body art

How I Almost Lost My Ear in India

The Addiction

I got my first piercing when I was 14. Like many other teenage girls in the 90’s, I chose to pierce my belly button. It was my summer break and my parents were away on holiday. I had about $8 in my pocket and I chose to spend it on a piercing. My mom was furious when she found out, but the piercing stayed and everybody forgot about the whole thing. At one point when I got older I took the belly ring out because I thought it was uncool.

Fast forward to 2016, when I was 33 and together with my husband we started our travel adventure. Call it a midlife crisis, but I wanted to get some cool piercings. So when we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal I instantly started to look for a piercing studio. I found a perfect place and I scheduled an appointment for placing a new piercing in my bellybutton and new upper lobe piercings.

The procedures were done in a very sterile environment by a professional, and I never expected to have any problems with it.

First signs of infection

A few days after the piercing, we arrived in Morocco. It was hellishly hot, about 45 C. My ear started to hurt and the color resembled a sunset on a desert. Perhaps it was the hot, dusty weather or not having been properly cleaning my fresh piercing but a small infection started. I got some over-the-counter medicine and continued to properly clean it for the rest of our stay in Morocco.

Indian Healers

By the time we got to India, I knew that my infection was not going away. I had to take some antibiotics. The day we started our journey in the Himalayas my year was better, but it was still bothering me. It had been almost 4 months at this point since I had been dealing with this chronic infection. As you can imagine lot of people told me to take the earrings out, but I desperately wanted to keep them. I believed it was just taking a while to heal and soon any signs of infection would be gone.

After few days of traveling in the Himalayas we arrived in Mudh, a small village. There was no pharmacy in the village, and the closest medical center was about 10 hours away.  In the evening my ear turned red/purple, doubled in size and I was in pain. At the dinner table I met a doctor who insisted that the earrings be removed. He explained that the bacteria was trapped inside and the infection would not go away. Because the ear was so swollen I wasn’t able to take the earrings out myself. I turned for help from our host lady, whose name I am unsure of but I just called her Tara. India is famous for piercings and most Indian women have at least their nose or ear pierced. Tara looked at my ear, made an “ooouch” noise that confirmed all my worries. She told me to come back in the morning.

As soon as I woke up, I ran down the street to the guesthouse to have my piercings removed. Tara was in the kitchen prepping food for the arrival of the Lama. It was a big day for Mudh, but she still had time to help me. We walked outside the house where I sad down on the warm, sun soaked cement stairs. I could not wait to have the earrings removed already! The screws from the earrings where jammed so tight, that no matter how hard Tara tried to unscrew them it wasn’t doing anything. Then Tara's husbands decided to bring some old rusty plyers from the garage and used some force. Do you see where this is going? Yeah… Mind you this was all happening very fast and I didn’t understand anything these people were saying. I didn’t resist the use of the plyers at first. I thought Tara’s husband was going to unscrew the stubborn piercings, but instead he decided to pull on both ends of the earrings as hard as possible, which caused extreme bleeding and almost tore my ear off. I swear the Lama, who was about to visit the town heard me screaming my heart out. I can usually tolerate high levels of pain, but this was beyond what I could handle. I started to cry, the blood from my ear was dripping on the ground and Tara was screaming at her husband for causing this mess. When I finally calmed down, a few young girls from the village showed up to help. It was funny because when they came over they still had pieces of dry dough on their hands from making rotis. I think they must have heard me screaming and crying and came to the rescue. One of those girls, with her tiny hands very quickly removed the earrings one by one. The relief was almost instant.

The Indian girls also put small pieces of neem wood where my piercings had been. That way the holes would not close. Neem wood has natural antibacterial properties and it is widely used in medicine. They also told me to apply hot oil with turmeric. For the next few weeks my ear was oozing with puss, blood and crust, but it finally got better. This time for good!

I seriously don’t know what I would have done without the help of these girls from Mudh. I felt like maybe they saved my life and my ear for sure!