Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Have diabetes, will travel

Four oversized swollen suitcases.

Four backpacks, one for each boy.

One large tote bag for me.

One carry on that looked like this.

We were ready.

As we made our way to the security lines at the airport I searched for the "family and medical assistance line."  When I found it I explained that I had three boys wearing insulin pumps and they couldn't go through the metal detector/scanner.

"Don't tell me...tell the next guy."

The next guy checked our ID's and waved us through.  He didn't want to hear it either.  "Tell the next guy."

As we arranged all our bags on the x ray conveyor belt, I explained to the gentleman standing there that three of my boys could not go through the scanner.

"That's ok...just have them walk through here," as he gestured to the scanner.

"I'm sorry, their insulin pumps could break.  They'll need a pat down. They are not walking through there."

He gestured again..."No, it is ok...have them walk through here." 

"I'm sorry, they can't."

He was frustrated now. "I've never heard of this before.  Never."

"I read on your website, they have the right to request a swab or a pat down.  They are not going through that scanner.  I can't risk it."

"OUR website?  The TSA website?"

"Yes...YOUR website."  I answered as I fumbled through my paperwork looking for the section I printed out just in case I was questioned.

I pointed to this section that I had highlighted:

"If you are concerned or uncomfortable about going through the walk-through metal detector with your insulin pump, notify the Security Officer that you are wearing an insulin pump and would like a full-body pat-down and a visual inspection of your pump instead." ~TSA website/hidden disabilities/diabetes

He glanced at it impatiently.   "OK, I'll call security."

A few minutes later three very large, very seriously looking Samoan men in uniform came to gather the boys.  I explained I wanted to stay with them at all times and they said no problem.

It was quick and efficient.  They gave J a swift half hearted pat down and had the two younger boys touch their insulin pumps and then swab their fingers. 

Five minutes and we were ready to go.  Except for the initial conversation, everything ran pretty smoothly and efficiently.

Florida on the other hand...well they are a little more militant about it all.

Returning home was a bit more complicated.

It included a long conversation with the guy at the scanner.  He wanted the boys to go through the new full body scanner.

"I'm not familiar with the technology.  I don't feel comfortable with their pumps going through there."

Honestly, I had no idea if it was ok or not...but my gut said it wasn't.

The TSA agent went on and on and on about how it doesn't have magnets and it was safe for the boys to go through.

I looked him in the eye and said, "We are requesting pat downs or swabs.  The boys will not be going through any scanner.  I know we have the right to request this, and we are."

He nodded and called security.

Three men eventually approached us and waited for a manager to join them before they began their work.  In Florida, it is protocol for minors under 12 who are searched or swabbed to have a manager there to witness.  J was whisked away.  They didn't ask if I wanted to witness, and I had to follow the littles that were taken in a different direction.  I found my husband and pointed two fingers towards my eyes and then pointed the two fingers towards J, signaling to Ryan to keep an eye on him.

They swabbed the littles hands and feet and shoes.  They swabbed my hands and feet and shoes.  Why I was included, I do not know.  I went through the security scanner like everyone else.  I found it interesting they didn't ask them to take out, or even touch their insulin pumps.  I'm not even sure they knew they were wearing them.  To make it less invasive for children, if they are under 12 they no longer do pat downs on them.

After a slew of radioed calls to the upper management they apparently did some kind of background check and then insisted on searching the boys backpacks.  The backpacks had gone through the scanner, but regardless, everything was taken out and swabbed to see if there was explosive residue.  Again, we were asked to wait for the final ok.  Another 10 minutes passed and we were given the ok to go.

While all this was going on I glanced to the other side of the room to see J.  Wide eyed, he gave me that look like, 'What the heck!"  Let's just say his pat down was very, VERY thorough. 

All in all it took a good 30 minutes to get through security in Orlando.

I want to say at this point I think the boys could have walked through the scanners and everything would have been ok.  I think MOST of the time nothing happens to the pump...but I have heard too many stories to risk having three pumps going haywire on our vacation.  When J flew to see my brother last year he didn't even tell them he had a pump and walked through the scanner and the alarm didn't go off.  On the way home it did go off because he had starbursts in his pocket and starbursts are lined with a foil liner.  Unfortunately, I know some people have had pumps completely stop working, and some stories of pump settings being completely erased.  I made sure to have all the boys settings written down before we left.  (Last year all three boys jumped into the pool at Disney and I had no idea what their basals or sensitivities were.)

The word is Animas pumps have metal inside, usually setting the scanner off, and Medtronic doesn't.  I think it has a lot to do with the setting the scanner is set at.  Some airports set the scanner to higher sensitivity than others.  Both pump manufactures recommend NOT going through the scanner, there's that.

I don't know what the right answer is, I just know in our situation it was better to be safe than sorry.

What helped us most was being firm in what we wanted.  Don't let them sway you...because they can be pretty persuasive with their permissive tones and crisp uniforms.  It is your right NOT to go through the scanner.  They can't say no. 

All in all the people with TSA were kind enough.  They are in a hurry and try to find a harried solution to get you out of their way initially.  I went to the airport expecting it to be complicated so I could be pleasantly surprised if it wasn't. 

It all works out in the still happen...the airplane still takes off...memories are still made...and that is what's important.

Don't let diabetes stop you from traveling.  You can do it!  And it is so worth it in the end!


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