I had a magnet implanted in my left ring finger yesterday. Since then, I’ve received a flood of questions and thought I’d like to write about it because it’s a new and experimental procedure in a field that is already pretty poorly understood by a lot of people.
First though, I’d like to start off with the biggest question that keeps being thrown my way, accompanied by varying levels of disdain and curiosity.
Body modification has been around since we’ve had bodies to modify, yet it ends up being somewhat of a controversial topic in very strangely selective ways. Very few people will bat an eyelash at a pair of pierced ears, but will turn up their nose at the same jewelry a couple inches away in a lip or an eyebrow. No one will comment if you dye your hair from brown to auburn but go a few more shades and suddenly it’s a big deal and people will start asking you what your relationship with your parents is like and tell you you’re not fit to work in the lowest paying jobs in the country. The degree of shock and judgement obviously varies based on where you go, but it still kind of astounds me that in 2013 where you can have the internet in your pocket, we can complain about other people’s harmless aesthetic choices for being “unnatural”. My body is a temple so don’t you DARE decorate yours. Humanity departed from the natural a damn long time ago, and that’s a good thing, because personally I think refrigeration and planes and living past 30 are all pretty cool things.
But when you err off the beaten path in this very specific way, pearls begin to be clutched and motives begin to be questioned and accusations of trying to be trendy or rage against some unspecific machine begin to be thrown around. Body modification is too old, too widespread, and too varied for any one generalization to be thrown around. Tattoos don’t solely come from jail sentences, tongue rings aren’t just for sexual purposes, and there’s no ear piercing that you can get to signify that you’re a homosexual. Furthermore, a person having a specific modification isn’t somehow a challenge or advertisement for to you to do the same. It’s totally fine for something to not be for you - body modification is by no means for everyone - but there’s few things in life that can affect you less than someone else’s personal appearance, so why act like a jerk about it?
For me, personally, I grew up with it. I was raised in a Harley shop and was in the room when my dad got a tattoo when I was 3. It seemed like magic the way the tattoo gun would seemingly float across his skin, leaving art underneath. My mom was as heavily tattooed as he was, and I even had my ears pierced as an infant (which is FREAKING WEIRD in my book, who pierces a baby jesus christ). I also grew up in a very poor area, so it wasn’t until I ventured out of that little bubble that I saw people start to have a problem with it. People would point to these things as markers of lower class (despite people from all walks of life being modified these days), and specifically on women as a sign promiscuity, and I didn’t understand why a portrait of a lost loved one across your shoulder would evoke this reaction in anyone. I didn’t understand why having less money was cause for treating someone poorly either, but I was a kid and didn’t “get” classism yet.
As I grew up, I learned very quickly that a lot of my worth to people was based on my appearance. The first thing anyone would ever say about a girl back home was how pretty she was or wasn’t, and pretty meant a very specific thing. Even then I felt this was wrong and hated it - but it still left me with a very bad case of body dysmorphia that I still struggle with, and a feeling like my body was considered public property. And it wasn’t just a feeling - people to this day still act like I’m somehow doing them a disservice by having modifications. “You’d be so much prettier if only you’d just not do this to yourself” is something I have heard entirely too often in my lifetime.
I started dying my hair when I was 14 to reject all of this (and also because I like color quite a lot) and deliberately stop trying to look like what everyone told me I should look like. It became a kind of reclamation, and with every dye job, piercing, and tattoo I’ve amassed over the years it’s pushed back against the feeling that I should hate the skin I live in, and that I should endeavor to look like someone else. It’s taking it and affirming “this is mine and I’ll make of it what I wish”, taking things from my life and personality and externalizing them in a way I find beautiful and in the ways that people with my upbringing did, and it makes me *happy*. I keep lost friends with me in my skin with the abstract memorial pieces I have, I can fiddle with my lip ring when I get anxious instead of biting my cuticles or chewing all the pen caps in the house to death, I keep the things that are important to me visible so that when things get dark I don’t get too lost, I look down at the bee on my arm that matches a family member’s in another country and feel a little closer to him when I’m lonely, and I am slowly making my outsides match my insides. I actually don’t usually answer when someone ask what my tattoos mean because of how deeply personal a lot of them are.
And none of that has anything to do with you, and it’d be nice if more people realized that.
Good lord that turned into a rant. Apologies for that, but it’s important to me and has been a thing people have been kinda shitty to me about my entire life, which has reared it’s head again while talking about these implants.
Anyway, onto the actual magnets, specifically.
