08 June, 2011

A Modded Way To Roll

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and may only coincidentally reflect those of Mystic Metals, its employees, or associates. All responses should be posted as comments here, or mailed directly to the author, A. Robert Basile, at ihatebasile@gmail.com.
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A Modded Way To Roll


Are you ready for a shameless plug? Good, because here is one. I have a friend, a new friend, who is a wonderful woman with a very interesting an engaging point of view. She writes a blog. I think you kids should go check out her blog because it is well written, from an interesting perspective, and written by a good person. Who is she? She is the Fright Dyke. Yes, my friend Fright Dyke writes about horror films and life in a wonderfully engaging way that I think all of you kids would appreciate as much as I do. Slide over to www.frightdyke.com and enjoy her work. It’s definitely worth it, kids.

Whenever I search for something about which to write for you cats and kittens, I always do so with an assumption that whatever articles I find written by whomever more successful journalist than I will be libelous and misinformed and built on a foundation of presumptions and generalizations. I love to be wrong. About that. Not about important things like baseball and splatter movies. I found one such article today, and I am going to share it with you with an interested sense of gladness. Soak it up; I’m not glad very often. (Except when I’m around you kittenface! Whew… Dodged that bullet.)

Every year in the United States of America (my favorite kind of States of America), 10,000 new spinal cord injuries occur, which adds to the 250,000 plus Americans who already suffer with severe spinal cord damages. When I say (or write) severe, we’re talking Superman blowing into a straw to move his wheelchair kind of severe. And yes, he’s Superman and not Christopher Reeve. Bad stuff, kids, and there are thousands of strong people living through these things. One such severe spinal cord injured cat is named Martin Mireles, and we’re going to talk about him.

Twenty years ago, Martin Mireles was shot in the neck. Now at thirty-seven years old, Martin Mireles navigates his way through the world with a mouth operated wheelchair. But at Northwestern University School of Medicine, Martin Mireles is using his paralysis to pioneer some very interesting technology. And yes, this is modification related.

The sip and puff wheelchair is probably one you’ve seen. A straw sits in the user’s mouth and (now this may be hard to follow) he sips and puffs on it to command the wheelchair to move where he wishes. Many of these users, though comfortable with the mechanics of the chair, dislike the aesthetic of this straw hanging in their faces and having to slobber all over this thing in order to move. Some use tongue controls like a joystick to move the chair, but again, the aesthetic isn’t the most flattering. Along comes Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

For five years, Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo worked and developed a more intuitive control system using the tongue, giving the user a greater range of control. Dr. Ghvanloo developed a small headset that responds to a magnetic device in the user’s mouth. When the user moves his tongue to a certain portion of his mouth, the headset reads and understands and then translates this to the actual movement of the chair. Pretty crazy science fiction stuff right there, but it eliminates the straw and cables that have been in use for some time. They even plan to have specific commands associated with touching specific teeth. Like turning on a device or opening a door or other tasks. That’s awesomely nuts. Dr. Ghovanloo focused on the tongue because it isn’t often a victim of paralysis, it never gets tired, and it can articulate in many ways. I’m sure some of you dames can attest to that. The doctor was taking the magnetic device used to control the chair and gluing it to the testers’ tongues. It would fall off frequently, be uncomfortable, or not stay in place for long periods of time. Enter Dr. Anne Laumann, professor of dermatology at Northwestern. Can you see where we’re going with this?

Dr. Anne Laumann’s idea was a simple flash of brilliance. Pierce the tongue. And that’s what they did. Back to Martin Mireles. He gets his tongue pierced with the magnetic device used to communicate with the headpiece, and like magic, the control system leaps forward in a great bound. Now, the article I read does go into the idea that his mother doesn’t really like mods, and it also has a backhanded complementary quote by a modified Ph.D. student Ann Carias who helped in the development of the technology of, “I think it’s great that something taboo can be used for therapeutic purposes.” It’s a good quote because of the hope and acceptance of the culture, but yeah; it kind of isn’t very nice from certain point of view. Still, we’re not going to focus on that. Martin Mireles, now a member of our beautiful culture, is moving forward the science of aiding paralyzed people. And we have to thank, in part, modification.

Don’t get me wrong here; this isn’t a kind of ‘I told you we were not all circus freaks and bikers’ kind of ‘schmeh, look how awesome we are’ kind of thing. What it is is an actualization of the practices of our community to serve a greater good. A tongue piercing. How many of you have one? I know I do. There are barbells in thousands and thousands of tongues around this great nation, and we have them why? The beautiful art of modification is our reason, but it is not only a reason, it is a solution to a scientific hurdle. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that remarkable? A tiny barbell turned into a vast freedom for someone whose body has been accosted from him.

Our community is beautiful, and in a way it is life giving. It is a thing that gives those whose bodies have betrayed them a way to celebrate the thing they likely dislike. It gives us a way to communicate with others our sense of art. It gives us a peace and a comfort, and it gives us an outlet for our minds’ eyes to bring forth to the actual eyes of others what it sees as us. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it. Now, here in the work of Martin Mireles, it gives a world to those who have been put in a box. It gives them freedom, and breaks the walls of restriction down. A new world is there to explore without the aesthetic discomfort of the old ways. New ways. New ways are exciting and hopeful. New ways show us glorious things. By welcoming Martin Mireles into our beautiful community, the beautiful community of modification is giving him a more liberal freedom. What an excellent trade. More evidence that our welcoming arms do more than just scrawl ink into skin and adorn forgotten pieces of flesh with jewelry. I have always felt that my modifications have given me back a sense of freedom of self that had been robbed from me a long time ago in sterile white rooms, but this is a much more clear personification of that freedom. It’s nice to read pleasant news about our culture once in a while, isn’t it? Stay beautiful, kids.



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  1. Somehow, randomly, I can across this post this evening. As being the girl who left the quote from the article, I'd like to apologize for its appearance as being backhanded -- that was not my intent.

    With being a person that has had (and still has, even after obtaining my doctorate) multi-colored hair and many additional mods over the years, I came across Dr. Laumann's study and knew that I wanted nothing more than to participate. With her study came two important principles: First, the technology and the application of such technology was amazing. The experimental design was innovative -- something science sometimes lacks due to stick-in-the-muds overseeing the funding processes. Second, the fact that something that has been taboo had the potential to be viewed in a positive light was amazing (i.e. mods as a method of scientific advancement to give a better life). By calling mods "taboo" I did not mean criticism, I meant truth, particularly when considering how the majority of the world has viewed mods in the past. Until recently, mods were considered prohibitive by US social customs (I have little personal experience with other countries). Through my semantics, I had hoped to convey to the rest of the population, particularly to those that found mods to be "taboo", that maybe it should stop being so, especially when found to help others.

    Regardless, great article. Kudos. I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I'm excited to read and write things about the medical community that are positive, especially in the context of mobility and freedom. I've not the best relationship with the medical community, and my knee tends to jerk quite a bit in the minutia. I praise your work in the field, and as a modified member of the community at that; that is a beautiful thing to hear. Continued success, and again, thank you for reading. Stay beautiful.

  2. "came across". Please excuse my typo. These blasted things never allow you to edit. And my previous anonymity...