Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I’m not much for wearing jewellery so I never felt a need to have my ears pierced as a girl. Why on earth would I want someone to poke a hole through my earlobe just so I could wear earrings? My friend, Karen, was always trying to talk me into having it done when we were in college but the whole idea made me cringe. I did not like needles.

She and I were nursing students back in the 70’s and it wasn’t long before she pointed out that I was going to have to get over my gut reaction to needles. Like it or not, I was eventually going to have to stick one into a patient and it wasn’t likely to inspire confidence if I looked terrified at the prospect. We learned all about the safe handling of needles and syringes in class and we studied all the theory regarding the giving of injections. Volunteers willing to let us practice on them were a bit scarce on the ground. In fact they were non-existent so we had to practice by injecting an orange until it was ready to burst. We also spent a lot of time stabbing mattresses to get a feel for the force we imagined you would need to exert when working with a human subject. Ultimately, we would just have to learn by doing it.

How well I remember the first time I actually had to give a shot to the patient I was caring for. As students we wore conspicuous yellow uniforms and our name tags clearly identified us as nurses in training. There was no possible chance that our amateur status might be missed or overlooked.

“You’ve done this before have you?” my prospective victim asked with a dubious look at the loaded syringe I was carrying on a little tray when I approached the bed.

“Of course,” I replied with a bright smile that I hoped would disguise my nervousness. I felt it would be unwise to confess that my only subjects to date had been inanimate objects. Luckily, the patient was facing the other way and couldn’t see my face at the crucial moment. I managed to avoid verbalizing the litany of ‘3…2…1…fire’ that was sounding in my head at the time. I gave that injection like a pro and was vastly pleased when he insisted that he hadn’t felt a thing.

It wasn’t long before both Karen and I were able to give injections with a confidence that no longer had to be feigned. I certainly grew more comfortable with needles than I’d ever been before. Perhaps that was why Karen thought it a good time to renew her campaign to get me to agree to have my ears pierced. She even offered to do it for me. She insisted it couldn’t be much different than giving an injection after all. She figured she could use a couple of pre-packaged sterile needles from the hospital just to be on the safe side. It wouldn’t cost a thing but the price of the earrings. She was a little startled when I finally agreed to let her do it. She didn’t back down though and we set about making our plans.

The following Saturday found me perched on a chair in the middle of Karen’s living room. She carefully marked a dot on each earlobe to make sure the holes would be evenly spaced. Then we pinched my ear between a couple of ice cubes and held it that way for as long as I could stand it. It was supposed to be anaesthetic of a sort. Once my ear was thoroughly numbed with cold she opened the needle packet and stood poised in front of me for several long seconds.

“What are you waiting for?” I asked.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she admitted.

“You said this wasn’t going to hurt,” I accused.

She pasted on the bright smile I recognized as the same one we used when we were trying to convince a patient that we knew what we were doing. I can’t say I found it very reassuring. Before I could change my mind about the whole thing however, she deftly plunged the needle through my earlobe and stepped back leaving it in place.

“You were right,” I marvelled. “It didn’t hurt!”

We went through the whole process once more with the other ear and I was sitting there like some African tribesman with two 22 gauge, 1 ½ inch needles sticking through my earlobes when Karen’s husband, Don, walked in. He took one look, turned a little pale, and marched straight through to the bedroom with his gaze averted.

“I’m not even going to ask,” he muttered as he swept past. “Just let me know when it’s over.”

All in all, the piercing went well. It was when we tried to put the earrings in that we ran into trouble. It seems they were just slightly bigger than the holes they were expected to go through. That was where anaesthetic would have been useful. We were fresh out of bright ideas so we ended up using brute force to push them through…a most unpleasant experience. Karen hated doing it even more than I hated having it done.

The venture was eventually pronounced a qualified success in spite of the difficulties. The earrings were in at last and Don was given the okay to emerge from the bedroom. Karen discovered that piercing ears requires a bigger needle than the ones used to give intramuscular injections. Too bad she would never need that little tidbit of information. I was her first and last customer. We both decided that the job ought to be left to professionals with proper equipment. The do-it-yourself home version was just far too stressful.

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