Explorations in Medicine, 1994

My second tattoo is on my lower back. This is the original tattoo that I had been designing since 1992. If you've read about the first one you'll remember that I had been struggling over the location of the tattoo, and therefore got the sun/moon design first in 1993.

Well now it was 1994. I had finally made my decision about where to get the tattoo. This was a very strange period in my life, so it is difficult to speak about the circumstances leading to the tattoo session. So let's just talk about the tattoo, shall we??

For those readers who are excitedly saying, "I know what that image is!", please refrain from coming to conclusions. This image has no association with a certain band that happenned to use the same image!

Here is the original image. Note the phrase "dissection hints" at the top. This is from the first page of Gray's Pocket Anatomy. Gray's Anatomy is an anatomy book that was published in 1858 (originally under the title Anatomy Descriptive and Surgical). It has been through many publications and revisions but today is still widely used in the medical community as the standard in anatomy textbooks. The pocket version was published in 1881 as a condensed textbook to aid dissection. It is an "Anatomy 101" primer for medical students. The book starts with the very first dissection technique: removing the skin from the head and neck.

Gross, ain't it?

I traced the original image and then adjusted the thickness of the lines and removed much of the detail. Regrettably I left my orginal drawings at the tattoo parlor! I had recently discovered tribal art and the intent was to take the image and make it resemble tribal tattoo work.

If you've already read Tattoo #5 you know about my medical fixation. To make a very long story short I was pre-med for most of my life, starting at the age of three. My parents gave me Gray's Pocket Anatomy when I was nine years old and I still have it on my bookshelf. When I conceived the tattoo I was still in the pre-med college program, but when I finally got the tattoo, I had gone through major life adjustments and dropped my studies.

This was the first tattoo I received at Rising Dragon. My roommate at that time was also getting a tattoo so we went together. Since it was my second tattoo, I was fairly confident I would endure the pain with ease. But I chose a tricky spot: right on the base of my spine. The artist was reasonably reassuring that it wouldn't hurt too much. I was sitting backwards on a chair, and after about 10 minutes I lost the ability to speak coherently. I could only put my head down on my arms and concentrate on ignoring the pain. I felt the tattoo needle all the way through my body; from my head to my pinkie toes. It felt like my whole body was being lightly electrocuted. The artist kept asking, "Are you okay?" and I kept saying "Yup!" until I lifted my head and commented, "Gee, I feel lightheaded." All of a sudden the tattooing stopped and everyone was panicking. Next thing I knew I had orange juice in one hand, a chocolate chip cookie in the other, and I was somehow standing now, although I had no idea how I got from the chair onto my feet.

It suddenly occurred to me what had happened: I almost passed out. I thought I was good with pain -- the first tattoo was a breeze and by this time I already had multiple body piercings. But one little tattoo almost beat me. (On a side note, my roommate in the other chair almost passed out also; the cookies were on hand only because the artist had to get them for her, first!)

I finally felt refreshed enough to finish the tattoo. When I sat down again the artist remarked, "I have tattoos all over my back and not one of them is on my spine. Now you know why." I wasn't sure if I was happy or angry that he didn't tell me what I was in for. In not knowing I guess I was free from pre-tattoo anxiety, but in retrospect it would have been nice to be warned! Luckily the tattoo was almost done, and I finished the session without incident. The artist was quick and precise and the total tattooing time was less than 45 minutes.

When I first conceived of the tattoo in 1992, I imagined adding the caduceus medical symbol beneath the dissected head and adding tribal work around it. But as the years passed, the idea seemed less appropriate, especially since I had moved on a different career path. Ultimately I did get the caduceus symbol after years of pondering what it meant to me. And that's how Tattoo #5 was born. I still want to add to this tattoo on my back, but I am not sure what it will be. In a few more years I am sure the story will be expanded...so as always, stay tuned.

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