Stung by a Bali scor­pion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Family Holidays - De­bra Solomon

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.

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