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Words of advice from an irresponsible doctor

Hello! I have just recovered after a fairly gruelling tongue piercing experience which I would like to share to hopefully help other people get through it themselves!

I'm 25, and I'm a junior doctor. This means I can't get any visible piercings or tattoos, my clothes have to be sensible, my hair natural-coloured. This drove me mad at first. How dare people say modifications would make someone less of a doctor! However, I am a lot more accepting of it now. Doctors have to gain the respect and trust of their patients; most of my patients are elderly and would find it difficult accepting that a young lady with a pierced face and tattoos down her arms could possibly be a proper doctor. I understand, they grew up in a different culture to ours.

Anyway, enough of that! There are ways around everything and I have managed to keep my individuality by wearing bright colours and imaginative outfits outside work, getting discreet tattoos and a few select ear cartilage piercing (rook and helix - had to remove tragus as my stethoscope irritated it). However, I was craving a new one.

Out of the blue, my best friend asked if she could visit. I excitedly took a few days of leave, tagged onto a weekend, and we went out for celebratory drinks. The subject of piercing came up, as she has just had her tongue pierced. She said "why don't you get yours done tomorrow morning.. You've got for 4 days to recover!" Now, I should say at this point that I had not done much research into tongue piercing. It wasn't a piercing I'd ever thought about much. I liked more visible piercing, and I was worried it would be uncomfortable. Usually it takes hours on BME and other sites, researching healing time, possible problems, best jewellery etc but this was spur of the moment! I knew it may take a while for my tongue to get back to normal, but I had no idea how much the healing process can vary from person to person, and how rough a ride I was potentially letting myself in for. My friend's tongue had been fine after 3 days, so we decided I would definitely be OK for work on Mon day.

The following morning, after a suitably large fry-up and some last minute nerves, we popped into me local studio, Holey Skin. I'd got a tattoo here before which I was not entirely satisfied with but it had always looked very clean and professional, as well as being friendly, and it came highly recommended. I filled out the paperwork ("have you had alcohol in the last 24 hours"? ummm...) and went through to the back room. I was very nervous. The room was pretty crowded - me, my friend, the piercer and two apprentices. He asked me if I was OK with one of the apprentices piercing me and I said of course, no problem. I have been a medical student and I know that everyone needs to learn, and that a supervised procedure done by a trainee can actually be better than one done by someone fully trained but possibly a bit over relaxed or over confident!

I poked out my tongue, and they decided on a 22mm bar. I have quite a meaty tongue apparently! I sat down on the couch, and swilled my mouth with mouthwash. I stuck my tongue out again and it was dried and checked for veins. Two dots were applied. I wasn't asked to check them, but I was struggling to concentrate on keeping my tongue out so I didn't really care. I felt like an idiot, tongue out, drooling a bit and it was really difficult to keep a dry, uncomfortable tongue stuck out for that length of time! The apprentice clamped my tongue (warning me it might feel a bit uncomfortable). It felt fine at first, then she tightened it up a notch - ouch! Nothing I couldn't handle though. I don't remember seeing the clamp, or the needle. I was in a bit of a daze by this point.

I was asked to take a deep breath in, and out all the way. As I breathed out I felt the needle go in, and it hurt. A lot. I had tears in my eyes, and I was gripping the couch. I squeezed my eyes shut - didn't want anyone to see my eyes watering! It hurt a lot more than my rook, which surprised me. My memory is a bit fuzzy but I remember the piercer taking over from the apprentice, and someone saying something about blood, and everyone reassuring me that I was OK. Before I knew it the jewellery was in (ouch!) and it was over. Phew!

I know now that tongue piercings do not hurt most people. I have jealously read countless stories about it sliding in like a knife through butter, with no pain and minimum sensation. This was not the case with me. However - it was bearable, and I bore it, and once the jewellery was in it didn't hurt at all! Not even a dull ache. I had bled quite a lot - apparently it had squirted out, and down my chin - but I couldn't taste it in my mouth and I was quickly mopped up. It must have stopped promptly, because when I washed my mouth out there was no blood in it at all. Apparently the problem was I had bitten my tongue as it was poking out, and had tensed it up a lot so the needle had caused more trauma on the way through, and the tension had caused blood to spurt out. This makes sense; if you have a tourniquet round a patient's arm they bleed a lot more! Alcohol also thins your blood, so getting drunk the night before was a little silly. I was relieved they hadn't hit a vein, and
the pain was over. I looked in the mirror and fell in love! It was dead centre and the perfect distance back. It was sloping back so it wouldn't affect my speech or my teeth (two big worries) and it looked gorgeous. Thank you, my lovely piercing apprentice, I'm sorry I scared you by bleeding so much!

