Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tattoodle Remoodle

The title of this post is funny because it's a play on the word "removal" but "moodle" is the online network where my classmates and I have to download readings and post assignments. Get it!? Ha! Ha ... oh nevermind.

Anyhow, this morning at 6 my alarm went off and I was still on the fence about doing extra clinical hours ON A SATURDAY. But I felt awake-ish and okay-ish about it and not stressed out, so I decided to haul my tired body out of its cozy cocoon of a bed and drive out to Oakland. I would not normally behave so overachieverly, but I did it for two reasons: 1. I was actually really interested in finding out more about the program and what they did in the clinic and 2. I wanted the extra hours now so that at the end of the quarter when I'm in finals and swamped and overwhelmed or I just need a mental health day, I can be all "hey remember those extra hours I did back in April...? Bye!!"

The program is interesting. It's a monthly tattoo removal clinic that is meant to encourage kids make changes in their lives. The doctors volunteer their time and people (mostly ages 13-25) can come in and get their tattoos removed for free. I was sort of expecting to see a lot of former gang members getting their gang tattoos removed or white power dudes getting swastikas removed and whatnot, but they were mostly regular looking tattoos and many of them were not on highly visible areas. There was one guy who got his neck and face lasered, but that was really the only one that fell into the category of "what I had been expecting." The rest just seemed to be tattoos that the owners had begun to regret over time: Tattoos that had been done at home. Images that no longer held meaning for the person. Names of previous lovers.

I spent most of the morning applying lidocaine cream to people's skin before they got their tattoos lasered and then helping them tape ice packs to their bodies afterwards. I also got to observe the lasering process, which was very cool. And also, horrifying. Because you can't see the laser beam but you can see the skin change color and smell the hair burning as the person flinches in pain. Apparently the old laser they used to use had a visible beam that would actually break the skin and it would blister and bleed. YOWCH.

I had thought the point of the program was to remove tattoos that would hinder one's progress in the professional and social world. But from what I saw, the program was really about self esteem and support. While not a simple process, tattoo removal isn't overwhelming in its spectrum. That is, it's not like the people who run the program promise that they are going to find these kids jobs or anything. But the people working at the clinic provide a service for free. And they are nonjudgemental and consistent which, for some troubled kids goes a loooong way. And, in a philosophical sense a tattoo removal is a physical change, which might inspire other, less tangible changes in attitude or ambition. Apparently a lot of the kids who have participated in the program have gone on to do some pretty great stuff in their lives.

After all the tattoos had been zapped, I came home and fell into bed around noon and had what I might be so bold to describe as the BEST NAP EVER. I feel good about going to the clinic this morning. I got me some extra hours and had a fun and interesting experience. I just really hope that I'm never on the recieving end of that laser.....