Fleshy TSA Pass

March 25th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Savvy folk with surgically implanted metal in their limbs, skulls or elsewhere were quick to let me know that I’d set off alarms at the airport, courthouse and our state house. While a 14-plus inch titanium stick in my tibia is not the sort of weapon I can whip from a scabbard, metal detectors aren’t reasoning beings.

The helpful ones also suggested I get a letter from a doctor detailing my augmented self to speed the entry process. That made sense, but is no longer an option and apparently never really meant much.

The surgeons at Brigham and Womens said they used to have a card they could sign and provide patients. They no longer do that. The post-9/11, hyper-empowered TSA agents don’t care for that kind of paperwork. You will get screened by hand and you have to convince them you are carrying hidden medical devices or implants.

From time to time, I rant about the check-your-brains-at-the-door literalism of flight attendants as well as airport security types.  The bureaucratic attitude of rules are rules is certainly much easier than thinking, plus it absolves the agents of responsibility. It’s like not being a sentient being at all.

So, what the kindly surgeons told me is that my leg rod will definitely trigger screening devices. The TSA would ignore any paperwork on this. Show them the scars!

By the bye, people with medications and machines necessary for their health can bring paperwork. In fact, the TSA recommends, but does not require that. Allegedly that gives you a pass on the 3-ounce bottle rule as well.  As they put it, “It is recommended (not required) that passengers bring along any supporting documentation (ID cards, letter from doctor, etc.) regarding their medication needs.”

On paper at least, the TSA will be jolly about Pacemakers, Defibrillators, Other Implanted Medical Devices, & Metal Implants:

  • If you have implanted medical device, that you would like to remain private and confidential, ask the Security Officer to please be discreet when assisting you through the screening process.
  • It is recommended (but not required) that individuals with a pacemaker carry a Pacemaker Identification Card (ID) when going through airport security. Show the Security Officer your pacemaker ID, if you have one, and ask the Security Officer to conduct a pat-down inspection rather than having you walk-through the metal detector or be handwanded.
  • It is recommended (but not required) that you advise the Security Officer that you have an implanted pacemaker, other implanted medical device, or metal implant and where that implant is located.
  • Security Officer will offer you a private screening once it becomes known that you have a metal implant or implanted medical device.
  • If your Doctor has indicated that you should not go through the metal detector or be handwanded because it could affect the functionality of your device or the magnetic calibration of your device, or if you are concerned, ask the Security Officer for a pat-down inspection instead.
  • Security Officers will need to resolve all alarms associated with metal implants. Most alarms will be able to be resolved during a pat-down, therefore clothing will not be required to be removed or lifted as part of the inspection process.

Apparently the real workaround is to overwhelm the TSA with flesh. The surgeon said to be sure to wear trousers that can pull up over my knee. My case is not too difficult, as the implant is in my lower leg.

I need to tell them about the nature of surgery. That’s the groundwork. Then I have to convince them of my veracity with some skin.

Post-staple kneeThe surgeons said they will want to see the scars that show where they went in to push the patella aside, ream out the long bone and push in and screw in the rod. They said the TSA folk would likely want to see the scars on the side of the leg and ankle where they screw work happened.

Post-staple shinI’ll insert thumbnails of my knee on the top and at the side where they went in to insert the screw into the bone and top of the rod. It’s kind of a shame that the staples they used instead of sutures are gone. I am sure that would be more dramatic a display.

Knee with staples

Yes, of course that is dehumanizing and disrespectful. These are petty bureaucrats. A simple explanation plus a pass of the security wand to verify that the metal is in the leg should be enough. Apparently, just because they can demand more and more they will.

I suspect I’ll also carry a printout of the x-rays that show the rod and its retaining screws at the knee and ankle. That will have the extra benefit of showing the jagged shards that have yet to grow into a single bone around the titanium. What that cliché, an x-ray is worth a thousand whines?

This is not exactly pictures of the grandkids (of which I have none). However, surely I have earned the let-me-show-you-my-scars right from all this. The TSA interludes can just be practice.

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2 Responses

  1. Bob J. says:

    Thanks for the information. I received my Titanium lower leg rod and 4 screws a few weeks ago. Like you everyone and his grandmother have told me about the letter from the doctor I should have on me at all times. My doctor said don’t worry about it titanium is no that magnetic so the alarm won’t go off. I read your story and now I don’t know what to think, I guess I really won’t know till I try it myself. Well good luck to you and hope it’s the last piece of steel you get…

  2. Harrumpher says:

    Well, I went first through two different government metal detectors at our state house and a court house, and later through an airport one. None was aware of my metal. It’s a full 14-plus inches, so I expected trouble just from its density. I asked the state house and court house guards, who each said the same, that their machines detect ferrous metals. There’s no steel or iron in our gear, either the Expert Nail or the pins that secure them. I don’t anticipate any problems.

    However, it makes me wonder about security. Surely there are nefarious characters out there with bad things made without steel. Harrumph.

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