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Self Advocacy with Medical Professionals and Procedures

I often discuss my experience with medical procedures as a modified person on my social media and here on this blog. As anyone with many piercings or tattoos has experienced, sometimes our interactions with medical professionals don’t go as easily or comfortably as we would like. There is still a lot of misinformation about body modifications in the medical field. So, todays blog post is all about advocating for yourself with medical professionals, and my personal tips to make your experiences easier.

Be Polite, Be Prepared

The first step is kill them with kindness. Medical professionals often already deal with a large amount of verbal and emotional abuse from patients and people they interact with. The pandemic has only made this worse. So approaching anyone you are working with with some extra kindness and gentleness can go a very long way. As people with lots of piercings and tattoos we can sometimes make work more challenging for them, and being pleasant and easy to work with absolutely can help balance that out. For example, when getting blood drawn I often offer either arm, and I understand some techs are not comfortable doing a draw on my more tattooed arm. I don't make them feel bad about this (even though I prefer my other arm) I try to come ready to compromise and hope they will offer me the same.

When I know I am having procedures or imaging done, I come prepared with paperwork about my jewelry already ready. I have my mill certs and a letter explaining them ready to go for doctors, and I am polite about presenting them. I also often call ahead and ask to talk with anesthesia or imaging staff to explain my piercing and modifications, and let them know before hand what they are working with, and that I have the required documentation. When I’ve had surgeries done I’ve tried to follow every rule to the tee. When I came in for my tube removal I removed the nail polish on my pointer fingers ahead of time for their pulse monitors. The nurses instantly noticed I had followed that without being asked and were very grateful for that. I was responsible with the food and medication limitations around surgery as well. Helping make their life easier and being a pleasant patient to work with will make them more likely to hear you out about your modifications.

Get the Good Stuff

This may seem obvious, but the second biggest step to making medical interactions easier is to be pierced with implant grade materials from reputable companies. Quality implant grade ASTMF136 titanium is the same material used in bone screws and knee replacements. It’s a medical grade of metal that’s nonferomagnetic, non conductive, and usually safe for surgeries and imaging. When you are pierced with this material, from quality companies, it comes with mill certifications that verify the quality of the material. Knowing this, I’m able to explain to medical staff the type of metal in my jewelry, why it’s not safe for me to remove many of my piercings, and why I’m able to safely leave them in for procedures without them causing issue. You can learn more about this specific to MRI’s in my article here.

If you are concerned about metal, you can also get quality glass retainers which are usually safe for most imaging and procedures. Take a trip to your piercer the day before your surgery or medical procedure and have your piercings swapped for retainers. Then, when you are feeling up to it after, come back in and have us put all your pieces back! Retainers are a great alternative for keeping piercings open but still playing it safe.

Be a solution, not a problem

When I come into medical situations I try to come prepared to make things easier. I know that their concerns are for my health and safety and the success of whatever is being done that day. So not only am I upfront about my piercings and modifications, I also try to be prepared with a solution.

“Unfortunately, most of my piercings are unable to safely be removed for surgery. I am however wearing all implant grade titanium jewelry, the exact same grade as many bone screws and medical implements. I have the documentation with me verifying that all of my jewelry is implant grade. I understand this may be an extra risk, and I’m willing to sign a waiver about having jewelry in. I also in the past have had my piercings taped for surgery to prevent catches and snags, or conductive risks. I’m more then willing to be taped for this procedure to make your time easier. Thank you for hearing me out about these piercings that are very important to me.”

I like to let them know right away that I know my piercings may make things more difficult, and I am willing to work with them to make any accommodations we can that will allow me to keep them. I also thank them for their time and hearing me out, and remember to thank them for working with me!

Be Realistic

At some point, we do have to be realistic with what we need from medical professionals vs our desire to keep our piercing in. For example, if they needed to do a brain scan, they would genuinely need all the jewelry on my head and face off. Even though it is safe to be imaged with it in, it can cause an artifact or shadow on the image and prevent them from seeing necessary detail about my brain or head to make a diagnosis. It’s one thing to ask to leave jewelry in your ear for imaging of your foot, its another when it’s your head. The same goes for surgery- if the piercing is directly in the area they are operating on, it’s gotta come out. Be realistic and know when to advocate for yourself and when to accept that the best thing for your health is to remove things.

Being realistic also means about your boundaries. I make it a point to seek out professionals who I feel will be more understanding. I research doctors heavily before going in, I am up front and honest about wanting a medical professional who is willing to work with my modifications. I look for hospitals and clinics that have more progressive workplace policies about tattoos and piercing and when I can I try to see modified medical staff. If you can tell you and your modifications aren't welcome by a doctor or at a clinic, find a new one if you are able to!

At the end of the day, medical professionals primary concern is your heath and safety. And they have some valid concerns about having body piercings during some procedures. But as folks with piercings, our piercings are often an important part of our identity, and not something easily removed. Fortunately, with properly quality jewelry, some communication, and some compassion, medical procedures and piercings can get along just fine!

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