Diabetes and the TSA
Hey skimmers – Be sure to check out my “brain puzzler” at the end of this post!
I was meandering around the TSA site after writing this banal post on contact lens solution. I checked out their “Diabetes” section under “Hidden Disabilities.” I had seen this page before, but noticed a few updates. The page is now more detailed, and has photos. I suspect this update may have more to do with educating TSA employees rather than diabetic travelers, but in any case its a nice update and a good resource.
I don’t consider it a disability, but I am a type 1 diabetic, which means I usually have a blood sugar meter and insulin within arms reach. A year ago I switched from taking insulin injections to using an insulin pump (the one shown above.) An insulin pump provides a constant dose of insulin over 24 hours, and allows easy and discreet manual doses during meals or as needed. This better mimics the pancreatic functions, or in the case of type 1 diabetics like myself comes one step closer to the holy grail of an “artificial pancreas.” My pump also incorporates a “constant glucose monitor,” – an incredibly cool gadget which relays my blood sugar reading to my pump screen every five minutes, without finger pricks. In the photo you can see my 7pm blood sugar of 75, and the two small ticks below the graph indicate earlier manual doses to correct those small spikes. Yeah I know its not an iPhone, but compared to 15 years ago we’ve come a long way.
Fortunately my insulin pump doesn’t look near as dorky as this one from the TSA site. My pump is much more discreet as it’s carried in my pocket or clips to the inside. But I don’t own beige pleated pants either, which apparently makes pumps look disproportionately large against them.
As for the security experience, I’ve been lucky as of late and haven’t had a bag digging in some time. On the occasions the TSA has done a search and dug up my pile of syringes and insulin they’ve always understood and haven’t make an issue of it. I do carry a folded up note from my doctor in my messenger bag. I’ve never needed it, and its going on about seven years old now. I figure it can’t hurt if I wind up at some foreign land border crossing in future years, or am passing through the metal detector at the Creation Museum where modern science and life extending medicinal gadgets might confound and perplex the employees.
When I started using my pump a year ago I feared the TSA folks would also be baffled and I’d be subject to a time consuming pat down every time. Reason is that insulin pumps are obviously worn on the body. They deliver insulin via a tiny tube which connects to a little port you change out every few days. The “infusion site” as its called looks a bit weird on the skin, but nothing is permanent and its not at all painful. The connection is easy to remove and connect, but since its under your clothing it can be a bit cumbersome and appear odd if doing so in public – akin to someone digging around inside their pants.
When I pass through the xray I usually just keep my pump in my pocket and hope they don’t see it. My success has been about fifty fifty. It doesn’t set off the alarm, and if its inside my pocket they often don’t notice. If its clipped ONTO my pocket, or should I be wearing the above beige pocketless pleated pants, they’ll then inquire, I’ll explain, and they understand. The only slowdown occurred last March in Chicago when a TSA screener spotted my pump and asked me to remove it, (which they should not do,) however another screener sauntered over and corrected her by saying it WAS to remain on. The original TSA rebutted that her grandfather took his pump off at screenings. They went back and forth before realizing I was still standing there and then waved me through, then continued discussing the agent’s grandfather.
Really though it’s not complicated to take on and off – and you have to remove it for showering, swimming, and of course “intimate” situations. But as long as the TSA thinks otherwise I’m just fine with that.
Now – for the Thanksgiving week question: Below are the other two photos from the TSA diabetes page. One shows a blood sugar testing kit with a couple vials of insulin – exactly like the kit I use. The other photo shows a TSA agent meticulously scrutinizing a vial of insulin – in a camera angle I can only assume a CSI fan came up with.
Look closely and study the two vials of insulin on the left. Now, assuming one of these vials is the same one he’s inspecting – Who can tell me what the TSA agent should NOT be doing?