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“That looks important…”

June 12, 2008

I was at the Portland International Airport early on Sunday morning. Real early. Six-thirty in the morning early. My usual routine when going to the airport is pretty simple. Check my bags in at the curbside check-in (shorter line). Walk over to security. Unhook my insulin pump and slide it into my bag, while slipping off my shoes and taking out my laptop and resting everything in at least two plastic containers. Walk right on through the security, slip and/or hook everything back together and immediately find the nearest Starbucks.

A frequently asked question I hear is, “What do you do when you fly with diabetes?”

Honestly, my answer is: Not much.

I have flown at least twice a year, every year, since I was diagnosed – sometimes more. Before 9/11, I don’t remember doing anything special with my supplies other than to keep everything in my carry-on luggage because heaven-forbid you’re separated.

After 9/11, things were a little sketchy. We kept everything in their boxes and when I flew to Paris in 2003, we brought along a doctor’s note. When the liquids ban went into effect, it didn’t bother me that much. I didn’t bring juice with me on the plane, so I did one of three things: 1) bring glucose tabs (blech!), 2) buy overpriced juice at one of the hundred Hudson newsstands or 3) trust that the flight attendant will get me juice if I need it on the plane. Usually I went with number 2.

When I first went on the pump, back in 2000, I always wore my pump clipped to my jeans pocket. About half the time, nothing happened. The other half of the time, I set of the alarm, was asked to be patted down even though I insisted, “It’s just the insulin pump, let me take it off!” but was thoroughly denied because, “OMG! That’s a medical device! Nonono…” So then I would spend five minutes being scanned by a nice lady, determining that yes, it was the insulin pump that set off the machine. I could never figure out which airport. In Seattle and Portland, I would set it off. But in San Diego and Dulles, nothing would happen. It seemed random, and very annoying.

After three or four flights, I finally said, “Screw it,” unhooked my pump, tossed it in my bag and let it go through the X-ray machine while I completely uneventfully walked through security.

And I haven’t worn it through security since.

Now, I know quite a few people who have absolutely no trouble at all with going through airport security or people who have develop tricks to prevent the pump from going off. I’ve never had an issue with my diabetes supplies going through the X-ray machine – and I even carried a 4 oz. juice box with me which proves that their caveat of “juice is permitted for diabetics” is in fact legitimate. I personally don’t think it’s worth my time to tempt fate to see whether or not the pump will set off the machine and it’s not like taking off my pump for 5 minutes will kill me. I take it off for much longer when I shower.

However, this past Sunday did not go quite as smoothly as most trips through airport security. I was standing in line, as usual, unhooking my pump, as usual, and setting it inside my carry-on bag, as usual. I took out my laptop and put it in one container, and I put my shoes and my bag in another. It was slightly tilted, not laying flat, but I thought it would probably be fine. I bounced through to the otherside like I was a trained professional, and went about collecting my things. After I slipped my shoes back on, I took my laptop and bag over to one of the chairs to get everything situated.

I reached my hand inside my bag to pull out my insulin pump. But it wasn’t there.

I look inside. Nothing.

I moved things around. Under my meter, behind my book. Nothing.

It was there before security, so it must still be there, right?

I turned around to see a woman, next to the conveyor belt, holding up my insulin pump and handing it over to one of the security guards.

I ran over.

“That’s mine!” I said breathless.

The security guard handed it over to me, and the woman, who had been saying something, said, “That looks important…”

Yes, I thought, very important…

I thought briefly that perhaps putting my insulin pump in my bag wasn’t the safest thing to do. But I have been on a plane dozens of times, with nothing ever happening, and really, the reason it fell out was because my bag wasn’t zipped and the security guard moved the bag so that it would lay flat. That’s all. So next time, I’m zipping up the bag.

3 Comments
  1. June 12, 2008 9:31 AM

    What kind of pump do you have? I lived in PDX and now SEA and fly at least twice a month, and my Minimed 522 has never, ever gone off in any airport ever.

    I heard that certain belt clips can trigger the alarm … I just use the regular clip that attaches directly to the pump.

    Very glad you got your pump back quickly and they didn’t hassle you about it!

  2. June 12, 2008 9:40 AM

    I’m very glad you got it back. Me, I take the bus (greyhound) to avoid airport security.

  3. June 12, 2008 9:41 AM

    Marina: I have a Minimed 715, and before that I had a Minimed 508. The alarms went off back in 2000-2001, so it’s been quite awhile and the systems may have changed since then. I also always wore a clip and I have a feeling that’s probably what caused the hub-bub, but back then we couldn’t figure it out. Currently I don’t use a clip because it broke, but when I do use a clip I don’t really want to fiddle around with taking it off and then putting it back on again. In my opinion, It’s easier to just take the whole thing off then unscrew the damn thing with a penny!

    Jonah: Thanks! I would take the Greyhound except it would take about 5 times as long! Could you imagine taking a bus 3,000 miles everytime you wanted to see your family? Not happening…

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