SPC: APP2013 and the Best of Intentions

You know what they say about the road to hell.
I had planned to ‘cover’ APP for you folks who couldn’t attend. Photos, video interviews and live updates from the Conference and Expo floor. Then I got to Vegas, found my luggage literally saturated with water (SWA Baggage Handler left it out in a rainstorm) and got to the hotel already feeling a summer cold taking hold of me…

My APP experience this year was NOT ideal, Modblog Readers.
That said- it was one of the best Conferences I’ve attended. For some, it’s a yearly Bacchanal; a chance to leave the studio and real life behind for a week, stay up till dawn drinking (and then some) and debauching and oh yeah, maybe buy some jewelry and take a few of the classes we paid for. But this year saw a large upswing in first time attendees, with classes packed with people who saved all year to attend and to improve their craft. The vibe, if you will, was much different than I expected.
matteapp001 copyThis year I found myself getting up at 6:45am (which was roughly when I used to ‘call it a night’ in previous years) to join the rest of the early risers who agreed to join my running group, taking a two mile jog down the Las Vegas strip instead of seeing how much we could drink and still maintain the appearance of sobriety. Instead of heading out to the shooting range I found myself in Paul King’s class “The Grieving Body- Does Body Modification Injure or Heal the Psyche” which for my money was his best to date, taking notes and being humbled by Paul and Kendra’s research and commitment to our community.
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SPC: APP 2013 Roll call!


Hey Folks!
I’ll be heading out early Monday morning for the annual APP Conference in sunny Las Vegas Nevada!

Conference is always a good time; learning, checking out new jewelry from our favorite companies, lazing in the sun and meeting up every night at the ‘splash bar’..  this year I’m going to be covering it live for you good folks who read modblog with ‘instant updates’ as well as shooting video interviews with anyone who’d like to sit down and talk.

So if you’re going to be in Vegas, look me up and you could end up here on Modblog!


Can you ever be “too clean”?

At what point is addressing sterile field control overkill? I mean, on one hand it’s never a bad thing per se, but in a cost-competitive world, lines have to be drawn somewhere or you’ll lose money providing protections that are redundant. Should one always strive to be better? Or does one reach a level of risk mitigation where no reasonable improvement is left to be had, and it’s better to move on to other areas?

I’m really blown away (in a good way) by the level of concern Ronaldo “Piercer Snoopy” Sampaio of Sao Paulo, Brazil (piercer-snoopy.blogspot.com) pays to even “basic” procedures like navel piercings, wearing full surgical gowns and a mask in addition to the industry standard gloves. We all accept that gloves are needed. This is not so much to avoid skin-on-skin contact between the piercer and their client, but because changing gloves is the easiest way to control cross-contamination. Oversimplifying the matter, the primary purpose of gloves is to provide a barrier between clients (even though they’re rarely in the room at the same time), to stop transmission of blood-borne diseases from one client to the next. Gowns, hair nets, and masks on the other hand primarily provide a barrier between the piercer and client. In addition to these protections, in some cases this studio does the procedure through a “window” in a surgical drape. In addition to creating psychological clarity by isolating the procedure from the rest of the environment, this minimizes the risk of pulling any bacteria from the surface of the client’s skin into the wound.

On one hand, all of these protections reduce the chance of infection and related complications as well as projecting an air of professionalism. But on the other hand, humans have been piercing each other with dirty sticks in caves for perhaps the last hundred thousand years. What do you think? Where do you draw the line for acceptable minimum standards? What do you expect of a top-notch shop? Is there a level where you begin questioning the allocation of resources? Do different procedures have different rules? No matter where you think the line should be drawn, I hope you agree it’s wonderful that people are working at such a high standard to even allow such questions to be asked!


The Tongue-Drive System

(Editor’s note: This article will be published in the summer 2012 issue of The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers.  James Weber the article’s author, have given BME permission to publish this article for the continued education of professionals and body art enthusiasts. Enjoy.)

