Getting and losing an implantable magnet: things you should know

This is a must read for anyone who wants to get, or maybe already has, a magnet implant that is getting old. I’ll share a few personal insights, but also some practical information.

My 2 removed magnets in a plastic bag

Just a few days ago in a Las Vegas hotel room, I had my beloved hand magnets (2 of them) removed. The procedure was done as professionally as humanly possible, using proper medical equipment, on top of the tiny hotel suite table. Just 3 years prior the same person had put one in my finger, and about 8 years prior, someone else implanted one in the side of my hand. The fingertip magnet had an epoxy, non binding coating and was small and flat. The side of my hand had a parylene coating, and was a 3mm cylinder.

Having magnets was a delight. Its a fun as heck party trick. I could lift up small Canadian coins (they are ferrous), bottle caps, electrical components, needles. Once, at a beach, I discovered the sand was littered with iron filings. It changed the way I experienced the world. When cooking, I felt a familiar buzz of my stove. I used it to fix my fair share of things, I could always tell if the outlet my laptop was plugged into was working by feeling the wall plug. I really loved it. I loved feeling my hard drive buzz in my fingertips as I typed on my laptop.

I’m calling this sense of loss “Magnet Morbs”, the feeling of sad loss about loosing my magnetic senses. But there are reasons I did it, and I don’t feel like they are talked about enough.

  1. Placement
    I had 2 magnets, the one on my fingertip really got in the way of a lot of things. Especially working out. I ended up pushing my magnet very far down the side of my finger so I could rock climb. Even then, I would periodically worry about squishing it and found I was not giving climbing my all because I was scared. I have heard similar things about weight lifting, guitar playing, and other finger intensive activities. Although the fingertip is the most sensitive, it also got in the way a lot. Sometimes the magnet would flip around too, more on that in the next section. The magnet in the side of my hand didn’t feel much, even though it was a lot bigger. It could lift more, but very little sensation.
  2. Materials and age
    The first magnet I had in the side of my hand was a parylene coating. At the time, it was pretty cool and new. I was told it would bond to my skin and hold it in place. I didn’t realize the implications of this FULLY until I started to consider removal. Parylene is in fact a medical and implant rated coating, but it is subject to corrosion after some years. Also, the magnet is not physically protected from impact like glass coatings. I don’t know if it wasn’t really known at the time, or if I didn’t have fully informed consent. The coating can form a small crack, which can quickly make it swell up. This can happen suddenly and usually around the 8–10 year mark.My finger magnet did not bind to my skin. This was great for removal, and great for moving it around my finger depending what I was doing. But sometimes it would flip around, because its as flat. I would periodically grab something and it would just spin, it was honestly a horrible and weird feeling I never got used to.I’ve been told bonding can happen with glass ones too, but most of my older glass implants can still be moved around to some degree. its a risk, it really depends on your body, nothing is for sure, and you should be prepared for either outcome. Any material can fail at any time.
  3. Random pains and fears
    The entire time I had my magnet I would get random little pains. I tried to think if they were real or just paranoia, but also, I think its important to understand that this CAN in fact add an extra layer of paranoia to your brain. I do think the pains are real, I’ve had others confirm. They are dull aches that are mostly unremarkable, but just make you wonder if its about to burst. I’ve also heard many stories of people getting very worried, having them emergency removed, only to find out that nothing bad had happened. I think this is a very normal and human response that anyone can have.

For the record, I do NOT get these pains with my RFID glass implants.

Reality of magnet removal

I had my first magnet put in with a needle because I was scared of incisions. That was a long time ago, and I’d no longer be scared of that, but the point is, they go in way too easily. Especially if its old and parylene or anything that might bond to your skin, but this CAN happen with glass implants too. Skin can bond and scar tissue can form around it, which means it can’t just be squeezed out. It has to be cut out, and bonded tissue removed.

You need to have a removal plan before it goes in. My removal was much, much more traumatic that insertion. It involved lots of emotional support and a very patient and determined human with real medical training. I have a significant wound and stitches that require real care, which was not the case when I had it installed.

Once my mag came out, I could see there was nothing wrong with it. However, I spoke to someone earlier that day who told me they had a similar one that was even older than mine that had randomly swelled up and corroded. The older it gets, the higher chance it will fail randomly.

If your magnet gets exposed inside you, a few things will happen. First, it will swell up a bit. You’ll noticed higher degree of discomfort. Over time, you may experience discolouration, you can also experience other side effects as your body breaks it down. You could possibly get an infection or necrotic tissue. It might not to be easy to get an appointment with someone capable to remove it. You should consider cost (depending where you live), access to medical care, access to the person who put it in, etc. A big factor in my removal was not being sure when I’d have access to that again. I had multiple surgeons tell me they wouldn’t remove it and to go back to where I got it done. I’ve also had some implants removed in about 3 minutes with only a small wound. The point is, your millage may vary. Its important to understand the possibilities.

