The Pits, or, Why Hippie Chicks Don't Shave
by Nicole Berard
I don't think about my scar most of the year, until the mercury rises and sleeves get gradually shorter. By July in New England, it's tank top season, and as I pull on a cotton indie tank, I suddenly begin to wonder if anyone will notice this year. If they do, this is the story I tell.
Several years ago, following my college graduation, I joined up with the touring company of Cirque du Soleil. I was essentially a carnie, doing odd jobs and smoking cigarettes with the clowns. I spent the summer roaming the east coast as a wayward hippie, sleeping in a tent, working in a tent, and letting my body hair grow in a most unladylike fashion.
By the time I returned to Boston in the fall, I destroyed three disposable razors shaving in an attempt to rejoin organized society. It was a month later that I noticed the small, sore bump under my left arm.
At first, I thought it was a swollen lymph node, probably due to a flu. Then, as months passed and it surprised me with its longevity, I began to prod at the lump. It was becoming increasingly painful. I worried that it might be blood poisoning, a tumor, some weird manifestation of breast cancer, or a nest of spider eggs laid subcutaneously during my carnie stint. I applied hot compresses to ease the swelling, and panicked quietly to myself.
After several months (a long time, I know, but someone as paranoid as I rarely seeks professional medical help) it occurred to me that it might be an ingrown hair. Encouraged by this relatively harmless self-diagnosis, I went to my helpful neighborhood HMO and asked a surgeon for help.
"It's an ingrown hair," I told him, with some authority.
"Hmmm," he said, as doctors sometimes will, "Let's open it up and see."
I went under the knife aided by topical anesthesia. I craned my head to watch as the surgeon drained a small amount of clear fluid from the lump.
"There's nothing in there," he said.
"So it's okay, now that you've drained it?"
The doctor looked at me quizzically. "We should biopsy this fluid," he said, very gravely, "I don't know quite what it is."
My sample went off to the lab, and I went packing home with a wad of gauze stuffed into the little hole in my underarm. After a nerve-wracking week, I was told that the sample was negative. No cancer, no spider eggs, no infection at all, in fact. I waited for the wound to heal and the hole to close up.
I was still waiting a month later, when the localized swelling began again. This time, I took matters into my own hands. Hand, I should say, as it is only possible to use one arm to operate when the other arm is the subject.
I obtained a clean razor blade, some alcohol swabs, a pair of tweezers sterilized over a flame, and a washcloth. I made myself a stiff rum and coke. I prepped my underarm with rubbing alcohol.
Lying on my back, with the help of a freestanding magnifying mirror, I used the razor to reopen the doctor's incision. Clear fluid leaked out, but no blood. I dabbed the fluid away and widened the opening further. I moved the mirror close to my arm, and flexed my biceps to open the wound. It puckered like a little mouth. Inside, I could see a thin, dark line. A hair. I reached in with the tweezers, grasped the end, and pulled.
There was slight resistance and a sharp pain as I drew the hair out. It was over an inch long--big even by armpit hair standards. I don't know if it had taken a month to work its way to the surface, or if my surgeon was just incredibly unobservant. Either way, I had found something he hadn't. I had been right.
I had no way to close the wound, so I simply cleaned it well, applied a gauze wrap, and babied the arm for a few days. There was very little pain, and not much more fluid. After a week, there were no signs of infection, and the swelling had all but disappeared.
The hole, however, remains with me to this day. It never really closed, just shrunk to the size of an earring back and sort of dried up. A few centimeters above the hole, there is a depressed area of darkened skin--presumably where the fluid had collected prior to the hair's liberation.
I have not been troubled by ingrown hairs since. Perhaps they fear my surgical prowess, or perhaps it is my extreme vigilance that keeps them away, as I police every part of my body with an eye to prevention. I'm sure this sort of procedure is quite the risky undertaking, but I am quite proud of my success. I say bring back the days of home surgery! Until my medical degree comes through, I'll be gingerly shaving like a fashionable modern girl, but secretly wondering if the hippie chicks don't have the right idea.