Getting a magnetic implant into your finger gives you an entirely new sense. You’re able to feel and touch magnetic fields around objects, tell live wires from dead, see if something is ferrous, and a variety of other really cool things. You can also do goofy pub tricks like picking up paperclips and larger things and essentially become a shittier version of Magneto. After doing extensive research I could absolutely NOT pass this up. As a friend put it, it’s essentially a free cyberpunk upgrade. It’s a minor superpower in real life. It’s like being able to see a new color. Plus, I lost the ability to play guitar due to a medical condition when that was ALL I DID as a teenager and it’s been a thing I’ve been mopey about for basically ever. It’s a way to get SOME use out of my shitty, ruined hands. Yes fucking please. Sign me up.
So what are these things anyway?
OH NO YOU ASKED A NERD A TECHNICAL QUESTION HOLD ON TO YER BUTTS.
Essentially they’re a strong rare earth magnet (neodymium iron boron alloy for the curious with a thin gold plating around it just to be doublesure that it’s safe to put in humans), then coated in silicone to be TRIPLE sure it doesn’t mess you up. Body modification artists have been fucking around with this sort of thing since the late 1990s, but a pair of gifted artists named Jesse Jarrell and Steve Haworth made it their own in the mid 2000s, implanting them in a prominent body modification community leader (ever heard of BME?) named Shannon Larratt. These unfortunately broke down pretty quickly and had to be removed out of most people due to the silicone covering wearing down and the implant rupturing. You don’t want to google what that looks like. It was sad and kinda written off as an impossibility for a time until the second generation of the implant was made by the same guys. Basically, the problem before was in the dip-method way of coating the implants in silicon, which would not be even all over the implant, and the wear and tear in the thinner areas lead to the rupture. These two smart guys switched to using injection-molded silicone, which leads to an even covering over the entire magnet and no weak spots. PROBLEM SOLVED! What a couple of smart motherfuckers. Anyway, as it stands, the major risk is one of rejection (when your body goes NOPE and pushes out a foreign object like a splinter) and that’s a problem with every single piercing-type thing ever. Even then, second insertions have an incredibly high success rate and ruptures are a thing of the past. As of 2011, thousands of people have these things in them and few report any problem with them at all.
So how did I get one jammed all up in my finger?
The first step was EXTENSIVE RESEARCH, which you should be doing for any body modification. Seriously. Do it. I don’t care how common it is. Especially if it’s your first time getting anything done to you - I’ve had conversations with body mod artists about the magnets in particular about how some silicone valley gadgetheads come in with no knowledge and just want the cool weird interaction with electronics without doing their homework or respecting the tons of years of culture they’re about to hop on. And, of course, these tend to be the same white collar, upper class guys who will look down on someone with facial piercings or visible tattoos as being weirdos despite it being a less invasive or experimental procedure. It’s not that hard to learn a little about the subculture you’re about to visit. Learning is rad. Not doing so is basically like going over to someone’s house with dog shit on the bottom on your shoes and tracking it all over the carpet before leaving unceremoniously. So please, if you work at google FUCKING USE IT.
In my research, I found that it’s actually somewhat challenging to find a practitioner because of the tools used during the procedure. There’s this awkward grey line between body modification and practicing medicine without a license, especially when scalpels and stitches get involved. This is the reason why you can’t generally get anesthetic during body mod procedures, and why talented and safe implant artists can’t do anything like implanting a new nipple-shaped implant for breast cancer survivors, no matter how much they may want to and how much medical doctors will refuse to, leaving the person desiring the specific mod in a really shitty position. If it seems like it’s somehow corrective or “with current beauty standards” according to a specific ordinance I came across, then body mod practitioners can’t do it and that’s as nebulous and awkward as it sounds. I really wish legislation would catch up with culture in this regard, and I feel like there’s a lot that body modification practitioners could do for people in terms of cosmetic therapy, or that medical doctors could do for body modification (which they’re SO FAR behind including docs who won’t give women with lower back tattoos epidurals during childbirth because they’re afraid the ink will get in the spinal cord and 10 seconds on google will tell you how idiotic that is) but we’re just not there yet.
Through reading experiences of people who actually have had it done, I saw some names dropped by people who have had very positive and successful experiences with it (and its hard to find people who haven’t). One name, Brian Decker, stood out, and he was close enough that myself and my roommate booked an appointment as soon as he’d take us. You’ll likely have to travel to find a good practitioner, but it’s worth it. Never fuck around when it comes to who you let modify you.
NOW I’M ABOUT TO GET GROSS AND TELL YOU WHAT GOES DOWN.
