I travel a lot, so I’m very used to the airport patdown (aka “free massage”) and lots of scrutiny about my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor. Usually, the TSA agent has seen a pump before and just needs a little background on the Dexcom, which I’m happy to give.
I don’t mind pat downs in public areas. (When asked if I’d prefer a private screening, I say no thank you. And when they tell me they are going to use the back of their hands for sensitive areas, I say that I can’t wait. This usually makes them laugh, which one time made the TSA agent toot while she was giggling. That was a quality moment. /digression)
And while I don’t mind waiting for the pat down while my shoes and jacket disappear into the pile of luggage on the conveyor belt, I do sort of mind when the agent says, “You don’t need a pat down; you can put that all through the x-ray machine.” (The jury seems to be out on what’s safe for pumps and CGMs, and I personally do not want to send the devices or my own body through the scanners. I have the right to say no thank you.) But even that doesn’t really bug me, because it’s just a quick moment of them rolling their eyes and me wishing I was anywhere but the airport in that instant.
Airport security doesn't work me up. I'm not shy, and I'm not easily rattled about the screenings, so I'm fine with waiting patiently for the "female assist!!" to show up and examine my devices by hand and screening wand.
But last week, as I was leaving for the CWD Focus on Technology weekend in Washington, D.C., I was pulled aside by the TSA agent and things didn't go as smoothly as I'm used to. The women doing the screening had seen an insulin pump before, but the Dexcom receiver and sensor were new to them. And since the sensor was on my outer thigh, underneath my jeans, I couldn't easily show it to them.
"We're going to need to take a look at the part on your leg, okay?" The woman asked, very kindly.
"Oh really? Okay, that's fine. But you really have to?"
"Yes. We'll need to bring you, and your belongings, into that room over there."
I'll talk about my devices forever. I'll happily conduct impromptu seminars for TSA agents about diabetes devices as I tie my shoes. But being asked to remove my clothes to show my sensor, though it was a reasonable request considering the TSA agents were otherwise asked to "just take my word for it" that it's a diabetes device, was an uncomfortable situation. I didn't want to do it. And my eyes welled up completely without my permission, in that irritating, puffy, makes-your-nose-instantly-run sort of way. I felt stupid, considering how open I am about my diabetes.
I forget how closed I am about my physical privacy.
"Okay, that's fine. I don't want to do this, but I understand that we have to." I swiped at my eyes and tried to make it seem like it was just my hair in my face. "I come through this airport all the time, and I've never had to show this to someone before." I was justifying myself into a corner.
The two women conducting the search were very nice, and could tell I wasn't comfortable with this turn of events. "We promise that this will be very quick."
"I promise that I'm wearing clean underwear; I just didn't anticipate having to show it to you. This is really embarrassing."
I was past the point of pretending I didn't care. I just felt stupid. Vulnerable. A little angry at diabetes for making me feel humiliated. A little angry at myself for letting it make me feel humiliated. Ashamed at how truly embarrassed I was, and how I was responding, and why I couldn't just get on with it without feeling compromised.
They just needed a quick look at the sensor, which was taped to my leg with copious amounts of Opsite Flexifix tape. One woman kept apologizing for having to ask me to undress - "I'm sorry, and I'm glad you understand why we are doing this. But I realize it's not the most comfortable thing. And I'm sorry. Thank you for your patience." - and I appreciated her empathy more than I could express.
The other woman asked, "Do you travel through Rhode Island often?"
"Yes, I live here. This is my airport of choice, so I'll definitely be seeing you guys again in a few weeks."
"Okay." She paused. "If you get us, we can promise that we won't have to do this again. I think we'll remember you next time."
I laughed, embarrassed but grateful for their understanding. And I was sent on my way, just like every other traveler.
And I didn't feel even a little bit bad for ordering a glass of wine on my 9 am flight. Nope.