triple helix spiral and a raging infection
It all began back in late August three and a half months agowhen I decided to go get my cartilage pierced, not once or twice, but three times. The goal was to eventually have a spiral barbell put in to connect all three holes. I ordered the jewelry and went to see the piercer. Now, I had had my daith pierced by the same shop before, and it healed with no problems whatsoever. Looks great, totally happy with it. The cartilage piercings, however, have been a different story.
The piercings themselves were uneventful. I was admittedly nervous, but the piercer was very cute and put my mind at ease right away with his calm demeanor. He measured the distance and angles for each hole, checked and rechecked their positioning, and got my approval before going any further. There were three holes, spaced all the way down the cartilage of my ear from top to bottom. He said that as soon as they were feeling good and healed up, I could come back and he'd put in the spiral, a procedure that he said "could be a b*tch to do." Better him do it than me, I thought.
All were done with 16 gauge needles. He swabbed my ear with some kind of alcohol prep solution, told me to take a breath and as I let it out, he jabbed the needle through. It didn't really hurt, more like a prolonged pinch. After threading the jewelry and preparing a second needle, the piercer asked if I was ready for number two. I was. This hurt more, but it was nothing compared to piercing number three. I winced and gritted my teeth. "Yeah... by now your endorphins are pretty much spent," he remarked, holding a little pressure on the oozing holes. The aftercare instructions were the usual: mild seasalt soaks and antibacterial soap. I wasn't anticipating any problems.
It wasn't until day three that things started to get weird. I was at work one day, where I am on my feet for hours at a time on a hard, concrete floor. By the end of the shift, my ear was throbbing, red, and beginning to swell. I attributed it to the impact of running around on the hard surfaces and getting knocked around (it's kind of the nature of my job,) so I iced it and took some Ibuprofen. The next day, no change. Another week, my ear looked like absolute crap: red, hot, swollen, and still throbbing. No joke, it even had its own pulse!
I tried to continue the seasalt soaks for a little while, but I was worried, so I went back to the piercer and he said it looked a little "pissed off," and advised me to keep cleaning it. So I did, religiously, for another few weeks. That's about when it started draining pus. It wasn't a lot and it didn't hurt as much as it had before, however, it was clear to me that seasalt and Dial soap alone were not the answer to my problem.
After a quick visit to a different piercer in town who said it looked pretty bad and recommended that I see a doctor, I gave in. I'm not big on doctors and prefer to self-treat at home whenever possible. Boy am I glad I didn't do that in this case! The first doc I saw was ancientat least 80-years-oldand obviously did not approve of my ear piercings. He (jokingly but not really,) said that slaves used to pierce the tops of their ears and that I should take them out immediately. Then he wrote me a prescription for Keflex, a no-big-deal oral antibiotic that I took for ten days, with a very slight improvement. By now, my ear only looked a lot worse than it felt.
Now before you freak out, no I did not remove my piercings. I understand the purpose of leaving the jewelry in to drain the infection and prevent abscess formation, especially since cartilage is an avascular area and receives poor blood flow anyway. So don't lecture me about that. My ear continued to look swollen and red for another month or so and it was no longer draining. I thought that maybe I was in the clear and ready to be done with these piercing problems until right after Thanksgiving when the lymph nodes in the back of my neck swelled to the size of chicken eggs.
That's right. Chicken eggs. Fearing for my ear and possibly for my life, I went to a different doctor. He was much more receptive to the idea of body piercing and never told me to take my jewelry out. Instead, he diagnosed me with cellulitis and did a culture of all three holes. It came back positive for MRSA, or methicillin resistant staph aureus, which is a nasty little bacteria that is not killed by the normal, conventional antibiotics that usually kills everything. It's resistant to almost all antibiotics. Bad, bad news.
Long story short, I finished a course of Bactrim, vancomycin, and clindamycin, three antibiotics that not only kill the bacteria causing the infection, but also all of the good bacteria in your intestines. Yeah, you know what that means: horrible cramping and diarrhea. Believe me, it wasn't fun. My ear still isn't perfect, but it looks the best it has. The problem is that my lymph nodes have remained huge and extremely painful, to the point where I can't turn my head or even sleep (this part is all as of last week, by the way.) So the other day, I called to see my doctor again since there was obviously something still going on. He was out of the office, but I did get an appointment with one of his partners who just graduated med school. This guy said he didn't even know lymph nodes could grow to such sizes! Great, I thought, so glad I can be a part of your learning experience.
So the doc drew some blood to make sure that the infection wasn't overwhelming my entire system (that's called sepsis, and it can certainly kill you,) and wrote me prescriptions for a steroid (for the inflammation that has taken over my entire neck,) a pain pill (thank you God!!) and ANOTHER new antibiotic that (he is hopeful) will kill whatever is still in my ear. I just started these meds today, so I can't update you on how things turned out quite yet. However, I am cautiously optimistic that my ear will get better and I can fight to keep my piercings.
Everyone asks me if I would do it all over again if I had known I'd contract this raging infection. My answer? I would. At this point, I haven't even thought about putting in the spiral barbell; I just don't want the holes to close up. The spiral has been put on the back burner, although that still remains my ultimate goal.
My advise to those who don't want to find themselves in a similar situation? Don't be afraid to get help, be it from your piercer and/or a doctor. And if you don't trust your piercer/doctor... FIND ANOTHER ONE! If you think something isn't healing right or you have systemic signs of infection like fever or enlarged lymph nodes, my advise is to get on some antibiotics right away before things escalate out of your control.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 21 Dec. 2008
in Ear Piercing