Finally the appointment arrived, and I was so thankful to not be going it alone because despite my mods I’m a pretty huge wuss and it was everything I could do to not chicken out when aiming to have one of the most sensitive parts of my body STABBED. Brian turned out to be amazing and have patient and supportive bedside manner, and I cannot say enough nice things about the guy and his art. He had it done himself and let us poke his finger to feel it, asked us if we wanted the smaller one or the larger one, told us the risks and asked us some questions, and we sat in the lobby sweating bullets while he went to go set up.
Once in the room, I asked about icing the finger first because I’d read accounts of people doing that. He let us know that in his experience, the anesthesia is as bad as the procedure and I opted to just sit through it. It felt more “right” anyway, which is probably weird, but the act of getting modified is one I take kinda seriously and some pain is worth the price of low-grade superpowers. Also if I was gonna do this, I thought I should crank it up to 11, so I opted for the larger magnet, to go first, and to go it with no anesthetic. Because I’m a jackass. But that should be readily apparent already.
I panicked and laid down on the table as he sanitized the everliving fuck out of everything because the man is PROFESSIONAL and I made stupid Magneto jokes to be less nervous. He readied the scalpel and told me he’s usually in and done in a matter of 5 seconds or so, which was reinforced by everything I read about his technique. Basically what happens during the procedure is a scalpel is used to make a pocket in your finger, angled to make sure it’s the right size, removed, and then the magnet is inserted. A single stitch closes the cut, and then you’re good to go. He lined things up and I started internally freaking out as soon as the scalpel hit my skin, the same as I have every time the piercer lines up the needle on my skin, and he told me to take a deep breath.
Those fucking deep breaths. I can never do them right even for little piercings because I’m FREAKING OUT.
I’m not meaning to put anyone off from doing it when I say this, but the pain was FUCKING INSANE. I’ve napped during my 40 hours of tattoo work before, gotten all manner of painful piercings and at least 30 of them over the years and been fine, but holy shit this was something else. I’m thankful that my brain doesn’t remember pain all that well, but I did feel the skin actually separate and I can’t forget what the felt like. Brian later told me I was kind of a special case though, and required a bit more time with the scalpel in my finger to widen the hole, and when he told me “ok now I’m gonna put the magnet in” I thought I’d already been done. I actually yelled and tried very hard not to thrash or throw him off but god DAMN. Nerve endings are a strange thing that can make a small amount of trauma seem like you’re going to die. The body is such a drama queen sometimes. All in all he was probably cutting my finger for closer to 30ish seconds, but that’s not to say that’s common or an indictment of how incredibly skilled the guy is. I’m just a weirdo.
The magnet going in was painful but not as bad as the scalpelling because I think, mercifully, my brain went NOPE YOU’VE HAD ENOUGH at this point and my finger started to go numb. I didn’t even really feel the single stitch he did at the tip of it to sew it shut, and I laid on the table panting and quietly cursing to myself about the explosion of firing neurons. For some reason my pinkie started to throb. I’ve never felt anything like that and I seriously don’t know how some people get one in each finger after the first.
After all of this I was in a daze and he started dangling the needle over my fingertip. I flinched, worried that he wasn’t done yet, but then the needle started being drawn to my finger like magic. As soon as I realized that’s what he was doing, he smiled and took his finger that has his own magnetic implant in it and touched it to mine and I felt it be drawn to his. Suddenly all the pain was worth it. It was such a small gesture but it made me instantly not care about the pain, and I was grateful for this little moment, this little reminder, and this little connection.
Seriously, best bedside manner ever.
Then it was my roommate’s turn, who was now quite justifiably freaked out. His procedure went a lot quicker and smoothly, and I helped talk him through it and felt a little less uncool when he also hollered as the scalpel went in. I actually sat and watched Brian work, even though I’d been too squeamish to do it when he was working on me, and it was strange to see it from the outside because the smallness of it didn’t match with the feeling of it in my brain. It’s really weird to see something biologically installed in someone, but I’m glad I did, and I kinda regretted not watching mine.
Then we went and got pizza while high on endorphins because we were in NYC and my roommate said that he thought Pizza Hut made the best pizza, and as someone born in NY this really irrationally upset me.
Our stitches are due out in a week and the healing process is actually less complicated than a piercing or tattoo. It’s in you, and you just kinda ice it a little on the first day and don’t do anything stupid with it. I’ve had more trouble with ear piercings.
