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Death at the Tattoo Shop

How One Man’s Fate at a New York Tattoo Shop Could Have Been Preventable.

by AdamSkyArtist

October 29, 2005

Joaquin Laguer fainted and fell through a glass cabinet, killing himself, after getting a tattoo entitled 'Last Rites' on October 14th. Laguer was nearly decapitated during the horrific accident inside Buzz Tattoo, an unlicensed tattoo parlor in East Williamsburg, New York.

"There was nothing I could do," said shaken tattoo artist Julio Ramos. "I was kneeling next to him, praying to God. My assistant said, 'He's gone.'"

Laguer, an aspiring model and rapper, felt faint soon after Ramos finished inking the outline of a wizard-like tattoo onto his right forearm.

Saying he was hungry, Laguer walked over to a glass counter where he'd placed a Spanish takeout meal of half a chicken, fried plantains and rice. But before he could reach the food, he passed out and slammed headfirst into the front of the counter. The shattering glass sliced deeply into his neck, Ramos said.

"There was no saving him," said Ramos' assistant, Wilson Fernandez, 24.

People faint in tattoo shops.

I've seen customers faint from simply getting a stencil applied or even waiting their turn in the reception area. The anticipation of getting tattooed can be too much for some.

Fainting is not always the result of the pain of getting tattooed. Fainting is a symptom of the body going into acute shock - when fear and anxiety force blood to travel to the legs to prepare the body for a fight or flight reaction to impending danger.

The blood that travels to the legs comes from the brain and the brain is left unable to oxygenate without blood flow. The body breaks out in a cold sweat and the skin looks sallow. These are all warning signs that require immediate reaction. Lack of oxygen causes light headedness which leads to blacking out and inevitably fainting. When unconscious, some people will snore or convulse.

The entire process of fainting can be extremely disruptive to the tattoo process, is embarrassing and in certain cases, such as Joaquin Laguer's - fatal.

Ask any tattoo artist about fainting and unlike Julio Ramos, you'll most likely get a funny story for your troubles.

One day at a parlor I used to work at, there was an attractive young lady getting her lower back worked on by Rob, one of my coworkers. As Rob was buzzing away, the young lady mentioned she was feeling warm and asked if it was okay if she took her shirt off. Rob sat back and allowed her to remove her shirt and then proceeded while she sat there in her bra. After a few more minutes, she insisted on taking her pants off, still complaining that she felt too warm. A few more moments pass with her perched on a stool in the middle of the studio and she then mentions to Rob that she needs to get up and walk around a bit because she wasn't feeling well. This peaked my suspicions that she might be about to have a little fainting episode and sure enough, she started to keel over. I leapt up from the drawing table to snatch her half way down. At that very moment, three girls walk in through the front door of the shop, only to see me standing in the center of the room, holding an unconscious, naked girl.

Without breaking stride, all three girls turned heel and walked back out the front door.

The young woman came to and just like most fainting victims, she got her fainting spell out of her system and graciously hopped back in the chair. But a little knowledge on how to predict the signs of acute shock and how to prevent shock from settling in can help to make the tattoo experience better for everyone.

As I mentioned, clammy skin, a cold sweat and a pale complexion are the early warning signs of impending problems. There's also little tell take signs like touching of the face and fidgeting.

The first thing to do after recognizing these signs is to make sure the customer lies down. When a body is laid prone, the blood circulates easily, not to mention the client is most relaxed this way. If space does not permit the customer from lying down, grabbing the ankles and placing the head between the knees will force blood back to the brain. Pushing on the customer's back and asking the customer to push up, against your hand will stimulate blood flow back to the brain and hasten recovery.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so if you're preparing yourself to get tattooed, be sure to have plenty of rest the night before getting inked, then eat a good meal in advance. Blood sugar is important so nourishment is essential and you can even bring a small snack and some fruit juice with you to the tattoo shop, just in case.

I've heard a lot of tattoo shop fables, especially about fainting customers but the story of Joaquin Laguer should be a sobering reminder that customers bring an element of uncertainty to the daily chores of applying tattoos. Being prepared for these types of uncertainties is the responsibility of every working tattooer.

Adam Sky
Managing Editor

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