Ritual Branding Goes Wrong

A friend of mine, we’ll call him “Mark”, was talking to a buddy of his that’s an experienced modification artist about DIY branding techniques. They got talking about incense cone branding, like the dots you see on monks’ heads when they let them burn all the way down until they hit the flesh. Since Mark was looking for a ritual branding that he could do himself at home, it seemed perfect, but he neglected to mention that he was planning on doing this brand over his toe knuckle.

When you do this type of branding over flesh, you burn not just the surface skin layers required to make the scar, but you also damage some of the subcutaneous tissue. When that’s bone or fat, the would is not insignificant, but it doesn’t create “collateral damage”. However, when you do it over an area with ligaments and tendons and functional mechanics, those can be severely damaged, as Mark discovered.

He did the brand on the 24th of June, 2010. By the 26th, it was very sore, so he went to his doctor telling him that it was an accidental injury (I’ll save you the specifics of the excuse). There was no feeling over the surface of the burn, and the doctor was shocked to say the least. Here’s how it looked:

It gets much worse, and the gory pictures continue after the break.

By the 8th of July it was “getting manky”. Topical creams from the local hospital were not effective, so he was sent to the burn unit at a major hospital.

This next photo was taken after the first surgery to remove dead tissue, exposing the tendon (July 20).

A second reconstructive surgery was done, a bilateral flat and a skin graft from the upper thigh, with a pin to hold it all in place. The toenail was removed during surgery and super-glued back in place, but only half of it grew back. This photo is from July 30.

This next photo is from the 7th of August, two weeks after the second surgery, with everything doing well. The graft had circulation.

By the 17th of August he was finally off crutches, three and a half weeks after the second surgery. Finally on the mend!

In summary, Mark says he almost lost his toe and nearly seriously damaged his mobility. Six weeks on and off crutches, plus he developed an addiction to the opiate pain meds that continued long beyond the healing period. But on the bright side, he says he’s now looking for a cool tattoo design that goes well with the final scarring. So I suppose in a way, he did get his ritual brand! I have to admit that knowing me, I might have avoided the doctor much longer than he did, as I’m not one to “play it safe” with my body… I wonder if I’d be crippled by the brand if I was in his shoes.

Hopefully this serves as a lesson to respect the body, and to understand that while beauty is only skin deep, scars may run deeper.


  1. thomas wrote:

    I hate to be the dick to comment about something like this, but as the family member of someone with severe, crippling, chronic injuries (as the result of someone else’s negligence) over the course of decades, resulting in permanent disability and basically the complete destruction of any normal lifestyle, and as a sincere enthusiast of body modification, I have to say that this is total fucking bullshit. I don’t care what the motivation was, how positive the outcome is, or how good his health insurance is – this guy has not only fucked up his own life, but he’s totally fucked over other people responsible for loving him, caring for him, and paying for his health care. When it comes to drawing lines, you’d be hard pressed to find someone farther on the edge than me, but this crosses my limits.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink
  2. thomas wrote:

    And for those who don’t mind spending some time in the hospital – ever heard of MRSA? It’s nasty when it gets in your skin – get it in your bones and you’re fucked. Months and years of IV antibiotics, dozens of surgeries to remove rotten flesh and muscle, toting around a vacuum therapy unit, only to have an entire limb chopped off – that’s your salvation!

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  3. MissJanet wrote:

    I see no difference between having a car accident and this injury. Both can happen if a person makes a mistake. And so it should be handled the same, as a terrible accident. I’m glad that “Mark” has not lost his foot.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  4. thomas wrote:

    Who said anything about a car wreck? This is no accident – it’s a retarded fuck up. To compare it to a legitimate accident is not only ignorant, it’s incredibly offensive. There are many people out there who have had their lives taken away by inconsiderate people – they in no way compare to a person who, in search of “something”, destroys a part of his body and then has to suffer the repercussions.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  5. MissJanet wrote:

    Do you really think that “Mark” planned to have his toe end up like that? He made a mistake, and he already suffered enough from what the pictures show. I also don’t think that you can compare people who kill other people and what a person does to the own body.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink
  6. thomas wrote:

    With all respect, janet, I don’t think you have a great understanding of what this kind of injury (or mutilation) is.

