Bionics, Biological Self-Checks, and How I Just Lost my Right Nipple Ring.

30 Jan


Yeah, I didn’t literally lose it. It migrated to the surface over the course of more than a year. I was attempting to remove it, thinking that it needed to be re-set, and while attempting to remove the bead it just popped off.

Seriously, straight through the flesh. I didn’t feel a thing physically, so I’m presuming that there was nothing but a little cutaneous tissue holding it on. However, there was this profound moment of loss. I put up a blog post on piercing art before, and since have gotten six pieces; two in my right ear, two in my left (nonsymmetric), and two nipple rings.

I remember people fretting about male body art in the east, in my notoriously old-South family, but honestly I am much more concerned about losing it than I ever was about getting it. We think of these things as something permanent. We think of them as a lasting part of us. However, the truth is that tattoos bleach over time, scarification can (somewhat) fade over over an extended period, and believe me, the body is very good at differentiating between what does belong to it, and what does not, so every piercing you get, given enough time, will find its way out.

Some are better behaved than others.

I remember back in the day, when neuroprosthetics wasn’t a real thing, and we referred to it by the comic-book names of bionics and cybernetics, there was a lasting belief that the metal could simply be sealed to the body somehow. The thought was, incorrectly, that stopping the bleeding would convince the body that the wound was closed. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case; if you breach the skin, the immune system will know about it, and may complain vividly until the gap is closed.

This was eventually worked around by integrating the skin as part of the treatment. Modern artificial cochlea are actually two-piece components; one of them is subdermal (beneath the skin), the other superdermal. The superdermal part is the part that you can actually interact with; it requires a power source, it can be tuned and calibrated, and it can be removed. In operation, it communicates with the subdermal part via a focused magnetic field, which passes through the skin with little interference. The subdermal component is the one responsible for communicating this signal to the auditory nerves.

You know what happens when you try and merge the super- and sub- components into one? You get a nasty infection and potentially further damage.

For bionic limbs, the winning method (as of yet) is to receive signals sent to the stumps that correspond with attempted actions with the missing limb, interpret them with an on-board neural network, and feed the proper message to the twenty two or more motors in the limb. It is fantastically effective, and even allows for feedback to the brain. No breach necessary.

So how does the body know that the wound is open? Our dermis is a little more complicated than a paper bag. Describing the entire immune response requires more patience than I have as a writer, or you have as an off-brand reader who might have been expecting something more akin to modular human designs (which it is not). However, the breach of the skin releases compounds called cytokines, which act as messengers to the rest of the body and trigger a full-fledged assault. Unlike well-designed software, the body was formed on the crucible of natural selection, and often has many functional systems partially manifest in a single physical one.

So, the next obvious question. If hole-in-the-chassis bionics and cybernetics don’t work, and my right nipple ring was removed as a foreign invader, why hasn’t my left moved? There are more factors, I’m certain, than I specifically know of. However, deeper piercings, particularly those with a hole on both sides of the flesh, have slower rejection rates. (Note that I did not say “no rejection rate”; but slow enough to approximate to permanence.) Additional issues can include secondary local inflammation; which you may think of as the immune system going into five-alarm mode and accepting greater degrees of loss. This includes infections (which have their own problems, keep it clean!), irritation from over-cleaning (which also has its problems), and metal sensitivities. Using something biocompatible is generally a good idea, even if you have no known metal sensitivities. Last but not least is weight; heavier jewellery migrates on account of gravity alone.

Cytokines are one of the first-phases of what you may think of as an organic observer pattern. Think of the various immune-related tissues as observers; and compounds like cytokines, chemokins, and elastin proteins, are messages to them. “Ah,” you say, “now you’re speaking my language!” Sort of. Is it possible to prevent this by suppressing the messages? Sure, if you don’t mind developing oozing sores from a repressed immune system. As for me, I will simply be having Phil give it a thorough autoclaving and punch it back in there, perhaps further down.

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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Body Art


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