A few of us girls got into a discussion on Facebook the other night, comparing which methods we’d used when we pierced our ears many years ago.
Back then, if you wanted the piercing done in a safe, sterile way, your only option was to have a doctor do it. There were no malls or shops that offered ear piercing. Most parents, however, weren’t keen on making appointments and paying doctors’ fees for something that wasn’t life-threatening, so we had to resort to more barbaric and creative (i.e. “dangerous”) ways to pierce our ears.
The most popular method at the time seemed to be the needle, thread, ice cube and bar of soap method. Basically, it involved convincing a friend to ram a sewing needle through your earlobe. The procedure was fairly simple: first use a pen to mark a dot (hopefully evenly) on each earlobe, then numb the earlobe with an ice cube, put a bar of soap behind the lobe and quickly stab a threaded needle through the dot. Remove the needle, leaving the thread in the newly made hole to keep it open, and then tie a knot in the thread to form a loop. Voila! Pierced ears!
My mother had her ears pierced that way – by our neighbor. After I witnessed the procedure, there was no way I wanted to try it. Not that there were any screams of pain or gushing blood, but the dots on my mom’s ears hadn’t been drawn too accurately, so she spent the rest of her life wearing earrings that looked lopsided. They weren’t too noticeable when she wore studs, but when she wore dangly earrings, one always hung down much lower than the other and made her look as if she had a crooked head.
But as luck would have it, when I was in high school, an invention that drastically changed piercing methods was introduced…sleepers. Sleepers were tiny torture devices - 14K gold spring-loaded hoops. On one end of the hoop was a sharp point. On the other end was a hollow opening. When placed on the earlobe, the hoop, because it was spring-loaded, would tightly dig into the flesh. The pointed end then would gradually work its way through the lobe until it eventually met the other end of the hoop, the hollow part, to form a complete circle. When it did, that meant the ear was pierced all the way through. The process, however, was a slow one. It could take over a week for the sleeper to work its way through.
When one of the girls at school showed me her pair of sleepers and told me where she’d bought them, I couldn’t wait to rush to the store and buy a pair for myself. I’d noticed that her earlobes were a little pinker and puffier than usual, but that didn’t bother me. That was because something happened that caused me to dismiss anything negative about ear piercing…I was invited to the prom. The thought of being able to buy some sparkly pierced earrings to match my gown excited me. Not only was I convinced the earrings would make me look more glamorous and fashionable, they also would prevent the pain and pinching I’d be forced to endure if I had to wear clip-on earrings all night. So, suddenly I actually was eager to add two more holes to my head.
I have to admit that after I bought the sleepers and was able to get a closer look at the sharp points on them, I was a little apprehensive about sticking them onto my earlobes. Still, all I had to do was think about how stunning I’d look at the prom, and I was inspired to proceed. I carefully measured each lobe, then marked dots on them. Taking a deep breath, I placed the first sleeper on the dot. To my relief, I didn’t feel a thing. I then positioned the second sleeper on my other earlobe. After that, all I had to do was wait.
By the third day, my earlobes were so tender, I had to lie flat on my back in bed. If I fell asleep and rolled over on my side, which put pressure on my ear, the throbbing pain immediately woke me up. With each sleepless night, I became more and more impatient for the sleepers to work their way through.
A couple days later, I was complaining to my friend Janet about how I felt like a human dartboard and didn’t know how much longer I could stand the discomfort of waiting for the sleepers to pierce through.
“Then why don’t you do something to speed them along?” Janet said matter-of-factly. “Squeeze the hoop together with a lot of pressure…like use pliers on it.”
Fool that I was, I actually thought her suggestion was a good one. I dug the pliers out of the catch-all drawer, gripped the left sleeper with them and then gave it a mighty squeeze. I heard a popping sound and then felt relief. The sleeper finally was through to the other side.
At that point, I thought Janet was a genius. So I used the pliers on my other ear.
“It worked!” I cried to her. “My ears are officially pierced! Come on, Let’s go shopping for earrings!”
By the next week, even though I’d diligently swabbed both earlobes with alcohol to keep them from getting infected, my left earlobe began to swell. It also felt hot and sore…very sore.
“Your ear looks painful,” my mother commented over breakfast one morning. “It’s really red and inflamed. I think it’s infected.”
I silently cursed myself for being so careless. Up until then, I’d been careful to keep my hair over my ears to hide any incriminating evidence.
I vigorously shook my head – an action that caused the pain to shoot from my earlobes up to my eyeballs. “No, my ears are fine, I assured her. They’re just healing.”
But when I began to look as if I had a piece of pepperoni for a left earlobe, I couldn’t deny it any longer. Something definitely was wrong. I couldn’t even touch my ear, never mind shove a different earring into it. But I was stubborn and determined. After all, there was the prom to consider. I’d already bought a pair of long rhinestone earrings and I was determined to wear them with my gown – infection or no infection.
What I remember most about my prom was the constant, painful throbbing of my left earlobe all night. Even worse, all of my friends at the prom hugged me when they greeted me. Every hug, especially when someone’s cheek or long hair rubbed against my bad ear, made me grit my teeth to keep from crying out.
It took ages for the ear to finally heal, but luckily, it did. To this day, I’m still grateful I didn’t end up looking like Van Gogh.
Nowadays, people who want their ears pierced don’t have to resort to such barbaric methods as the ones my friends and I used. No, they can walk into a store, get their earlobes shot with a piercing gun and be out of there, sporting a pair of shiny new gold studs, in only 10 minutes.
I can remember, back when I worked at the Mall of NH, the first time one of the shops actually offered ear piercing. The sign in the window made me burst out laughing. It said, “Ear Piercing While You Wait” (What was the alternative? Drop off your ears and pick them up later?).
Believe it or not, I actually found my old pair of sleepers in the back of my jewelry box the other day. I’m thinking that if they also work for nose piercing, I just might be able to get some good money for them on eBay.
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