    Sure, it seems like simple mashed toe – I’ve had one, you’ve probably had one, we’ve all had a smashed, fucked-up digit at one point in time.

    It is not the same as a crushed or otherwise ruined appendage. I’m sure that “Mark” didn’t “intend” to end up like this – but if he’s an intelligent fellow he was aware of the possible outcomes – and accepted those, or in the case of being simply ignorant he was a fucking retard, and hurt not only himself, but those around him.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  7. MissJanet wrote:

    I understand the part about being a retard, but how does it hurt the people around him?

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  8. MissJanet wrote:

    Thomas, I worked as a nurse and I’m interested in body modification for over 15 years now, I do understand.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  9. thomas wrote:

    Well, this is getting pretty off topic for commenting on a blog, but considering the author…

    Traumatic injury, and the lifestyle/life implications that come with it have a severe impact on the family and loved ones of those afflicted. Obviously financial issues are huge – easily into the hundreds of thousands, and in my personal case, millions of dollars. If one is fortunate, insurance can cover some or most of this cost – but it never covers all of it.

    Accepting that someone you love or are obligated to care for in this kind of position is difficult enough – accepting that he did it to himself for esoteric reasons (and that you have to deal with it) is something in another realm.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  10. Sara(m) wrote:

    The branding was no accident, but I’d say that the unexpectedly devastating results were – I’m sure that he didn’t intentionally cause this level of damage to his body. No, it’s not the same thing as a car accident… but we frequently make decisions in various realms of our lives without the knowledge of what consequences there might be. Sometimes those things can seem totally reasonable until you discover how wrong you are when it’s too late to change the outcome.

    As for how others in his life feel about the situation… I’d say that’s up to each and every one of them. I had a close friend who was injured in a body modification gone wrong, and there were plenty of friends who were willing to support him and take care of him even with the knowledge that he’d brought the situation onto himself. There were others who were very upset by it and avoided him afterward. But the reactions were very individual, as they should be. Personally, I knew that he hadn’t expected to be hurt, and went into the situation with the best of intentions and what he thought was thorough information. It just wasn’t enough, and we all learned some valuable lessons.

    Once something like this has happened, I’m not sure what you’re suggesting – that the person crawl off into a corner and die after making a mistake as large as this, so as not to be a burden to others? Or omnisciently predict which (perhaps seemingly reasonable) actions are going to go terribly wrong?

    I’m glad when Shannon and others post these sorts of stories, whether the outcomes are good or bad – it reminds us that our actions have consequences, and to do our homework thoroughly before we do something to our bodies.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  11. Berber Anna wrote:

    Thomas, since Shannon lives in Canada, I was assuming that Mark does, too. If that’s the case, there would not be massive hospital bills, as they have publicly funded health care.

    I’d consider something like this an accident. An avoidable accident, maybe — I do think he should’ve done more research before diving straight in — but an accident all the same. And probably a wake-up experience as far as the research thing goes.

    But I don’t think someone who’s had an accident deserves anger and scorn. They deserve compassion, no matter what.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  12. Ashley wrote:

    I agree with Janet. All accidents should be treated equally with proper medical care despite of how the accident occurred.
    I am a nurse AND I have chronically ill family members that I help take care of on a regular basis. I do not share the same moronic views as Thomas.

    Thomas, pull the stick out of your ass and grow up. Leave patient care to the people that actually know something about it.

    You’re exactly the type of person I kick out of my patients rooms because you don’t know when to shut the fuck up.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  13. jessie wrote:

    Interesting- I find it highly likely I wouldn’t have gone to the Dr any earlier myself. My partner has left welding and trade related injuries fester for weeks before they’ve started to heal, at most only let me put antiseptic on them… I wonder if I can use these images to scare him into going to a Dr next time;)(Being in oz our health services are mostly free, too).

