Health status: legs are better today, hands are worse. I feel alert and chipper after 11.5 hours of sleep. If you haven’t seen me much lately, it’s because I must spend half my existence unconscious in order to be functional during the other half. This delights the pile of cats on my bed to no end. In fact, if you have a cat who is running low on cuddling, I offer my cat-snuggling services at a very reasonable rate. But it will have to be at your place because my household’s five cats say there is no free surface area on my bed right now.
Today I am pondering the fun of MRIs and body piercings. MRIs work in part by beaming incredibly strong magnetic fields at critical body parts. When directed at a relatively non-magnetic object such as my sweet, tasty brain, the resulting effects are just strong enough to construct a picture of the surrounding soft tissue. However, if you put some nice ferrous metal into an active MRI machine you would quickly learn much about ballistic physics. Every MRI tech has their own favorite horror story of forgotten metal being ripped from a patient’s body by the machine’s monstrous magnetic field. These stories often include said metal flying several hundred yards through multiple walls and impaling itself in some poor innocent bystander in the waiting room. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that patients are magnetism-free before an MRI.
All of my piercing jewelry is 316L or 316LVM surgical steel. It’s the same stuff that medical implants are made from. It’s very non-magnetic – I never set off airport metal detectors, even in ultra-paranoid places like JFK and Spokane, WA. However, surgical steel does have a slight magnetic load and that’s enough to make it risky to put in an MRI machine. In researching whether my piercings would actually need to come out for my first MRI, I read lots of opinions both pro and con in various medical journal abstracts. Nobody seems to know what the maximum safe surgical steel load is. To be on the safe side the piercings all have to come out. (As an aside, it also means that if you have surgical steel implants, screws or staples in your body, you probably can’t have MRIs. If the docs want to see inside your head, they’ll use older technologies like CT scans and trepanation.)
So, the night before my first MRI I took all my piercing jewelry out. I have a few – nose, tongue, and a bunch in the ears. They’re all well healed so getting them out was only complicated by the fact that my finger coordination was on strike that day. After my MRI I reinserted as much jewelry as I could but found that a couple of the trickier ones had closed up overnight. That meant an emergency trip to the piercer to get them reopened.
Now, this was immediately after the MRI that included an extra 40 minutes of scanning and clear signals from the techs that something was badly wrong (but nobody would tell me what). I was in a state of numb shock going into my piercer’s office. We arranged to get the closed holes opened back up by tapering them – a technique where a graduated needle is inserted into the piercing’s opening, stretching it to the desired size. Doesn’t sound so bad, huh? Well, it turns out that stretching hurts a lot worse than getting a fresh piercing and I really wasn’t mentally prepared for pain that afternoon.
So the first taper slides into a recalcitrant piercing hole, it hurts like hell with chocolate syrup on top, and I howl. And howl and howl and howl. I pride myself on taking piercings stoically but that day it felt good to just let loose, though I think my piercer was a bit surprised. He was very careful and gentle with me for the rest of the reinsertions and thankfully there were only two really bad ones.
The morals of the story are: if you must have an MRI, put plastic retainers in any piercings that are likely to close up overnight. And tell your piercer prior to any painful procedures if you just found out that you’ve got a degenerative nerve disease.
Which is exactly what I am off to do this afternoon. Here’s hoping that round two goes a little better than round one did.