Some of you are lucky enough to know my sister, Laura Wilkinson. She is hilarious and awesome. In the name of showing and not telling, let me SHOW you something she wrote while serving in Peace Corps Ukraine. I’ve always loved the story of her overseas belly button infection. I hope you do, too.
infection |inˈfek sh ən|
the process of infecting or the state of being infected : strict hygiene will limit the risk of infection.
I first noticed the infection on a bus ride. A dull ache flickered around my navel. So it was there, in the privacy of the back row, that I pulled up my shirt to further inspect it. Under the half-crescent of my piercing, a thick, red circle loomed, encompassing my belly button. The ooze appeared a second later. Last, the smell wafted up to my nose. I gagged and yanked the shirt down.
“What the FUCK is that?” was the only thought doing the electric slide in my mind. Then a partner joined. “Where the FUCK did it come from?”
The only stab of an idea I had as to who the father of the contaminated belly button could be … was the sea. I had taken many a dip in the Black Sea, lounging around like a modern-day Esther Williams in my bathing trunks. My navel must be more into mountains and snow than sand castle days at the beach! We all have our proclivities.
After reading extremely polar advice on the internet (ranging from “Oh, put some antibiotic cream on that shit and fugggit abouuut itttt” to “See a doctor. You are going to have your belly button removed. The surgery only has a .02 percent survival rate“), I took action: oral antibiotics (Cipro) and anti-fungal cream (apply twice daily).
The rash didn’t have the willpower to fight both these anti-warriors and began to subside. Or maybe, just maybe… it knew I was on my way back to the sea… and was saving its energy for the next battle.
During my last trip to the beach, my bathing suit stayed on, my hygiene stayed low, and my belly button boosted the pus production to an all-time high. It was time to stop by Peace Corps Medical on the way back to my site.
Admitting to a “belly button infection” is a humiliating thing. It’s one of the grossest things you can say to someone, because EVERYONE has a belly button. Everyone can imagine how fucking foul it is for there to be something growing inside of it. Everyone’s noses wrinkle in disgust when you say it smells like a belly button rotting (when THEY asked!!!!!).
The doctor pretended everything was normal, asking typical questions (Does it hurt? When’d it start? How did you treat it?) But then came the examination. My navel could no longer curl into itself.
As I lay on the table, she prodded around in the anus of my stomach (I’m out of synonyms for belly button and forced to come up with new ones), looking more and more puzzled.
“I’m only internal medicine,” she stated. I eagerly nodded so I’d seem impressed. (Why else would she say it?) She then added, “I’m going to get the surgical doctor in here.”
I gulped and pictured myself navelless: a future lover trying to give me an adorable raspberry and , upon seeing my hole-less torso, projectile vomiting uncontrollably.
Dr. Sasha went straight to work. He got a swab and pushed it in the depths of the red circle to test it in the lab. He asked me the same questions, still hunting around. Then, after approximately seven minutes of digging in my orifice with his metal instrument, he gasped.
“What… what…” He muttered, switching to a small pair of forceps. “What the…”
A soiled, tawny, infectious ball the size of a dime appeared.
“What is THAT?” I asked, incredulous.
“What do you THINK it is?” Dr. Sasha retorted.
My jaw still was on the floor. I shook my head, dumbstruck.
“It’s a cotton ball, Laura. A Q-tip!” He placed the evidence on a tray. “Now… do you want to tell me the real story?”
I didn’t understand. Did he think I was lying? Did he think I KNEW about there being HALF a Q-Tip in my STOMACH? Did he think there was some debauchery I’d performed involving my rounded, knotty depression in the center of the belly caused by the detachment of the umbilical cord after birth? Never!
“I really didn’t know it was there.” I felt a wave of embarrassment. Not only did I come to the office with an infection in my b.b. that smelled like Death brewed it up, it was by my own hand. And took almost 10 minutes to find.
Luckily, the doctors shut their judging face navels and cleaned it. The peroxide fizzled. The saline burned. Before bandaging (but after commenting that it smelled less putrid) , they just had one last thing to check: the pus.
One doctor, horizontally, pulled my skin on my stomach flat, then pushed it together. The other did the same, but vertically. It is the closest I have ever been to being milked.
Dr. Sasha was not pleased. “It’s still secreting.”
“I’d like to take some photographs of it to show you.”
He busted out the camera with exaggerated noises (the zoom’s huge WHOOOOSH sound made it seem like he was trying to photograph my spleen) and took about six pictures. We had a little slideshow on the computer, revealing the shimmery pustule on the bottom of my stomach cavity in full glory.
“If this doesn’t go away by Monday, we’ll have to have a little minor surgery,” Dr. Sasha said in the most serious tone he’d used all day. “In the meantime, here are some things to clean it.”
He handed me a small brown bag with peroxide, saline, syringes, antibiotic ointment, gauze … and Q-Tips.