Late last February a rather curious news story made the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites and pop culture blogs. Various publications1 reported on an article2 about a project from Georgia Tech, one that enables a person with quadriplegia to control a wheelchair through the movement of the tongue by moving around a magnet worn in a tongue piercing. Piercers everywhere were sharing, reposting, and reblogging the article in a variety of places—including on my Facebook timeline. Fortunately, this was not news to me, as I’ve had the unique opportunity to be involved with the project as a consultant for several years. But after a dozen piercers forwarded me the article I realized it was time to write about my experience with the clinical trials of the Tongue Drive System.

In late October of 2009 I was contacted by Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo, Associate Professor at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over the phone he explained the project that he was working on, titled in the research protocol Development and Translational Assessment of a Tongue-Based Assistive Neuro-Technology for Individuals with Severe Neurological Disorders. Simply, this is a system that allows persons with quadriplegia to perform a variety of computer-aided tasks—including operating their wheelchairs—by changing the position of a small magnet inside their mouths. The magnet’s changing position is monitored by a headpiece that looks like a double-sided, hands-free phone headset.

His team had, at that point, experimented with different ways to attach the magnet to the tongue with varying degrees of success. Adhesives were only effective for very short periods, and the idea of permanently implanting a magnet into the tongue was not considered a workable alternative.3 This left a third option suggested by Dr. Anne Laumann: attaching a magnet to the tongue with a tongue piercing.

He then came to the reason for his call: he asked if I would be interested in being involved in the clinical trials as a member of the Data Safety Monitoring Board. As I listened to him describe the details of my involvement, I thought about the incredible places my life as a piercer—and my job as an APP Board member—have brought me. I enthusiastically and without hesitation said “Yes!”

(Note: The article is pretty lengthy, so we’ve put a break here to same some space. Click the Read More button to continue)

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Pulling the line

With help from Andrew and Kelvikta the Blade from Swing Shift Side Show, as well as Lukas Larson and Will Robinson, SirPerrald and a friend had themselves a fun time with a pull.  This took place during the final days of this year’s APP conference, and it really shows the transition two people can undergo when pulling.  In the first photo, they’re relaxing, hanging on to each other, yet in the next they’re doing everything in their power to pull apart.  Because of the contrast with the first photo, we can see just how significant this pull is to them.  While they may have things inside each other pulling them apart, they’re connected by something stronger than both of them.  A bond that links them together, preventing them from separating.

APP Podcast With Perk900

Hey, remember when I said I had a fun surprise this week? I wasn’t lying! Live from the parking lot of one of Las Vegas’s finest Del Taco establishments, this afternoon we caught up with Brian to see what sort of excitement’s been going on during the first few days of this year’s Association of Professional Piercers convention. Among the topics of conversation: good times at a shooting range, the brick shit-house that is Buck Angel (evidenced by he and Sarvas disrobing for a photo together) and the lethal combination of the boner pill Cialis and grapefruit juice. And, of course, much, much more. Get it below. Get it.

(Ed. note: The sound is a little fuzzy at times, but I cleaned it up as best I could. Brian was in a bit of a noisy area. We’ll forgive him.)


Right-click and “Save Target/Link As” to download the .mp3 directly

Music featured:

Embrace – Give Me Back
Sugar – Hoover Dam
Wilco – I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

Don’t read your press, weigh it. [The Association of Professional Piercers]

“Don’t read your press, weigh it.”
               — Andy Warhol

Trigeminal Neuralgia and Tongue Piercing…
Pierce your tongue, be driven to suicide?

When I got into work on Friday, October 20th, there was a fax waiting for me. It was a copy of a newspaper article from the San Francisco Daily with a headline that read, “Tongue Piercing Tied to Painful ‘Suicide Disease.’” I knew it was going to be a busy weekend.

