It was a normal Sunday last week at Kansas City International Airport when I flew back home to Denver. I arrive at the airport early so that I don’t feel rushed. I enjoy leisurely reading my book while sipping chai tea latte from Starbucks.
When it was time to go through security, I take off my shoes, and put them and my jacket, purse, and carry-on luggage in three gray Tupperware-like plastic containers. I tell the silver-haired airport security man with the black jacket with bold lettering of TSA that “I have a pacemaker and I need a full body pat-down.” At the same time, I present him with a card from Medtronic (the company that manufactures deep brain stimulators) that states in seven languages “I have an implanted medical device that may set off your airport security system.”
I don’t explain that the neurostimulator from deep brain stimulation is really a brain pacemaker. I tried explaining that in the past, and I could tell by the icy stares that they thought I was weird. So now I just stick with the word “pacemaker,” although I know he assumes that it’s a heart pacemaker. I also understand that the airport security system can turn off my pacemaker and leave me immobilized, but I also don’t explain that.
The security man locates another TSA employee, a tall young woman with short blond curly hair, to do the pat-down. I hear her squeaky stressed voice asking him if she could use the wand, and he says “no,” that she has to use her hands. Then she really gets nervous, saying, “I don’t think I remember how to do it” followed by “my mind is going blank.”
Once my belongings in the containers clear security, all three of us step inside the area for the pat-down. He asks me if I want a private area for the screening and I say “no." I plant my feet on the outlines of a large right and left foot painted on the floor, and then I stick my arms out from my sides, to demonstrate that this is a normal procedure for me. I am comfortable with the drill as I’ve flown many times since deep brain stimulation surgery for Parkinson's Disease nearly two years ago.
He gives his spiel about how she would pat-down using the front of her hands on my non-sensitive areas, and she would be using the back of her hands on my sensitive areas. Of course, he doesn’t define non-sensitive or sensitive areas. In an authoritative voice, I say to him “I’ve done this many times before, and I will talk her through this.” Thankfully, the man leaves, and the woman begins to relax.
And talk her through this is what I do. I tell her to start with the top of the right side of my back and pat-down using the front of her hands. When she reaches my waist, I tell her to say “I am approaching a sensitive area and will be using the back of my hands.” I instruct her to do the same with the left side of my back.
“You’re doing great,” I say, as I try to build her confidence.
Next, I tell her to pat-down the front of my body. I mention that one of my sensitive areas is above my right collar-bone where the pacemaker is located. Actually, not only is it sensitive, but also the keloid scar above the pacemaker hurts like hell, but I don’t tell her this. Other sensitive areas include my breasts and pelvic area where once again I advise her to give me the warning, “I am approaching a sensitive area” and use the back of her hands.
I congratulate her saying “You passed the pat-down,” and she breathes a loud sigh of relief. Realizing we forgot one thing, I ask, “Don’t you want to check my feet?” I sit on the chair, and stick my feet straight out, and she runs her hands over the bottom of my socked feet. She nods to me indicating we are finished, and says “Thanks for your patience,” as I leave.
We both pass the pat-down. Who would believe that getting a full body pat-down from a female airport security agent would become normal?