I don’t at all regret getting one, it was amazing, but I think understanding the full lifecycle of any implant is critical. For myself, only glass implants going forward. But removal can still be pretty brutal, and there are all kinds of unexpected failure modes. Glass can crack, there have been incidents of glass magnets also just randomly getting broken or exposed. I had issues in Canada getting a surgeon to take mine out, and basically had no other choice than to go other routes. I know they go in easily, but having a full understanding of removal and plans is really critical before getting one.

2021 Goals Review

I’ve thought for a couple of years now that I should document my goal process. If you know me, you know I’m really into setting professional and artistic goals and generally my career. For the last 3 years, I’ve set annual goals that I’ve found to be really productive. I have a small group of friends I review these with every year, but now I’ll share the process with you. In this post I’ll review my previous goals, and then in my next, I’ll update my hopes and dreams for 2022.

My goals for 2021:
* Get back the french I lost while living in Ontario for 9 years: Big fail. This seemed more important when I was working in manufacturing, much less important now that I’m not at that job. I think my listening skills are much better after being involved with a few french academic things this year though.
* Finish defending my PhD proposal and write at least 1/3 of dissertation: Success! I had a rough time with this goal again while working full time. My very supportive committee helped me out and I feel like this was a massive moment of growth for me, like I learned a new skill I didn’t have before in academic writing. I also am finishing chapter 2 just now, so i’m more like 2/3 finished my dissertation draft.
* Acquire and sell colourful alligator clips: Huge success!!! I didn’t think I’d do this through the supply chain shortages but I did and sold almost 300 sets of clips. I’m very, very happy about this. Still 1200 sets of clips to sell though. They are on sale on Adafruit, which is a dream come true.
* Build at least 1 real wearable project: fail.
* Give 5 talks & show 2 new pieces of art: Fail. I think i exhibited once online in TSixHundred and gave 1 talk in Art&&Handmade. I did order new parts to make a new void, but I don’t think I achieved this goal. I did one interview on the Opposable Thumbs podcast, does that count?
* Finish “resistors” “Capacitors” and “transistors”, (Bonus for “motors”): Fail. I am halfway through making “resistors”.
* Participate in #BadgeLife: fail
* Have clearer vision of long term career: Weirdly, I think I succeeded in this. I think I want to try and get a prof job post PhD.
* Not get side-tracked by moral crusades: Success! I think I’m also better at being quiet about things that make me upset. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but its certainly easier.
* Work on trust issues in relationships: Success! I will flag for myself this goal wasn’t very measurable.
* Regular communication with people: I think also success, but same note on not measurable
* Improve regular Twitter / Instagram electronics posting: Same note 🙂

Some fails this year:
This year was very difficult for a huge part of my skill set which is community. I had several community involved initiatives that did not pan out as I’d hoped. Lots of event organizing hasn’t gone as planned, and I think I’ve taken that very personally. Its just not the time for events right now.  I’m very sad that all the goals I failed at were “making things” goals. I don’t want to loose that part of myself.

The unexpected:
I had a lot of interesting opportunities the be involved in bigger things. A goal i have had quietly. but didn’t write down, has been to be involved in the “larger” community, not simply local Toronto arts. I think I did that:
– Secretary, Board of Directors for Pleasure Dome
– Treasurer, Board of Directors and Summit Chair for Open Source Hardware Association
– Teaching at School of Machines, Making, and Make-Believe
– Being involved with the Milieux Institute at Concordia, although this is something I want to do more with in the future.
– Publishing a few academic papers in journals including the Canadian Journal of Communications
– Microcontroller columnist for Make Magazine
– Guest editing 2 issues of The Prepared !
– Got a studio space I love

I think I succeeded in breaking out of the rut I was in before 2020 and took a few projects to the next level. I feel like I’ve gotten so many more academic skills this year, but I do miss making things with my hands. It’s something I will continue to reflect on for my 2022 goals. I’m also trying not to dwell on the ongoing pandemic, even though as I write this lockdown is unfolding across Canada again. I generally feel confident, and in much better mental health than I have been in years. My thoughts are clearer, and I think it comes through in my writing. My freelance career is also doing great, I have a handful of stellar clients I’m excited to work with more.

Personally, I’ve developed a lot of good friendships through pandemic channels this year. Very thankful for slack and discord communities. Very thankful for this summer in Toronto, and friends passing through Montreal this year. I felt loved by the people close to me.