And then the calls started. Had I seen the articles? Had I read them? What was I, as the Medical Liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers, going to do about them?

Since the article originated at the Associated Press, it was everywhere. (The AP news service is the oldest and largest news organization in the world. It supplies news to over 1,700 US newspapers daily, 5,000 TV and radio stations, and 8,500 international subscribers.) The piece was printed in dozens of newspapers, occasionally with different headlines over the same body provided by the Associated Press.

For those that haven’t seen the article, the gist of it is this:

A research letter written up in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and published on October 18th, 2006,* was titled “Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia Associated With Tongue Piercing.” It outlines the case of an Italian woman who complained of face and head pain that started one month after she had her tongue pierced, and lasted for two months until she removed her jewelry. In the article, the pain was purported to come in episodes “described as ‘electric shocks’” which “lasted from 10 to 30 seconds, and recurred 20 to 30 times each day, increasing in frequency and severity in the latter weeks.” According to the authors, these episodes were consistent with the disorder known as trigeminal neuralgia.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition characterized by sudden attacks of pain involving different sections of the face. These attacks are severe, and are usually described as resembling electric shocks — the pain is intermittent, but intense. And, most importantly, the article goes on to describe several types of trigeminal neuralgia, the main two being typical trigeminal neuralgia, and atypical trigeminal neuralgia.

Typical trigeminal neuralgia is incredibly painful, and most often caused by an enlarged blood vessel putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve root (the trigeminal nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves serving the face and head). What results from this pressure is an extreme, electric shock-like pain that is completely debilitating for the sufferer. (The diagnosis of typical TN is based in part upon the sufferer’s description of his/her pain.)

Atypical trigeminal neuralgia is a less common form of the disorder and is characterized by less intense, constant, dull burning or aching pain, often with occasional electric shock-like stabs. Atypical TN is also not commonly treatable with medications used for typical TN, such as carbamazapine. (It should be noted that, in the JAMA article, the patient was treated with carbamazapine with little effect.)

The woman in the JAMA article was diagnosed with atypical trigeminal neuralgia, based on the descriptions of her pain (and her lack of reaction to the carbamazapine). After the failure of the medication, she took out her tongue piercing jewelry, and the symptoms disappeared completely within 48 hours. Though it was speculated that the tongue piercing was the cause of the TN, it was noted, “The symptom was probably secondary to a lingual metallic implant, and although findings indicate the involvement of the trigeminal system, the location of the piercing and implant should not have resulted in trigeminal injury.” It further references an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, where a 66 year-old woman was suffering from trigeminal neuralgia from a mercury-amalgam filling in one tooth coming in contact with a gold crown on the adjacent one. On the whole, the research letter in JAMA was informative, well written and, above all, objective. The same cannot be said about the Associated Press article.

The problem with the AP article was that it failed to differentiate between typical trigeminal neuralgia and atypical trigeminal neuralgia. It also was the first mention of TN’s most unfortunate nickname: the suicide disease. Because of the overwhelmingly intense pain, those suffering from typical TN have a very high incidence of suicide—the pain is so horrible that many feel this is the only way out. This is not true of atypical TN, which is a much more minor, and more manageable form of the disorder. The combination of these two pieces of the AP article—the lack of distinction between typical and atypical TN, and the inclusion of the phrase “suicide disease”—set the stage for the press that followed.

While the title of the AP article—“Tongue Piercing Linked To Pain”—was not especially inflammatory, things got worse each time the article was reprinted. Each news posting (print or web) provided their own headlines, and made decisions about how much of the article to reprint. (Many papers choose to edit the article for length, often leaving out the paragraph where Dr. Marcelo Galarza, an author of the original study, states, “Certainly, this was an isolated case, an extremely rare complication of this kind of piercing,”) This is where the incitive headlines appeared, such as the one MSNBC, which screamed “Teen’s Tongue Piercing Causes ‘Suicide Disease.’” [CACHE]

Strangely, the whole incident reminded me of The Simpsons. (Yes, the TV show.) On the first season’s DVD collection, if you listen to the writers’ commentary during the episodes, you hear them often mention the cheap shots and cruel jokes included at the expense of the old. This was because every week they were pitted against the Cosby show in their time bracket. And while The Simpsons led the ratings with the younger demographic, anyone over 40 that was watching TV at that time was watching Bill Cosby and his TV family. This gave the creative team at The Simpsons free rein to make the elderly the butt of any joke they wanted—there was simply no one watching who would complain to the network.

