To Ink or Not to Ink??

“There are no specific problems that have been associated with tattoos in lupus patients. Keep in mind the small risk of infection with hepatitis B and C. Occasionally lupus patients have been known to have a reaction to the tattoo dye but this is very rare. Remember, if you are on immunosuppressive medication, this may increase the chances of infection and slow healing of the tattoo area. As with other procedures, it is best done when you are in remission or a welled controlled mild disease state. Consult with your physician prior to getting your tattoo.” —Wise words from the Lupus Foundation of America

It was a regular Saturday early evening. I am in the passenger seat of a big, Texas-style truck (the typical ones you see in all Texas-related commercials). Driving the roaring beast was my dear friend and fellow lupus warrior, Vero. We were two runaways sneaking off towards a town southeast of Houston to the thing that lupus patients are not recommended to do. We were on our way to get inked.

My obsessions with tattoos started as a young Jewish, latina– translation it was never (and still not) accepted by los viejos (e.g., elders). It was a big NO-NO. Tattoos were a big “estas loca!” mentality. I had my first tattoo experience in college when I finally had a design in mind and accomplished what I had identified as a “big event”. I survived college (literally.. there were many mornings when I thought “how the f&*# did I get here?!?”).  Anyways, pre-lupus I had accumulated 5 tattoos with no thoughts of stopping.


TAT #5 on the rib... ouch

Of course, with the diagnosis of lupus I had worries that my so-called “body mutilation” (as my parents and Dr. Lupus call it) days were over… Fast-forward a couple days before that Saturday evening, Vero and I are discussing a lively topic of “things we should do in 2012”. And you guessed it, my dear fans, getting tattoos dedicated to our batte with lupus was on that list! So, on that lovely Saturday evening, we visit the one-and-only man who can ink my body, Mr. Bill Greenman. For our first lupus-dedicated tattoo, Vero and I decided to get butterflies… and we lived through it.


Vero's Butterfly on upper mid-back (right on the spinal cord!)


My Butterfly nicely placed under tat #3


“This is wanted pain. I paid for this pain” – Vero

What to expect (here is another one of my famous lists):
1. Do not even dare of getting inked if you do not feel your best. In lupus terms, reschedule your session if you are having a bad, lupus day. You know when you are not feeling your best; listen to your body and bow-out gracefully if necessary.  Do not even think of going to get inked on the day of or day after your methotrexate, Benlysta, or other lupus-treatment intake. Take your steriods HOURS before the session. Are you on anticoagulants (i.e., blood thinners)?? Guess what– you will be bleeding a waterfall with one prick… and maybe you should consider on doing something else to express yourself (e.g.., dye your hair, etc).
2. Pain is not that bad- Consider this, you are in pain 24/7 so you are most likely use to the induced-pain. Taking some tylenol, NSAID, or etc obviously helps… see point #4.
3. Eat before going- You are putting your body through some stress when getting inked, therefore, you will need all the nutritional support. Consider on bringing a little treat to the parlor, just in case you feel light-headed during the session. Passing-out during a session can happen to the best of us, so having a little sugar near-by can help you get through that.
4. What about the painkillers? I am not going to avoid this question. We as lupus patients have access to the best painkillers. I am not going to lie to you, dear fans, I popped in a vicodin pre-session. This eased some of the pain of sitting still for a period of time, and of course, the pain associated with getting inked.
5. Inform your tat artist that you have lupus. He may not know what medically means, but tell him that you are a little more sensitive compared to the average-Joe.
6. When the tat artist is about to take a break from your piece, ask him/her to spray it down with some Bactine (it helps soothe the skin a bit while giving you that anti-bacterial proctection).
7. Post-session: FOLLOW ALL CARE INSTRUCTIONS provided by your artist. This is for your protection, as you know, you are more at risk of picking up any kind of infection.
8. Expect heavy bruising as you heal. Remember, fellow lupus warriors, we bruise so eeasily.  Go ahead, look at your legs, I bet you have some kind of bruise from that “bump” you made with the coffee table. Post-tat, my arm looked like it went through some heavy beating, and technically it did.
9. Aquaphor (or something similar) + Bactine (or something similar) are your best friends.
10. Healing will take longer. Keep caring for it as your body heals, it is worth the wait.

*I shouldn’t have to include the following into my above-list: DO NOT GO TO SOME SHADY-ASS, DIRTY TATTOO PARLOR. Just like you check-up on your doctor and medications- DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE GETTING INKED! If you go to some shady place, you might as well have gotten your tattoo in prison.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of my beloved, fellow warrior, Vero, but I wanted to know that I could still get inked. Also, there was a control issue… I wanted, for once, to have control over my pain. Yes, I paid for it $$, and yes, everyone who cares for you will be little upset that you put your body through that stress (i.e., Dr. Lupus gave me the greatest lecture/guilt trip EVER when he found my new work). But, to be honest, there was some feeling of accomplishment when Mr. Greenman was working on my piece. I think often when we are in pain and popping pills to try to silence it, we become frustrated; not only because that damn pain never really goes away, but it reminds of us how lupus can take some control away from us.

Vero and I have continued to express our fight through the art of tattoo. Vero is on the path of getting this amazing wolf tattoo on her lower back (near the kidneys) to express her struggle with kidney failure and the continued fight with lupus nephritis.


The wolf that attack Vero's kidneys

As for me, I have gone through 3 sessions of a leg tattoo to express my love and hate with lupus. I chose to have the Phoenix depict how I rose from the ashes as a new person with new perspectives with my struggle with lupus.


Phase 2 of the Phoenix Tat on upper left thigh


Phase 3 of the Phoenix

Now dear fans, I am not saying you should go out and get inked to show your fight. What I am suggesting is to do what you can to take back some of that control that lupus robbed from you. Want to breathe in the ocean waves? Drive to the beach, lather yourself in sunscreen, wear that floppy hat, sport those designer sunglasses and be that diva sitting underneath the umbrella. Want to share your lupus war stories?  Join your local chapter of a lupus support group (i.e., Lupus Foundation, Lupus Research Institute, etc), start tweeting, or better yet, start a blog.  No one is ever going to know what you are going through, but many can relate and many want to hear your story.

Do you have a tattoo dedicated to your fight with lupus or in memory of someone who is fighting or fought with lupus? Don’t be shy and share the art. 

 I look forward to seeing them.

Be Fabulous!

Posted from the Diva on the road