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  14. thomas wrote:

    lol… an accident, Canadian socialist healthcare… why did I even start posting here. Burn your fucking toe off to see what happens, let the government pay for it and you’re the victim. I’m done.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  15. Flower wrote:

    …Well that escalated…

    I came to comment not on the injury itself (that horse looks well flayed already) – but on what immediately came to mind when I read Shannon’s wondering if he’d have been crippled himself. Posting as an American, I can say emphatically – yes, if that were me, I’d be minus one toe (if not more) right now. And not so much because I’d avoid playing it self with my own body, but because I’d be constantly telling myself “it’s not THAT bad…” when measuring the pain against the cost of a doctor’s visit. I know that’s what would happen, because I’ve been there plenty of times, and I’m worse for the wear because of it. And I have health insurance! It’s just shitty insurance. That is infuriatingly fucked up.

    Actually, fuck off with your “socialist healthcare” FUD, Thomas. I would gladly pay into a system that covers injuries, even self-inflicted ones, like Mark’s if it meant I had equal peace of mind when I needed it most.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  16. Emily wrote:

    LOL Thomas, you’re a fucking idiot.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  17. A James wrote:

    Since Thomas doesn’t care for socialism and thinks folks who do risky things are selfish when they go wrong, I guess that means he’d keep a stiff upper lip and stoicly watch his house burn down from a tipped candle. “That’s what I get for encosing fire in a wooden frame”, he’d say, “I hope those lay-about firefighters don’t come, the goverment’s in a deficit!” he’d cry as he walks down the unpaved road with no roadsigns. As a car narrowly clips him, he’d curse into the dark for wandering too far from the light-giving flames.

    Sorry for the off topic story hour! Anyway it’s good to see it turned out for the better, but that looks like an intense journey! “Mark” didn’t ask for it, certainly, maybe he shoulda known better; but hindsight is always sharper…particularly if you’re a 3rd party and someone’s slipping you some facts!

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  18. lana wrote:

    You should all just come to australia where healthcare is universal and we don’t have arguments like this. You need to go to the hospital, you go to the hospital. Saves a lot more times and peoples feet.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink
  19. Colleen wrote:

    Such negativity and close mindedness from what has to be stereotyped as a bitter American. Everyone has those “what was I thinking” moments and obviously Mark reflected on his experience, learned from it, shared his experience for the benefit of others and focused on the positive. No reason to turn this into a political debate on healthcare. This is for educational purposes for the curious and people who like to take chances in life. It reminds you of how alive and how thankful we are. Thank you for the interesting info and definitely the gnarley photos. That piggy is lucky to be alive.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  20. Operator wrote:

    Thomas, If you are as you say, “a sincere enthusiast of body modification” you should have a clear understanding that there are certain inherent risks involved with these activities. This experience has been posted in order to educate and inform the reader, no more, no less. I am suprised that someone who supports body modification would be so quick to pass judgement. As for putting “Canada” and “socialist” in the same sentence….I’ll pass on that one, thanks

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink
  21. PHIL CLARK wrote:

    wow Thomas has one major chip on his shoulder!!!!
    Nice attitude

    Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink
  22. Jaloose wrote:

    PS. And Thomas: the ‘government’ doesn’t pay for our heathcare, we, the citizens of Canada pay for our own healthcare via pooling of taxes. Yeah and taxes may be a bad word in the USA and wherever else (Greece maybe), but I don’t have to go bankrupt if I get sick, get injured either by accident or self-inflicted.

    Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink
  23. Meagan wrote:

    Thomas, you’re a moron.

    Anyway, wow, I’m glad that all turned out well for that guy and his toe. Wasn’t interested in an incense burned mark, and still not.

    Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  24. Timothy wrote:

    Thanks for posting this, Shannon. I cringed at the photos but it’s always good to know the risks.

    Friday, June 8, 2012 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  25. Mars wrote:

    As a person that works in the medical field, I just want to say that even if everything is done properly, and all necessary precautions are taken, things like this (and much worse) happen! A simple lobe piercing, done in the best conditions possible could lead to an infection that could potentially cause death if not properly treated.

    Friday, June 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink
  26. Jackie wrote:

    Yikes.. You live and you learn I guess.

    Monday, March 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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