Getting a tattoo can be an exceedingly personal experience. You can get pieces done that represent who you are as a person, tell the story of your life, be art that you simply think is awesome to look at, or you can get tattoos that could potentially save your life or give doctors important information.
Medical alert tattoos are becoming more popular these last few years. Everything from permanent medical alert bracelets describing medical conditions like epilepsy, asthma, or food allergies, all the way across the spectrum to full blown "do not resuscitate" orders meant for to ensure the end of life wishes of patient.
No one knows how many people have actually received these medical alert tattoos because there are no organizations that actually track them.
One verified case is that of Chris Miller, who decided that he would get a medical alert tattoo. The 42-year-old journalist from Edmonton, Canada has Type-1 diabetes and got a tattoo sharing the information, just in case there is ever a medical emergency where he is unconscious or worse.
Miller was diagnoses as a type-1 diabetic when he was only three years old, and had always worn a medic alert bracelet.
"I've always worn medical alert bracelets and, over the years, they break from time to time," says Miller. "I just thought a tattoo made sense because it's permanent." He added that getting a tattoo wasn't that strange a concept for him. "I'm sort of used to needles."
Getting a "medical alert" tattoo might not be the best option at this point, because doctors and emergency medical personal aren't actually trained to look for them, there is no standard practice about where they should be placed on the body.
Dr. Mark Reiter has never seen one in over ten years working in emergency medicine. Because there are no standard procedures for such things, he says that there can be mixed messages.
"If I saw somebody who came in and had a tattoo that said 'diabetes,' I'd think that this guy probably has diabetes, but who knows?" Reiter says. "Maybe it was that his mom had diabetes, and he was trying to make a statement."
But what happens when someone comes in with a tattoo that contains important medical related information?