Navel pierce & bad healing experience
ef = "/cgi-bin/vote/votec.cgi?/pierce/07-navel/990801/navbad.html">
There are times in your life when you sit up and kick yourself in the back of the brain. "Hey!" you say, "I'm sick of this shit! I want something different, and I want it now!" If you're in the position where you like where you live and your job/school/occupation, this usually leads to changing part of your image. In my case, I have all these ideas of things I want to do to myself, and I save them up until I feel that kick in the brain-ass, so I always have something to fall back on.
My first piercing experiences were the standard thing: make the teen pilgrimage to the mall jewelry shop and get your ears mangled with the industrial staple gun of doom. One set, two set. Nice and normal. It wasn't until college that I started getting really bored. So in the spring of '97, as I was cramming for my final-finals and grating towards my imminent graduation in a few weeks, I started talking to myself. Yelling, actually. "FUCK THIS SHIT, SELF!" I screeched, drop-kicking my books across the room. (And breaking a couple toes. Shakespeare is heavy.) I picked up the phone book and started flipping pages. My housemates, disturbed by the vision of textbooks sailing down the hall past their doors, came to see what I was doing. "I'm going to get my navel pierced," I said. "Now? At 10 at night on a Friday?" "It's better than studying," I said.
Hmmmm...the yellow pages have no listing for "piercing". Considering I lived in a place whose name literally translated into English as "cow town" (Vacaville, CA), I wasn't particularly shocked. Flip flip flip...ah, here we are, "Tattoos". There were only two places listed that did tattoos and body piercing. The first number bumped me to an answering machine that informed me they were only open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 6 PM. Wouldn't I love to have THAT work schedule! Second number...beep beep, ring ring, "Hello, Tattoos Unlimited!" "How late are you guys open?" "Until 11 PM normally, but we'll close early if there's no business." "Well, my middle name is Business and I'll be there in fifteen minutes!" "All righty!" -click-
After 30-ish minutes of driving and getting lost and generally turned around, we find the place. Not only does this town have a stupid name, but "Main Street" is hidden back in a rat maze that is near-impossible to get to. So we tromp in at about 10:40 and look around. The front room is dim, filled with scuffy furniture and flash tattoo designs on the walls. I get a little nervous as I go to talk to the guy behind the counter. He smiles at me pleasantly and lets me poke my head through the doorway to the back, where I can see a hallway and the piercing room. It is bright and clean and immensely comforting, so I go back the front and look through a billion pieces of jewelry in a glass display case. I finally decide on an un-tinted niobium captive bead ring, 14 gauge. "Well," I said, smiling at the pleasant young man, "Let's get it done." "Oh, I only do tattoo work," he said. "Dirty Harry does all the piercings." (Dirty Harry? Do I want someone with "Dirt" in his name puncturing my skin? Do I have time to flee?) As I was wondering these things, Harry himself stepped into the room. The man looked like an ex-SS Commando turned Hell's Angel. About 6'4", crewcut white hair, black jeans and motorcycle boots, leather vest and no shirt. A face that looked like Rutger Hauer in a hellaciously bad mood. My amazingly verbose and detailed protest over this sudden bait-and-switch came out as a tiny "squeep!" But I'd already come this far, so I meekly followed the intimidating figure back to the piercing room and clambered into the chair. Immediately in front of me was a picture of a large chicken. Under it was a sign reading "If you sit down in this chair, there is a $15 'Chicken-out' charge for time & prep if you change your mind." Well, no going back now, I thought. I scootched back in the chair and undid the top button of my jeans for full navel access. Harry pulled out a couple of autoclave bags, one with the needle and one with the identical twin of the ring I'd pointed at in the display case. I was summarily swabbed with some type of traffic-cone-colored disinfectant and then my navel-flesh was grabbed in a clamp that looked like the pincers my mom uses to flip frying chicken with. Harry pulled on a pair of rubber gloves that made him look like some kind of biker-proctologist, and picked up a needle that looked the size of a railroad spike from my panicked view.
"Don't hold your breath, breathe normally" he said as he maneuvered the needle's point under the trapped flap of skin. (Breathing? What's breathing? I'm concentrating on maintaining a heartbeat right now...did I mention I have an instinctive fear of needles? Why am I doing this again?) I closed my eyes and concentrated on moving my diaphragm in a semi-regular pattern that didn't involve screaming in panic. All the urban legends I'd read about people getting their navels pierced and accidentally piercing an intestine and dying of internal septic infection came flooding back to me, seeming suddenly more plausible. (This man's first name is "Dirty"?! Oh hell, oh hell...) I felt the point of the needle press against the skin, harder...harder...felt the skin stretch...(okay, any second now it's going to punch through and then it's gonna hurt like hell, be ready for it, we're brave, okay...it's not punching...) The pressure stopped. I slit an eye open. The needs was completely through my navel skin and Harry was sliding the ring through the hole. A flip of his wrist, a snap of a pair of pliers, the clamps were gone and voila, the ring was in. It hadn't hurt, hadn't even stung, my skin wasn't even red. I looked at Dirty Harry with awe and adoration. He was amazing. He was the Piercing God. I was going to name my future children "Dirty" in honor of this amazing painless-piercing man. I stood up out of the chair to sing hosannas, or something.