This is much the same way piercers and other body modification artists allow themselves to be portrayed by the mainstream media: We’re the whipping boy for traditional news services because not only are we a marginalized and unorganized group, but we’re simply not watching, and not insisting that news outlets are held accountable for misinformation and exaggerations that are printed about us and what we do.

So what was I going to do about the mess started by the Associated Press?

The first thing I did was to write a letter on behalf of the APP to the Associated Press writer, politely seeking to educate her on the situation, and explaining my interest as the APP’s Medical Liaison.

The next, more daunting, task was to attempt to send a letter to the editor of every news outlet that ran the AP article. After emailing out the first round of letters for the articles that were already sent me, I composed a letter to the APP membership asking for help in tracking down versions of the article in all media. This message was sent to every APP member via email asking each to forward me contact info for any paper they encountered which printed the AP story—which quite a few did. (I then sent out the letter to each news source.) This request was also posted on MySpace, and I saw the letter re-posted repeatedly in bulletins by over the course of several days.

The response to all this was amazing. I received emails from members (and non-members) from all over the country. These included about fifty links to outlets running the AP letter, from newspapers to TV stations to radio stations to Internet news groups. I spent a day modifying the letter template, and composing and sending a letter to each news editor. I posted on newspaper and newsgroup comment boards, and on larger papers that listed postal addresses, I had letters printed and sent from the APP office to each of the newspapers.

At times it did seem rather futile. How many of my letters to the editors did I think would actually get printed? It didn’t matter—I was simply determined to not let tongue piercing be the focus of yet another misinformed, sensationalistic attack on what we do, on what we hold to be most important.

And it must have worked. The last time I did a Google search with the words “tongue piercing suicide disease,” my letter came up #3, on the Chicago Tribune’s website [CACHE]. Not too bad.

And while we are still a long way, as an industry, from getting the respect that we deserve, we don’t have to be passive participants in the process. If we don’t like the way we’re being portrayed by the mainstream media, we have a responsibility to our industry and ourselves to try to do something about it. Change will be slow to come, but I believe that, unified and organized, we can make a difference.

     James Weber
     APP Medical Liaison (safepiercing.org)
     Infinite Body Piercing (infinitebody.com)

* Gazzari R, Merceri S, Galarza M. Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia Associated With Tongue Piercing. Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 296, No. 15, October 18, 2006.

Cheshire WP Jr. The Shocking Tooth About Trigeminal Neuralgia. New England Journal of Medicine. 2000;342:2003.

Started in California in 1994, the Association of Professional Piercers is an international non-profit organization that is committed to the dissemination of vital health and safety information about body piercing to the piercing community, health care professionals, legislators, and the general public. The APP holds its annual conference each year in Vas Vegas, Nevada in the first week in May.

Copyright © The Association of Professional Piercers. Reprinted on BMEzine.com with permission. Articles in this column are published simultaneously in The Point: The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers. Subscriptions are $10 for four issues and are available through the APP website at safepiercing.org.

James Weber is the current Medical Liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers. He has been piercing professionally since 1993 and has been actively involved at industry-wide level in legislative, educational, and public relations projects for much of that time. He is the co-owner of Infinite Body Piercing, which he has been operating in Philadelphia since 1995. He is also the editor of The Point: The Quarterly Journal of the Association of Professional Piercers. He can be reached at m[email protected].