Would this stop you from saving a life?

This probably seems like a weird note on which to start talking about my upcoming life as a summer camp counselor. But last night I spent a few hours getting First Aid/CPR/AED certified through the American Red Cross, in preparation for the bumps and bruises (and hopefully nothing worse) that my campers may endure this summer. We got to the part about AED, which I had never previously been trained in. The instructor told us that we’d have to remove clothing, including bras, and that although the victim may be upset later about her boobies being out in the open, alive and embarrassed is better than dead and modest. Most AED equipment should come with EMT scissors and just snip! Pop the bra open down the middle and get to defibrillating. And then she brought up body piercings.

According to the training, the entire torso area needs to be clear before using AED. That includes moving necklaces aside and the aforementioned bra snip, but also – body jewelry. She conceded that jewelry around the navel or on the back would present no issue, but piercings in the chest area would. The suggestion was this – if the unconscious victim has nipple rings, RIP THEM OUT.

I’m going to let that sink in for a minute before I go on to the really atrocious oversight.

Got the mental image? Now, of course, alive and in need of plastic surgery is better than dead. But what about people with microdermals, surface piercings, subdermal implants – all popularly placed in and around the chest? Those victims, according to my trainer, are shit out of luck. Continue CPR until paramedics arrive. Do not try to remove the piercings. Do not attempt AED.

I ignored my first impulse to speak up about the nipple ring issue. To me, if we’ve already established that there’s a pair of scissors around and the victim has a captive bead ring, well, that’s pretty easy to remove. (Tip of closed scissor into the ring and gently open scissor, bead will fall out.) But the few piercings I’ve ever done were pretty nerve-wracking, and I’ve seen piercers struggle time and again with getting jewelry in and out when stress is a factor. So if there’s a person with no heartbeat on the floor in front of me, would I be able to take out their body jewelry quickly? I was undecided, so I kept quiet. But microdermals! From what I know, there’s not a lot more to having them professionally removed than could be performed on the spot, so I said as much, and although the trainer did emphasize that it is NOT the current recommendation of the American Red Cross, she promised to look into it.

I did the same, and this is what I came up with, directly from the American Red Cross CPR/AED Handbook for Professional Rescuers and Health Care Professionals:

Basically, chest hair causes more of an issue than a body piercing. (You have to shave it if the pads won’t stick.) I don’t really blame my trainer at all for this oversight, I understand that the recommendations are constantly being revised, and that piercings, especially surface and microdermal implants, are not the norm and it always takes time for misinformation like this to be corrected. However, to a group of young people who may only get this training once and will almost certainly have pierced friends and family members, this could be a matter of life or death.

I may not have to use my certification this summer, or ever, but in the even that something happens to someone I love or am responsible for, I feel confident that I can now do something to help. You can download this e-book  as a quick reference, but it’s really not a replacement for in-person training, so go find a class  – especially if you have or work with children. Just make sure you tell your trainer not to get rip-happy on the pierced folks, it’s really (luckily) not necessary.


About Kristyn Michele Bat

Teacher, tattooer, artist.


  1. Holy shit – I can’t get past “rip em out”. How horrible! Thanks for clarifying – it’s a huge help!

  2. I found this really interesting considering I have two microdermals in my chest. I think that medical professionals should have to take a course informing them about body modification, because they really have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to body modification.

    • I agree! I don’t have piercings, but I sure know a lot of people who do… It’s something that would definitely be worth addressing at a tattoo convention. And what about people who are told to take infected-looking piercings out when they should really just let them heal with the jewelry in… or told to put Neosporin on their tattoos… lots of misinformation out there coming from medical professionals.

      • I had my first ear lobe piercings done by my pediatrician at 13, and they used some kind of device that shoved a pointed stud through my ear. It wasn’t a piercing gun so that’s good, but he still shouldn’t have used whatever it was that he used to pierce my ears. I am sorely disappointed in the medical community when it comes to what they know about body modification.

  3. chellesh0ck

    Wow, this is really interesting … I’m not one for piercings myself (scared of needles going *through* something, surface tattooing is fine!) but I have tonnes of friends rocking metals in their torso. RIP THEM OUT!? eep!
    Great blog!!

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