Thud. Gag. Gag gag gag. I found myself on my knees on the uber-clean linoleum, dry-heaving weakly as the world grayed out. Approximately 0.6 seconds later, I found myself in the same position in a similarly clean bathroom. I didn't actually vomit, seeing as how I had nothing in my stomach, but I don't think I would have at any rate...by body was not saying "purge", just "retch". I wiped off my brow and noticed my skin was ice-cold and clammy. "You okay?" Oh, hi Harry. I nodded weakly. "Just a minor shock reaction, it happens to a lot of people." He chuckled. "After all, you just shoved a spike through your body. It's gonna freak a little." I smiled weakly and started feeling immensely better (and like not as much of a complete wuss). I got to my feet and collected my friends, who were ogling pictures of genital piercings in the front room, and wandered back out into the night.
For two weeks, everything was wonderful. No pain, no muss, no fuss. I made sure to wear low-slung pants and skirts to make sure nothing rubbed against it. I cleaned it with diluted Hibiclens as the aftercare sheet recommended and everything seemed okay. Towards the end of the first month, the edges of the piercing turned a bit red. "Ah" I thought, "I probably irritated it on something. No big deal." There was no discharge or pain so the thought of infection wasn't really a worry. Two weeks later the red had darkened to a bruised purple and a lump had swollen up just to the left of the top hole. Worried (and without insurance), I hopped on the net to see what I could find. A quick search brought up a document titled "What's This Lump On My Piercing?!" Nothing like having your mind read to cheer you up. The article's descriptions of problems pointed out that I most likely had a swollen/infected follicle or pore and that it would go away on its own in a week or so with my current cleaning regimen. Reassured, life went back to normal.
Three weeks later the lump was the size of a pea and I was cursing the internet. I couldn't afford a doctor unless I knew it was serious, and I was feeling a little too intimidated to talk to Dirty Harry again. I emailed one of my friends online, asking if she knew any piercers who could answer questions for me. She sent me the address of someone in her area (name withheld to prevent death threats). I described my problem to him and he agreed that it was probably a clogged follicle that wasn't clearing up. "I'll tell you what you can do," he wrote. "Sterilize a needle in a flame and then clean it again with rubbing alcohol. Prick just a tiny hole in the surface of the lump to let it drain, then put a cotton ball soaked in the rubbing alcohol over it for about 15 minutes to draw out the rest and reduce the swelling. Or you can go to a doctor who'll do the same thing and charge you $50 for it." I gulped. "Think of it like a really big zit," his email concluded.
I had the supplies ready and was more than willing to make this problem go away. I squinched my eyes, pricked the surface...ow. I expected a gush of somthing-or-other, but there was only a small bead of blood seeping through the broken skin. I prodded the prick with the end of the needle...yes, I'd gone all the way through the skin, but nothing was coming out. I shrugged, thinking maybe whatever was clogging the follicle was on top and the alcohol would help dissolve it, so I popped the cotton ball on. I was immediately introduced to entirely new concepts of pain. It felt like the alcohol was eating its way through my flesh down to the spine. I grimaced, figuring that meant it was working, I hoped. After about 5 minutes the pain eased up and I took the ball away. The lump looked a bit smaller, so I thought it worked and would start healing.
The next day I was wearing pants that were high-waisted but loose, trying to keep from putting any pressure on the area. Walking between classes I suddenly felt like a knife had pulled across my stomach. I ducked into the ladies' room and checked. The entire surface of the lump had swelled beyond previous size and split the skin across its length. It was bleeding steadily and something that looked like jellied flesh was oozing out. Just about ready to scream, I tried to wipe whatever-it-was off the wound only to discover it was still attached to my body. Panicking, I folded a small pad of tissue over the wound and went home to try and figure out what to do.
An hour later I was spilling out the whole near-hysterical story to one of my friends online. When I told about not finding anyone to ask about it, he replied "Why didn't you ask me? I've been doing it for years." Well, learn something new every day. I explained what the other "piercer" had told me to try. "HE SAID WHAT?!?!" I expected the words to jump off the screen and try to throttle me. His first statement was to go to a doctor, that day. I pointed out the lack of money or insurance (I know, young and stupid. I know better now.) and he sighed. "All right...have you tried sea salt soaks?" "er...no. What is it?" He gave me instructions and told me that if it wasn't better by the end of the week I was going to the doctor if he had to drag me by the hair. Within three days of starting the salt soaks, the lump had disappeared and the inflammation around the holes had died down to a dull purple color like a healing scar. I continued the soaks, waiting for it to heal.
Weeks and weeks went by, waiting. I'd been told that navel piercings can sometimes take up to a year to heal fully, expecially if there are infections or problems. There was no more swelling or lumps, but it inflamed occasionally and the ugly purple never went away, and I was still getting crusties from it every day. Almost a full year after getting pierced, I celebrated my birthday by getting a tattoo. As the piece would be on my lower back, I pulled up my shirt and tied it off at the ribcage. The artist glanced at my stomach. "By the way," he said casually, "did you know you're allergic to niobium?"
He pointed out that the discoloration was something he'd seen a lot from people with metal allergies. "How old is it?" He said. I told him nearly a year and he looked shocked. "And you only had problems once? I'm amazed." Immediately I was laid back, my navel greased slightly with something I couldn't identify, and the original ring swapped with surgical steel. I'm happy to say he was dead-on right. The purple went away in 2 days and it was fully healed in about 12, and I've never had a problem since.
Being my first piercing, I thought the only mistake you could make in aftercare is not cleaning regularly. Having made every mistake BUT that, I've made it a point to get a lot more informed over the years. A lot of people I talk to these days are of the opinion that niobium is hypoallergenic and only tinting causes problems...there's exceptions to every rule. But now I'm a lot more careful, a lot more researched, and a lot more aware of what my body does and doesn't like when it comes to piercings!
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 01 Aug. 1999
in Navel Piercing