The electrocautery is a device that creates large electrical currents that arc from the tip of the pen (it has a large generator + a pen-like wand) to the ground. If you make your body the ground by putting a grounding pad on your body, then it'll arc to you. Anything in the arc will get heated up pretty hot, and really fast. So hot that it makes skin vaporize. It just goes away in a tuft of smoke. The aftermath is what looks like a small scoop taken out of the skin. This is completely bloodless since it cauterizes the blood vessels in the area.
The zapping itself is extremely painful. It feels like concentrated molten firey pins being sprayed really fast into a small concentrated area. Depending on the part of the body, I've been able to handle being zapped for up to 10 seconds on my leg. It's hard to describe how bad the feeling is. It's by far the worst feeling I've ever felt.
After you get zapped with the pen, it doesn't hurt at all. Not at all! It's really a strange feeling. Pain-wise, it's as if nothing ever happened to you. All the nerves that were supposed to be hurting, have been vaporized, so there is nothing left to feel pain. Eventually it'll start feeling like a burn, but not for at least 15-30 minutes.
Usually when I have something painful happen, whether it be a needle being driven through you or a stubbing a toe on the door corner, it hurts a lot when the actual painful event hurts, and it slowly hurts less and less. That pain which is felt as the pain becomes less and less intense is remembered as part of the actual event. There is healing time too, but I usually remember that a separate experience. With the electrocautery it's strange since although the procedure is extremely painful, there is no post-injury pain. This has 2 implications to me. The first, is that after a zapping, there is no pain, so I'd think that I'd be able to say 'go' again very soon. This is true at first, but after a little while, it's not true at all. The anticipation of the next pain is so terrible, that you start sweating and start feeling the pain before it actually happens. It's really freaky since you are hurting and you can clearly see the wand has not started to burn you. Second, the pain is not remembered very well so I want to get more after like 6 months. I always walk out saying "no way, no more, never again will I go near the electrocautery" and then 6 months or so later, I say "it wasn't that bad, I think I could handle it again". Funny how the brain handles with intense pains - it just forgets them!
This leg branding was my third experience being burnt by the electrocautery. The first time I had it used, it was for burning a hole out of my ear conch. I ended up wimping out after 5 seconds total of zapping (I couldn't be zapped for more than half second at a time). I had Steve drive a 8ga needle through it, and it was completely painless compared to the electrocautery. The second time I wanted more evenly stretched holes in my lobes, so I had the 3 large holes combined into 1 large 5/8" hole. This was done by just burning away the inside of the lobe.
The branding was not done at Steve's Phoenix studios, but at Infinite Body Piercing where he was visiting. A couple of the guys at Infinite were in the back room with us while this was being done just to watch. So when we started, Steve spent about 15-20 minutes drawing the lines around my leg. Getting this right was obviously very important so I had nice concentric circles evenly spaced apart. Then he and Beki prepared to do the actual burning.
Beki preparing - she's holding the electrocautery
I asked Steve to zap me quickly to just let me know what it was going to feel like. The last time I had felt this was over a year before, and I had forgotten how bad it was. Wow! It was pretty bad! But, it wasn't as bad as it was in / around my ear. I was sure I could handle longer zaps. One thing we noticed right away was that my leg just totally flopped around during the first zap. Also, the smell of burning flesh was horrific and just having the door propped open was not good enough. To remedy both problems, Beki grabbed my leg and put all of her weight down on it, and Howie, one of the guys from Infinite was fanning the smoke coming from my leg (later my girlfriend Jill had to fan because Howie started to feel sick from the smell). Steve zapped me again, this time for probably around 2 seconds. He basically kept going until I signaled (usually by just screaming) for him to stop. I kept going for longer and longer zaps. The final zap was close to 10 seconds long! We would take about 5 minute breaks between zaps so I could calm down and Beki could stop take a break from struggling with my leg, which was freaking out pretty badly during the longer zaps.
Howie got sick fanning away the burning skin smoke
The entire procedure took about 30 minutes. Towards the end of the final stripe, the first stripe was starting to feel kind of warm and was starting to swell. The stripes looked like indentations into my skin. Like a tiny little ice cream scooper had just taken chunks out of the skin. There was obviously no blood. The skin near the wound was numb. The wound itself was completely numb too. Within about 30 minutes, my leg was totally swollen. It was huge compared to my other leg. Infinite is in Philadelphia, and I lived in NYC, so we had to leave soon after we were done so I could catch the Amtrak back home. We made plans to see Steve in NYC on the next day, said our goodbyes, and left. The train ride was quick. The leg continued to swell, but because it was mostly numb, the trip was pretty uneventful.
About 4 hours after the burning. Notice the scooping on the lines.
About 4 hours after the burning.
So healing wasn't that bad at first, I was expecting lots of drainage like most burns I've gotten, but it didn't do anything at all for the first 2 days. The lines just stayed crispy brown and tight. It wasn't painful the first day, it was still a little numb. However, every day after, it got worse and worse. On the 5th night, it was so bad I couldn't sleep. I eventually just passed out from being awake so long.
That next day I decided that the reason for the extreme pain was because my skin was really really tight where the burns were, and the rest of my calf had swollen considerably. The tightness of the full rings around the leg was holding back the swelling. The skin around the burns would stretch because thats what skin does, but the burned skin stayed very tight and crispy, since it was dead. Tug-of-war with my skin. Ow.
