Stung by a Bali scorpion
ON our Kuta holiday, we escape Bali belly and foil the canny money changers but fall victim to the brutal attack of a henna tattoo.
Ah yes, the humble Lawsoniainermis, or henna plant, which has been used to decorate body parts for 5000 years. It’s innocent enough to look at but can mutate into what I’ll call weltushorribilis when applied to a vulnerable tattoo.
My son’s intricate tattoo design choice of scorpions intertwined around his upper arm seems good value at the equivalent of $7. After a lengthy application at our hotel, he walks into Kuta with his decorated arm propped on one hip, catwalk-style, as he waits for the henna to dry.
Feeling pretty tough, sporting a fearsome tat befitting a jungle warrior, he is heartbroken to find next morning that the whole thing has almost faded. Once again, he is just another skinny 11-year-old kid in a $4 pair of knock-off designer boardies.
Returning to the tattoo artist, formerly known as the waiter from breakfast, a new batch of henna is mixed and the design reapplied at no extra cost, with striking results. For a week he struts the beach and fends off approaching tattooists by brandishing his already decorated limb.
Seven days later the scorpion-tattooed lad is home in Sydney from his fantastic Bali holiday and awakes one night to find incredibly itchy red welts on his arm in the shape of (surprise, surprise) a ring of scorpions. Next morning he feels more rough than tough as he presents his arm to the doctor who, before you can say Bali sunset, has diagnosed a common case of black henna tattoo.
The doctor’s search for henna tattoo skin reactions in his computer’s search engine pulls up 396,000 entries, many of which contain a disproportionate number of references to Southeast Asia. Seems while Lawsoniainermis has served the faithful for five millenniums, it’s just not good enough for the modern Homo sapien who feels the need to lace it with the chemical paraphenylenediamine (PPD) to enhance the colour. The known reactions to PPD include severe oedema, swelling of the face, collapse, renal failure and asthma.
Or you may be lucky, as is our son, when the doctor tells him he will just have red welts that itch day and night. We thank the doctor for this information and for the news that our son may carry the allergy with him all his life. Oh, and that it can be up to six months before the welts disappear.
The sting in the scorpion’s tail, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that the doctor’s bill is $50, which is seven times more than the cost of the tattoo.
But three weeks on and the welts are gone; three months later, there is just a faint discolouration. And, of course, the inevitable niggling question remains as to whether our son will be able to work in a chemical dye factory when he grows up. Or as a roving tattoo artist on a Bali beach.