Now. I am a doctor, and I would like to say I was a model piercee, looking after my new baby with love and attention. Unfortunately this is not the case. I rinsed dutifully with no alcohol mouthwash (oral B is good) and took ibuprofen religiously. But this is as far as my good aftercare went, I am ashamed to say. I didn't swell up much for the first two days, so I talked a lot. I ate a lot (baked potato mashed up with beans and cheese, chips, pasta). I drank a lot (my best mate was visiting, I hadn't seen her in ages..). I smoked a lot (yes, I know..). All in all I did not treat my piercing well, and I deserve everything I got!

Which was a lot of pain and swelling from day 3 to day 8. The swelling wasn't so much of a problem, it was the pain. Even liquid like soup stung it. Sometimes it was the tip, sometimes where it rubbed my bottom gum, sometimes it felt like it was bruised and grazed all over. There was a huge crater where the ball rested, and it was really sore - I think from a combination of excess barbell movement, smoking and drinking. I couldn't speak, I couldn't eat, it was horrible. Mornings were the worst, with no anti inflammatory overnight, a dry tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and swelling of soft tissues from lack of postural drainage (when you lie down blood doesn't flow back to the heart as readily so it can pool in your tissues). It was hell. I nearly removed it many times, managing to stop myself at the last minute. I am on day 8 now and it has only just started to settle down. I have learnt my lesson, and I am heartily ashamed of myself! I thought it would never get better , but it did, so if you are having a difficult healing process, have faith. You will get there :)

I think the experience has made me a wiser person! Here are my top tips for healing a tongue piercing:

-Prepare yourself. You might be lucky, but even if you look after it beautifully it can make you quite depressed having a swollen, sore thing in your mouth stopping you eating or talking. This can last for weeks in some people. Get yourself mentally geared up!

-Give yourself the best chance possible of having an easy healing period and DO NOT SMOKE, DO NOT DRINK AND DO NOT TALK CONSTANTLY in the first few days after you have it done. Trust me, it isn't big and it isn't clever!

-The mouth is amazing. You have natural antiseptic in your saliva, and it is more gentle and perfectly balanced than any saline solution can ever be. However, you have introduced foreign material to it, which is a potential infection focus, and it may need a little bit of extra help. The main thing you want to prevent is plaque formation around the bar, as this can be a trigger for a soft tissue infection. Alcohol free anti plaque mouthwash is great twice a day and a few times throughout the day. I wouldn't use it after every meal/drink/cigarette though, as it can strip your tongue of natural defences against infection. I used water to swill my mouth clean, and mouthwash about 6 times a day at first. And I cleaned my teeth thoroughly!

-Some discharge is normal, as long as it is white/cream and does not smell bad. It is lymph (think of the crusty bits around non-oral piercings). Gently remove it with something clean and soft (I used cotton buds). If it is green/offensive or if you are worried, pop back to your piercer! I hate to say it but don't see a doc first as they are likely to whip the piercing out whether it is infected or not (and if it is this can seal the infection inside and cause an abscess). If it is infected, take your pierce's advice, but bear in mind you may well need antibiotics.

-A dent in your tongue/roof of mouth/bottom gum is normal and do not panic! It is caused by the swelling and the long barbell. Changing to a smaller bar will protect your teeth. You should go to the dentist regularly to check for enamel and gum damage. It is not a nice thing and no piercing is worth risking your smile for!

-Foods I found good (bear in mind my main problem was pain not swelling) - protein shakes (I had for goodness shake!), cheese slices (the fake plasticky ones - pretty gross but soft and easily torn into small pieces, and a good source of protein), macaroni cheese, yoghurt and ice cream. Heavy on the dairy I know, but I wanted to make sure I got enough protein to heal my wound. I drank bottles of vitamin-enriched flavoured water, and when I could I had smoothies. Soup was OK but stung a bit. I found that the best food for me was solid but soft stuff I could break into small pieces and eat with the side of my mouth.

-You cannot become paralysed from having a tongue piercing, this is a myth! There is a very small risk of septicaemia (blood poisoning) but a mouth does not get infected easily so in my opinion, despite the rich blood supply, the risk really is minimal. With septicaemia there is a small further risk that the infection can travel elsewhere, leading to abscesses in other organs. Let me emphasise how small this risk is. However, I think everyone should be informed of these risks. I was not, which in my mind means I did not give informed consent (although in my case I already knew what the risks could be). I know piercers don't want to scare patients over tiny, tiny risks but in medicine you can't do anything to a patient without explaining fully the pros and cons.

-There is obviously a risk of teeth and gum damage. I am no expert so will be asking my dentist to check all is well!

That's it, apart from sensible stuff like go to a reputable piercer, check the sterilisation procedure, no kissing or oral sex etc etc.. obvious really!

I love my new piercing. It makes me feel sexy and it feels like part of who I am. I love that it is hidden and discreet but I can show it off when I want to. It was a painful and distressing experience in many ways, but I am so glad I have it now!


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 19 Oct. 2009
in Tongue Piercing

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Artist: The+lovely+apprentice+%28can%27t+remember+name%2C+sorry%21%29
Studio: Holey+Skin
Location: Bristol%2C+UK

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