I was scanned and lived to tell the tale!

Moving past all the speculation and concern, Saturday night I headed to the airport to begin my Christmas vacation (one of the best parts about working in education is the extended time off!).

I arrived at an almost empty airport and after checking my bag, I headed to my concourse to deal with security. I live near one of those “international” airports that gets its name because it goes to one or two international destinations, but where you could arrive about 45 minutes before you flight and still make it onboard. I don’t know if it was because of the added “security” or because there were more people flying who don’t regularly travel, but the security line seemed to take longer than it usually does.
When I was close enough to see the scanners, I noticed that the concourse had been recently remodeled and was using the newest scanners. One by one, I saw travelers step barefoot into the machine, raise their arms above their heads, and wait for their picture to be taken. Knowing that my pump (the jury’s still out on the CGM) can’t be exposed to X-ray, I was not thrilled that I would have to request a “pat down”. Unfortunately (for the TSA I suppose), they had to switch back to the standard metal detectors after just a few people. I was somewhat excited about passing through security without issue. As “luck” would have it, it was not to be. They got the machine running just in time for my turn.
As I stepped toward the machine, the TSA agent asked what was in my pocket. I said, “it’s an insulin pump which means I can go through that (pointing to the metal detector) but not that (pointing to the new scanner).” She asked me what I meant and told me it was not a problem for me to go through the scanner and that it would be safe. I asked her how because according to the manufacturer, the pump cannot be exposed to X-ray.
At that point she shared information that I had never heard before that I think will be important to all people with medical devices traveling in the near future. There are actually two types of new scanners on the market – X-ray scanner and the version that was newly installed at my airport – the L3 ProVision scanner. I asked her if she was sure there was not X-ray in it, because an X-ray would “fry the device”. She assured me it was safe so I stepped into the scanner (check the link above, she was actually right).
The TSA agent manning the scanner was the next person to ask me what was in my pocket. I repeated that it was my insulin pump and he said, “well I guess they will see it on the scan”. After you step out of the scanner, you step into a waiting area where you wait for another agent to be given the all clear. She was the next person to ask me what was in my pocket. Not one to be shy, I told her it was it was as well. She was listening to the scanner viewers in her ear and said that they were having trouble viewing my picture and apologized for the delay. I told her have been diabetic and a traveler long enough to not really be too worked up about it. I told her that in addition to the pump, which they could visually see by the tubing, they might also be thrown off by the sensor on the back of my arm.
She finally got word from the office and they told her the area that they were concerned about and wanted an additional pat down of – my chest area. A pump in my pocket, a sensor on the back of my arm, and it was my underwire that was causing them the most concern. Go figure!
After a quick trip to first base, and a swipe of my hands for explosive residue, I was on my way to my gate without further incident. All of my devices are still running and there was even an empty seat on my first flight between me and the older woman in the window seat.
So before you agree to the full body pat down, make sure that the scanner you’re worried about is actually using X-ray.
This was apparently only the beginning of my traveling adventures. Toward the end of my flight I had the opportunity to meet another blogger. More about that later 🙂


  • Hey Sara,

    Thanks! I will be heading to the airport later this week, so I appreciate the fore-knowledge.

    Just to be clear, though, the second of the two types of scanners, while indeed not an x-ray scanner, still uses high-frequency radiation (just below the terahertz range). So, there are fewer known health hazards, and the waves are non-ionizing (that is, they don’t knock electrons off of atoms like x-rays do). In theory the pump could be okay, if the pump, sensors, and so on are really only sensitive to exactly the x-ray frequency band. But, it’s still radiation, so for your health and medical devices, it might be safer to avoid all x-rays, microwaves, and even millimeter wave scanners.

    Of course, I’m not a physicist and I’m not a doctor, so take my words with a grain of salt. On the other hand, if you’re going to have your breasts groped in either case, may as well avoid the radiation! 🙂

    — Karmel




  • Glad you got through without too much trouble. I’m traveling soon too, and will report back on how it went for me.

    But after reading Karmel’s comment (hi Karmel!), I’m sure that we’re all going to die or start growing arms out of our foreheads in 10 years from all this “stuff” we’re exposing ourselves too. 🙂

  • Wow. I’ve been a little more concerned about flying since the implementation of the scanners. So it’s nice to know that there are machines that won’t totally wack out our pumps.

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