Heard about that lady who went in for cataract surgery and was found to have 27 contact lenses in her eyes? That was pretty gross. Who hasn’t had things stuck in their body for years on end without noticing it, though?
When I was about nine, I got my ears pierced. My mother believed (and still does) that ear piercing is barbaric, so she wasn’t the one who took me to get it done. It was my aunt, who was really only interested in taking my older sister, who was 17, because she firmly believed that my sister’s fiancé should be able to buy her a pair of earrings if he wanted to. Now, mind you, my sister wasn’t engaged at the time: She was still in high school and hadn’t even been on a date. But we grew up in the Orthodox community, where engagement was supposed to quickly follow secondary school. My aunt wanted her to be ready to receive a marriage proposal and the gifts that come with it.
Though I wasn’t soon to be betrothed—Orthodox Jews marry young but not that young—I insisted on going with them to Kings Plaza, Brooklyn’s notion of a mall in the early ‘90s, and getting my ears pierced too. When we returned with studs in our ears, my mother admonished my sister to help me clean them during the initial 30-day period as we had been instructed at the Piercing Pagoda because she really didn’t want to have anything to do with this barbarism.
After a month, my mother let me pick out a pair of earrings to replace the piercing studs. I chose a pair of cute little gold heart studs. This gift came with a warning—if I lost the earrings, she wouldn’t replace them.
I screwed the posts in so tightly that my earlobes were red and felt perpetually pinched. I was constantly feeling behind my earlobe to check that the backs were still there. I bought a package of surgical steel replacement post just in case one of mine fell out. I was an anxious kid.
One morning I woke up, felt behind my ears and realized that one of the backs was missing. I tossed my blanket and bedsheets. I looked on the floor. It was nowhere to be found. I took one of the spare posts and screwed it in in the most missing post’s place. Really tight.
Over the course of the next month, both my earlobes got redder and crustier but I refused to remove my earrings because I was afraid that the freshly pierced holes would close up. And, to be honest, I was afraid to even touch my earlobes because they were looking really disgusting.
Finally, my mom took me to the ear, nose, and throat doctor. (She also didn’t want to touch my pus-ridden, crusty ears.) He told us that the earrings would have to come out. He removed them, counting two earrings and two backs, cleaned the wounds and sent us home with instructions about how to take care of my ears. He advised us that we should wait at least a year before piercing my ears again. My mother looked at him like he was nuts. She was never going to let me pierce my ears again. This whole episode had validated all of her feelings about the barbarism of ear piercing.
Fast forward two years: I was 11 and I really wanted to give ear piercing another try. My lobes had healed up quite nicely. Plus, I was less than a year away from my bat mitzvah and I wanted to be able to wear earrings to the party. My mom tried convincing me to wear clip-on earrings like ones she wore. I don’t know what the clip-on offerings are like these days but back then, the earrings that were available for the non-pierced looked like they should come with a coupon for denture cream.
I promised that this time it would be different. I was older, wiser, and less likely to get my earrings stuck in my ear. Besides, we’d buy hoops without backs, the kind that snapped into place. I couldn’t get those stuck in my ear. That last part—that was the winning argument.
My mom took me back to the pitiful mall to get my ears pierced again. I sat in the chair and the teen marked my ears with a marker where she planned to pierce my ears. Right over the holes from the last time, I told her.
She paused over my right earlobe as she was cleaning it. “I think there’s some scar tissue from the last time you got your ears pierced,” she told us. She wouldn’t be able to pierce it until a doctor checked it out.
So we went back to same doctor. He noted what the piercing girl had also observed—there was something hard and lumpy in my right earlobe. He made a tiny incision, and with a pair of pliers, he removed the earring post that had gone missing two years prior. It had been in so deep that he hadn’t noticed it when he removed the earrings from my bloody lobes the first time we came in. Besides, he had counted two posts during the first extraction; he didn’t know about my redundancy plan.
A few months later, I was able to get my ears pierced again though I wasn’t allowed to wear non-hoop earrings until I started high school.
I haven’t learned much from this experience other than that kids are pretty stupid so maybe parents shouldn’t go overboard when it comes to scaring them into not losing things that insert into their bodies because they will do something stupid to not lose the item. Like screw it in so tight that the flesh of their ear envelopes it.
Also, the next time I expect that metal will be extracted from my body is after the apocalypse—whether it’s due to climate change or a Trump tweet @ North Korea—when people are scavenging for raw materials and they pull a titanium rod out of my spine. But the joke’s on you, radioactive mutants who survived the end of the world. If you think it was gross that an earring post was stuck in my ear for two years, imagine how much more disgusting it will be to pull out a rod that has been in there for 20 years.