I recently had someone call my plastic surgery office inquiring as to whether I could split his tongue to look more like a snake. While I don’t do this, it’s not the first time I’ve had this request. Do I know how to do it? Technically, yes, I could split a tongue…but that doesn’t mean I should!
Based on my previous 7 years of surgical training and over 7 years of being out in practice, I feel very comfortable with the mechanics of doing a procedure like that but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to live with myself by modifying the body in that way. Detractors may say that I’m already modifying the body by placing bags of silicone into women’s breasts. Why is this different? Maybe I can’t argue with their logic but on some level, I can’t bring myself to split someone’s tongue in half!
Even if I don’t provide this service, the determined patient will find someone to do their tongue splitting procedure. But who? Over the last few years, tattoo artists have evolved into body piercing “specialists” and they, in turn, have evolved into more surgical, black market procedures such as splitting tongues or installing studs or horns under the skin.
I told a colleague about this recent request and his rationale for me doing a tongue-splitting procedure was that the patient would be better off if I performed the procedure than someone on the “black market.” The thinking goes that I would do the procedure under sterile conditions whereas the unlicensed surgeon/tattoo artist may have less than ideal conditions to perform the procedure. So, in a sense, I would be upholding my Hippocratic Oath by helping someone avoid harm in another “practitioners” hands. I guess it’s a valid argument, but I still can’t bring myself to doing it!
The closest I have come to working with these patients are those with gauges (large rings) in their ears. After several years of wearing gauges and then realizing they have difficulty finding a job or going to an interview, they come in for me to remove the excess earlobe skin. This is just a glorified split earlobe repair, often seen after an earring pulls through an earlobe piercing. I think my role here is pretty clear and is a legitimate procedure on my part.
Non-doctors and non-plastic surgeon body piercers are becoming more brazen with better access to procedural videos on YouTube. It’s the wild west out there – buyer beware!