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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I'm Screwed!

Tonight was "Girl's Night" in the women's wing of the dorm, and there was tons of too-loud music, dancing, allegedly free food, and henna-making, done by a local woman hired by the dorm.

One of my friends, Hye Won, had just had henna done on her palm when I arrived. The design was very nice, but she expressed concern that it would quickly turn ugly, because a friend of hers had had a similar henna pattern done only to have it turn into an amorphous black blob in a few days. I'd read up on henna a while back, and vaguely recalled something about black henna being made with hair dye, which made it a sketchier substance than regular henna paste. I told Hye Won that it being made with hair dye might be the reason why it got blurry, and she agreed.

Shortly afterwards I got both of my hands done in a symmetrical floral pattern. When I returned to my room, I couldn't do much with my hands without ruining the patterns, which were still drying, so I went online to mehandi.com, which was where I'd researched henna before. Turns out that black henna is a much more malific substance than I realized.

Natural henna is made up of the ground up plant Lawsonia inermis, as well as a few other harmless substances like lemon juice, tea, and tea tree oil. As a paste and powder it's greenish in appearance, smells like cut grass or hay, and leaves an orange or reddish stain. "Black henna", on the other hand, is not actually henna at all, or, at best, is mixed with a bit of henna to give it the right consistency for applying designs. Black henna is given its color by the chemical para-phenylendiamine (PPD), which "Is a strong sensitizer [it can cause severe allergic reactions very quickly], transdermal toxin, and potential carcinogen," according to mehandi.com and most other websites that pop up on google when searching for "black henna."

Incredibly helpfully, not a single site listed symptoms to look out for for allergic reactions (except for posting alarmist images of huge bleeding open sores), possible treatments or ways to alleviate symptoms (besides "Go to a doctor!!!" which I'm not sure would be too helpful here, based on the experiences of myself and other non-Arabic speaking students at the local hospitals and clinics), or statistics on how many people end up having severe reactions. One site even more helpfully told the story of a mother her took her son to a doctor after having a reaction to a black henna "tattoo," and listed the various kinds of medication the doctor recommended only to blank them out with something to the effect of "the name of this product is being ommitted."

I'm not really sure what to expect now, because none of the Egyptian girls seemed at all fazed by the henna-related goings-on, so I assume that whatever was involved seemed normal to them (but then, how often do they get "henna" done? do they realize actual henna is a different color?), and that none of them have had horrific past experiences, or else they wouldn't have been having so much "henna" put on themselves as well. On the other hand, my wrists were starting to get a bit itchy while I waited for the stuff to dry, so maybe it's the beginning of something worse.

Hindsight is really a terrible thing. It would almost be better if I had no idea that I could potentially sustain severe liver damage, an autoimmune disorder, or get chemical burns and be scarred for life thanks to this crap on my hands. Then I would be able to tell if I actually have symptoms, separate from the general low-level malaise I constantly have anyway, and don't risk giving myself psychosomatic symptoms from my lovely paranoia.

I guess you'll all get some updates from me in the coming few days (it sounds like the beginning of manifestation for the really bad types of symptoms occurs within 3-4 days) regarding yet another illness for me. Boo.

Why does everything I do in this country result in me potentially getting sick? I can't drink the water, eat the food, breathe the air, visit the markets (avian flu), or practically talk to people. Maybe I should just hole up in my room and eat chocolate digestives for the rest of my time here. At least then I know I won't die.


Anonymous tricia said...

Too much info can be a dangerous thing. Medical students usually read their textbooks and then imagine any symptom is the first sign of some exotic and fatal disease.

3:13 PM

Blogger Janna said...

The worst thing I've ever heard of happening from an allergic reaction to henna was a light scar where the design was. And that was because they didn't take it off right away, and when they did, didn't treat it with a topical antibiotic (so it got infected, blah blah blah).

Symptoms of a reaction are redness and swelling underneath and around the design, itching, and maybe hives.

I think you'll live. :P

9:01 PM

Blogger Kat said...

I realize I'm probably overreacting, but since I can't find any information at all on even vaguely what percentage of people have bad reactions, I think I'm entitled to be somewhat worried. Especially since my hands did get really itchy within only a few hours of me getting the "henna" done.

I think my paranoia is more a symptom of me just getting sick of being sick, because if there's anything I can do to prevent getting sick again, you'd better believe that's what I'd prefer to do! Dx

10:45 PM

Blogger Kat said...

btw Janna, what do you mean by your friend "didn't take it off right away"... is there some sort of quick fix to get rid of henna (or "henna") stains once they're made? Or do you mean take the paste off her skin after a short amount of time before it dried completely?

10:47 PM

Blogger Janna said...

She left the henna paste on for as long as possible, even after it started swelling and turning red. There's not really a fast way to get it out of your skin, other than scrubbing often with soap and hot water.

9:30 AM


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