My solution to this was to pick away the burns. Steve told me that I'd have to pick anyways to get it to scar really well. So I soaked my leg in water and picked away about half the burns. They were soft, so it made it easier, but I could only do about half because it was a little too painful still. Also, the outside of my leg was significantly harder to pick because of the angle I had to keep my leg. I used small tweezers to help with the picking. I took me about an hour to do my first picking.
After the first picking, the rings turned from a dark brown and yellowish color to a bright red and white color. The skin instantly expanded, and tons of pressure was released. The calf is entirely swollen now, but much less tight. My leg felt sooo much better! After peeling, I was also able to tell the severity of the burns. The burns on my legs were easily 3rd degree. The yellowish and white layers in the lines I was seeing were the fatty subcutaneous layers of the skin. Britannica online used to be free, and had a great article on burns that I learned a lot from.
6th Day. After picking a little bit.
10th day. More picking. The stitches are from an implant I got around the same time.
I found that if I had a small damp towel wrapped around the burns, they felt considerably nicer. I didn't want to do this too much however in fear of infection. The bacteria tend to like warm wet places. According to the article on Britannica, 3rd degree burns are almost impossible to keep non-infected, even in a hospital environment. So I decided to keep watching for signs of infection and decided to make an appointment to see my doctor in a couple of weeks to have him check up on it as well. He's a really cool guy and was perfectly willing to do so.
A problem that came up was that if I was standing up with weight on that leg for more than about 30-60 seconds, it started to hurt quite a bit. It felt really tight and really heavy, as if something is pushing from the inside. If I took weight off the leg at that point, it still felt terrible until I either lifted up my leg or sat down and propped my leg up on something. This condition was terribly disabling. There were times that my ass hurt just from sitting so much with my leg propped up. Luckily, I was working from home at this time.
After about 2 weeks, I had the entire thing peeled and was peeling more regularly. The goal was to keep picking at it. Tweezers were coming in very handy here. Sometimes, I would peel extra deep and it would start bleeding. It hurt this entire time, but peeling was definitely the way to maximizing scaring. You know how your parents told you to not pick your scabs since they would scar up? Well my goal here was to scar up as much as possible, so picking a lot was required.
Another thing I was trying to do was to keep the wound open. In many places, new layers of skin had started to form. I had been picking at the newly formed skin with tweezers trying to get those pieces of skin removed, but this was slow and tedious. I was loosing patience and was getting used to the wound by now. I decided it was time to rub the burns with a toothbrush.
I grabbed a new clean toothbrush and started to slowly and lightly move it over one of the rings of the branding. The rings were very itchy already, so this actually felt very comfortable. You know how when you get an itch and you want to scratch it really hard since it feels good? Well, this is what happened here. I started rubbing harder and harder and harder. Before I knew it, skin was coming off onto the toothbrush and the toothbrush was red from blood. I did this all around all 3 rings and altho the pain factor was pretty high here, it felt really really good. The rings had been so babied that it felt great to be able to be rough with them. This definitely kept the wounds open, and gave them a nice fleshy pink color, instead of the horrible red/white/yellow. I was more afraid of closing wounds, so I eventually started rubbing toothpaste into the wounds with the toothbrush as an irritant. That definitely worked - skin just fell apart, and I was reopening the wounds deeply. I even tried to pour bleach on the leg once, but that was so intense that I never tried again.
16th day. Toothpaste & toothbrushing the wound. Chunks of gooey skin stuff. My legs are shaven to avoid hairs growing into the wound. I just shaved them all so I didn't have a funny little patch!
16th day. Right after toothpaste & toothbrushing the wound. Look at how clean it is! The stitches you see there are from an implant I got around the same time.
Soon after this time, my appointment to see my doctor came up. I saw him and he was very helpful. He prescribed me an antibiotics in case I got an infection and told me what to look for when identifying the signs of infection. He was very surprised that I had no infection. His guess was that by toothbrushing and toothpasting, I was killing/removing any bacteria that may have caused infection. I was toothbrushing every night so it was often enough that nothing would settle. I asked him what I could do to help maximize scaring. He said what I was doing already would leave some pretty major scars, but he would call his friend (a dermatologist) and find out more. He called his friend and put him on speaker phone. The dermatologist explained to me how scars form and that my goal would be to keep the wound open as long as possible. At some point in the future, my body would just say 'screw it, I'm closing this wound', and pretty much overnight the wound would be closed. If I got to this point, there would be a good chance that a hypertrophic scar (thick raised reddish/purple scar) would form.
I kept picking and brushing, and my 'screw it' time came after about 5 weeks. I woke up and the wound just wasn't pink anymore. It was much more solidly closed. I picked at it, but I was just ripping open healed skin. I decided that it was over and never touched it again. It healed and although it didn't raise very much, the scars are very noticeable.
Also, right after we finished The leg branding in Philadelphia, I asked Steve to quickly give me a branding on my hand. This branding was in this specific shape to match Jill's hand branding she did when she was like 13 with a cigarette lighter.
About 4 hours after a tiny little burn on my hand. Notice the scooping of the skin.
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