Now it’s the day after and it almost doesn’t hurt at all. I’m still covering the incision with a band aid just because I’m accident prone and oblivious, and it’s swollen and bruised but only hurts when I bonk it on something. It’s mostly just numb. Full sensation is supposed to return in about 6 months but I can already feel plenty and sense certain magnetic fields. It’ll get stronger as the nerves heal around it, too. I’m refraining from trying to pick much up with it because I want it to heal really well, but the times I’ve moved things I feel like a really specific telekinetic. I can also feel the field put out by my laptop in some spots. It feels like when you press your hand against a really carbonated drink can and feel the bubbles, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. Then again, it being somewhat indescribable is one of the reasons I decided to do it instead of just read about it. I can’t wait to see what happens as it heals more.
I promised to do a FAQ after posting about it, so heregoes:
A: See the wordvomit at the top of this article.
Q: What about wiping out hard drives/credit cards/touchscreens/etc?
A: The magnets aren’t big enough for this, and it’s a lot harder to do this than you give it credit for. I’m still secretly hoping I could maybe fuck up a floppy disk, but who even has floppy disks anymore? Regardless, this isn’t an issue with these.
Q: What about airport security?
A: No one has had a problem with this so far. If it comes up I’m just gonna tell them what it is and then feel shitty about white privilege as they probably leave me alone.
Q: What about Defibs/Pacemaker?
A: This actually hasn’t come up yet - these haven’t been implanted in anyone with one so who knows. I would probably refrain from running my hands across someone who has a pacemaker’s chest, but I don’t live in a romance novel so it probably won’t come up (unfortunately).
Q: What about MRIs?
A: If I need one, I’ll tell the technician. I already have a titanium implant in my face. Both have gone into MRIs in other people and come out fine, though the people with magnets who have gotten MRIs report it as feeling “really fucking weird”. The MRI could also potentially demagnetize the implant and that’s a bummer. If I need an MRI and I’m unconscious, I probably have way bigger problems than potentially fucking up the weakest finger on my offhand, so it’s a risk I’ve accepted and am honestly not too worried about.
Q: Why fingers?
A: The short answer is that they’re sensitive. It makes sensing what the magnet does that much more pronounced, just simply because you’re jamming it into a bundle of nerves. However, people do get magnets elsewhere, including on different spots on the hand with a romantic partner so they feel that tug when they hold hands.
Q: How does this influence your relationship with technology?
A: I’ll be able to give a better answer for this once my finger’s fully healed, but as a game developer already it’s really goddamned cool to be able to *feel* the tools I make art with. Even in the minor ways it’s already working, I feel more than ever that the computers I pour code and art into are extensions of myself, and that’s pretty goddamned cool in my book, but I am hopelessly romantic about creativity and prone to fits of stereotypical artist bullshit so, grain of salt.
Q: Can you stop bullets?
A: Darling, I could already stop bullets and that has nothing to do with magnets ;*
Q: Can you still play guitar or rock climb?
A: This was actually a question Brian asked us before putting them in. He plays guitar with one, and rock climbs, but obviously you should probably try and limit the amount of stress you put these things under. You can still do these things, just be more careful and maybe wrap them up beforehand in the case of rock climbing.
Q: Can’t you glue magnets to your fingers and get the same response?
A: No, because you’re not literally encasing them in sensitive nerve endings. Beside that, I’m in the “body modification is meaningful to me on more than an aesthetic level” so I’d no sooner want to glue a magnet to my finger than I would a sticker of an earring to my ear or draw my tattoos on in sharpie.
Q: Are you now a steel-type pokemon?
A: Yes. I’m a lonely Magnemite looking for 2 others so we can all evolve into a Magneton together and just explode all over the damn place.
Q: Is there a benefit to getting more than one?
A: Kind of. Supposedly getting more helps you get more of a 3D feel of what the fields are like. They don’t do more than one in a single finger because it’ll fuck up your skin, and more than one in a single finger is a little redundant anyhow. A lot of people also apparently like having a “control” hand so they can tell if what they’re feeling is because of the magnet or not. I’m gonna try soloing it for now and if I really feel like going through ridiculous amounts of pain again for more of a 3D perspective, I can always do that later.
Anyway, that’s been my experience with it so far with a whole lot of words about what body modification in general means to me. I’ll probably post an update when it’s fully healed on what life is like on the other side of it once I regain full sensation. I hope it wasn’t too crazy of a read, but I figured complete honesty was the right way to go, plus it was kind of a cool experience and I’m happy to share it with anyone who is curious. I feel like the more we talk about this stuff, maybe the less the stigma will be, and maybe next time someone sees someone with visible mods instead of going OH NO A CRIMINAL they’ll go “oh hey that looks kinda neat”. But enough with the hopeless romantic/sap/jackass writing - thank you for reading and I hope that answers your questions!