Dear Ms. Angel,
I feel totally horrible about something that happened and I need your help: A lady had a VCH piercing and she couldn’t get the jewelry back in after an MRI. She wanted a reinsertion, and if it wasn’t open, to get repierced. Somehow, it accidentally ended up being both.
I couldn’t get a taper in from the top, but it went in partway from the underside. And when I pushed (not even that hard), it came all the way through and somehow made a new hole on the top, higher up than the old one!!! I figured I might as well finish the job. I had to get a bigger taper and stretch it up more to get jewelry in. The client said that this hurt way worse and took a lot longer than her first piercing, which is not surprising. This so embarrassing but I didn’t actually tell her what happened. It looked great and she left with pretty gemstone jewelry in a VCH piercing, so I figured it was all good.
Then she called because it was still really painful and swollen more than a week later. She sent me a photo and it is noticeable that the jewelry is sitting in a new spot on top and not in the original place. Now the old hole looks swollen and like there’s a pimple inside it. I feel so bad about the whole situation, but I just didn’t know what to say. She is supposed to come back in. Did I do the wrong thing? What should I do now?
That sounds fairly traumatic for both parties. I understand your reluctance to disclose what occurred, especially since the client left with a VCH piercing, which was her intention when she came to see you. However, it is essential to have the skills (and the fortitude) to communicate effectively and truthfully with clients when something goes wrong. If you do enough volume, an unplanned incident is bound to transpire eventually.
If something doesn’t go as smoothly as usual during a procedure but everything comes out fine, there may be no need to have a discussion. But if you end up missing your mark, badly fumbling a jewelry transfer, or having some other piercing-room glitch—or disaster, you need the ability to be informative, apologetic, and reassuring. Being straightforward is best, while avoiding any statements that are likely to induce panic or alarm.
The time to fess up would have been when you initially realized that the taper had penetrated the tissue and that you’d accidentally forged a new channel. That way, the client would have had the opportunity to make a choice about her preferred course of action. You would have allowed her the benefit of informed consent. It is defined as “agreement or permission to do something from someone who has been given full information about the possible effects or results.”i Lacking this, you made a unilateral decision for her body. In a situation that involves such a delicate area, a wound, and something unexpected, informed consent truly is necessary.
You could have said something like this:
“Are you doing okay? That might have felt pretty tender. So, you do have a VCH piercing, but something rather unusual has taken place. I was able to use a thin insertion taper to enter your piercing channel from the underside, as it was partially open. However, when I exerted some pressure to advance the taper, it suddenly popped up through the top. Unfortunately, it exited slightly higher than your original piercing. I did not exert much force, but the tissue there is very fine. I apologize if that was uncomfortable.
Now, I’d like to go over some possibilities with you, and I will hand you a mirror so you can see what’s going on. One option is to use a thicker taper now to stretch this channel so that we can insert your jewelry. It will be a lot of pressure and probably quite uncomfortable. But then you will have your VCH done. You should be aware that sometimes piercing near an old hole causes it to become inflamed. Alternatively, if you prefer, I can just back out this taper, we’ll let the area heal, and I can repierce you in a few weeks using the usual technique. So, you’d need to wait to get your piercing. The decision is up to you. I’m very sorry this didn’t go as planned. Do you have any questions?”
This way, the client knows what has occurred and is provided with the opportunity to request more information and make her own choice. You will have express consent for your actions going forward. I realize that you found yourself in an unexpected and startling situation and that it was hard to know what to do. It is fine to take a minute to collect your thoughts, but then you have to get it together, speak up, and acknowledge your error.
It is important to find an equitable way to make it up to the piercee if you cause undue discomfort or pain, or if the piercing comes out improperly placed. That could mean offering a redo, a refund for the piercing fee, a discount on jewelry, and/or a free future piercing, for example.
Since she is planning to return, you have the opportunity to come clean. I think an earnest and humble apology is in order. Explain what happened and admit that it surprised you so much you didn’t simply know what to say at the time. Based on the description, you should encourage her to try warm, moist compresses to resolve the issue with the prior piercing. Instructions are available on my website.ii
Though it can be challenging, being truthful when we make a mistake is the ethical path. Your failure to address this situation was tantamount to lying. That is particularly inappropriate when a choice must be made that has potential consequences. Informed consent gives your clients agency over their own bodies, which is always appropriate when it comes to piercing, and it is especially vital in unexpected circumstances.