so-obvious look of it was not to my preference. We discussed how skin removal may be the best thing to closer meet my needs and wants regarding post-scarring care and the obviousness of the scar. The idea was that since we'd actually be removing skin this would force my body to scar – as opposed to simply cutting and allowing my body to simple re-approximate the edges of a wound and not scar, just heal – and create a more outwardly noticeable scar without needing the intense after-care of scrubbing and irritation.

A tentative date was set which was just as quickly pushed back due to the shop being busy or me being busy. Eventually we both set a date we could agree on. November 22nd, 2004 was going to be the day.

And so it was. I showed up at the shop around 6:30. We had set 8 o'clock as our start time, however since it was very quiet and not many customers were expected, we got around to it around 7ish. The design was going to be something along the lines of a crop circle formation. While this is NOT what I thought of for the design, it is the best way to describe it. The top was one large circle, followed by a smaller one, and smaller and so on which all curled into a curly-cue of sorts. The total amount of circles came up to 7 or 8. I wanted this for several reasons: It was simple – easy for matt and for me. It flowed easily – it took me a good while before I found a design that seemed to "flow" with me. It could be done in more than one session without looking incomplete or having discrepancies in the scarring method or size. Because all the circles we're not attached to each other, each one could be done at a different time if need be. It also fit perfectly on my chest right above my breasts, in the middle of them. Basically directly on my sternum. A funny thing that came to mind when we were placing the design was that I did not want the lower circle to enter into the area of the solar plexus. While I'm not quite a believer of spiritual or bodily energy, it bugged me to think that if it does exist, that I could tamper with it.

We discussed the possible use of a topical anesthetic. One of the reasons I was looking to do this was to see just how much I was able to push away pain. See how much I could pretend I wasn't feeling anything and put up with the impulses. I am highly scientific, and I find it blundering to me that we are almost always controlled by chemical signals within our brains – what if he fought them? I told Matt to start without anesthetic. I understood that he was going to be using a scalpel to cut the edge around the largest circle on my chest first. That method is not at all unlike the star scar on my leg which I had been able to take no problem.

I was lying at about a 60 degree angle on the piercing table that was draped in dental bibs on and around me. We expected a fair bit of blood so we accommodated this with a lot of gauze and bibs packed into the crevices around my neck and chest that the blood was likely to drip into. There to witness the procedure was my friend Sarah, mainly for support and a hand to squeeze and Isabelle (IAM: izathadevilherself) for picture taking. Others from the shop took turns coming in at intervals to watch Matt do his stuff, with my permission of course. We set up a "contamination" line where basically anybody who was coming in and out of the room could not cross a certain line without a mask and proper cross-contamination cleaning process. The door was a good 10 feet away from the actual area so it opening and closing was not a problem.

As for technicalities, Matt used a total of three sterile disposable scalpels for the entire procedure, Nitro gloves, general use hospital masks and protective lenses just incase of any splatter. Those around me, including myself, wore gloves and a mask at all times in case there was a need for an extra hand or if they wanted to get a closer look. We had a 5ml vial of 2% injectable Xylocaine in case I really could not put up with the pain – this turned out to be a saver in the end. Technicare was used for prep and for the lube on the scalpel blade. Hemostats and thumb forceps were used to pick the skin up to help cut below it. Of course this was all setup in a sterile drape area next to the bed that only Matt could touch.

I lied down, relaxed my shoulders and breathed. Deeply in through my nose and out through my mouth. Matt placed himself over me and told me he would start. The original slice was bearable, but with every inch the pain felt like it was invading me more and more. I had to somehow breathe but not move my chest which basically meant it was short quick breathes – labor breathing. Sarah was there as my "mentor" reminding me to wiggle my toes and breathe. While it was next to impossible to concentrate on her, I heard her and did what she said. Matt stopped once at my asking during the outline, simply because the pain was too invasive. It felt so sharp that it would overrun any other ability or thought in my head. When I asked him to stop, it was because I was forgetting how to think and how to breathe.

Once the outline was done, we marched right into the peeling. He used the hemostats to grip the edge of the inside of the circle, tilted the scalpel so it lay parallel to me and began cutting along the length of my skin. The first cut was when I realized I had surpassed the point of no return and I could not imagine how I was supposed to go through with it all. The pain was intensified, and no matter how hard I tried to push it out of my head, there was no denying it – my nerves were being racked across hot coals for all my brain cared – it just hurt like hell.

The first hour ensued as so – one, two cuts, stop. Breathe, relax, wait 1 or 2 minutes. One, two cuts, stop. Breathe, relax, wait. And so on. There was no other possible way to go about it. Occasionally I would force myself to relax and he would do three maybe four cuts, but nothing extraordinary. We had to stop frequently also to apply pressure and stop bleeding as the cut sites bled quite a bit. Not profusely, but constantly. Half way through we stop, bandaged me up very well and stepped outside to enjoy a well-deserved cigarette.

The second hour went by as more of a blur. I remember thinking the oddest things: "Funny how I can feel the skin he's grabbing with the clamps even though it's only attached to my body by a tiny little piece." – "They keep saying it looks like pepperoni, I wonder if it tastes like it."

Okay, obviously I was slightly in shock. I was beginning to shiver and stare off blankly into space in between cuts, while in the first hour I would smile and laugh in between the cuts. I had no tolerance left in me and we were ¾ through when I decided to start using the Xylocaine to get through the rest. Lucky for me, since it was injectable, a few drops on the open wound and I was frozen. We still stopped every few cuts, but for shorter periods of time and only to apply more freezing agent. When it was all over, I had a gaping round hole on my chest, Matt had a perfectly round and scrunched up piece of flesh in a clamp and my friends were starring in awe at me.

There are a lot of blanks in my memory from that night, and we have only one circle done as of yet. I went into shock afterwards, even with sugared drinks in me. I was slow to respond, had blurry vision and felt unable to speak or think. Matt made sure I made it home safe and I was in bed before I knew it. The next morning I had almost complete amnesia from that night and needed a lot of reminding from those who were there to reconstruct a clearer picture of how things went.

I obviously exceeded my boundaries regarding dealing with pain and adrenaline, however I would never take back this experience. It has taught me a lot about myself and how I deal with physical distress. I know my limitations and how to set higher goals or change how I will do things in the future. Oddly enough, because of this experience I have changed the design. The original I found denoted introversion and closeness – an aspect of me that I can easily show if I wanted to, but fight everyday not to. The new design involves the same amount of circles, but instead of spiraling in on themselves, they spread out to each side of me towards my shoulders, getting smaller and smaller. These will be done with EMLA topical anesthetic and hopefully more than one in one session. I now know that skin peeling for me, at this point in my life, is not something I can do alone. Perhaps as I age and I learn more about how to deal with emotions such as pain, I will eventually be able to push away that kind.

Healing was slow to begin with. Three days post-peeling I came down with a very bad cold and was down for a good three days. However I pumped myself with vitamins and minerals and was back on my feet before I knew it. I also increased the amount of protein in my diet, almost limiting it to that. Protein helps rebuild tissue and this proved to be beneficial. It has been almost one month and there is only a pea-sized area left on the 2-inch across circle that's left to scar over.

I can't wait to finish the project, but I am in no rush. Before continuing on this journey of modifying my body, I plan on learning more about working with my inner self to deal with physical pain.

Thanks very much to Matt Cottrell at Planet Ink Studios in Ottawa, Ontario. To Isabelle and Sarah for keeping an eye on me and being there to support me.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 16 Dec. 2004
in Scarification

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Artist: Matt+Cottrell
Studio: Planet+Ink+Studios
Location: Ottawa%2C+Ontario

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