Traveling with Titanium

I’ve often joked that when I die, they’re not going to bury me – they’ll turn me into a hardware store. I have an artificial hip, an artificial shoulder, and an artificial knee. Additionally, I have rods, screws, and spacers in my spine, screws in both shoulders, various vascular clips leftover from surgery, and the latest addition is a post implanted in my upper jaw getting ready for a new tooth. All this medical titanium works great to improve the quality of my life and/or my mobility. That is, with the exception of when I go through airport security.

I’ve always been a traveler. My parents divorced when I was three and some of my earliest memories are traveling between the different states where they lived. I flew (alone) for the first time when I was twelve. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to travel – either for business or pleasure – on a pretty regular basis. I’ve logged more than 1 million miles on American Airlines alone (that’s about 25 times around the world).

The worst part is always getting through security. Thanks to being “patted down” I’ve been closer to some TSA agents than I have some of my ex-boyfriends.

When I first had my hip replaced, the metal detectors in the U.S. would always beep, but they didn’t in Europe. But then I had the shoulder replaced and I was setting off alarms all over the world. Now that I’ve added the new knee I’m surprised that alarms don’t start going off when I walk in the door.

Things have gotten better. The TSA is moving away from the older X-ray technology scanners that you walk through and make a noise if a certain level of metal is detected. The newer millimeter wave detection technology scanners (which remind me of a spray-tan booth the way you stand with your hands over your head while the thing moves around you) detect objects on the outside of the skin so the amount of titanium I have in my body doesn’t cause any issues. Obviously I like these better. No pat downs.

It’s a little bit complicated, though. My husband and I are members of one of TSA’s trusted traveler programs which, in addition to getting us more quickly through the lines when returning from overseas, also allows us to use the generally shorter TSA pre-check security lines in many major U.S. airports. In addition to the line being shorter, we don’t have to take out our laptops or our bag of three-ounce bottles (which I hate to do). The issue is most of these security lines still use the old-style scanners that beep, saving the newer scanners to move more people more quickly through the general public lines. So I have the choice of (1) going through the shorter TSA line with the old technology which will sound the alarm and getting patted down or (2) going through the longer line where the new technology scanners are, but having to unpack stuff out of my bag.

Let’s face it. With or without titanium, airport security isn’t anyone’s favorite part of travel

I have RA to thank for my close encounters of the pat-down kind at the airport. Without RA, I’d still have my “original equipment” joints and wouldn’t be dealing with these issues. However, there are two things to remember.

First, having RA doesn’t mean you have joint replacement surgery in your future. Having RA does mean that you face joint damage. However, the advances in diagnosis and treatment mean that you have a greater opportunity of achieving remission than ever before, so the chances of needing joint replacement are the smallest that they’ve ever been.

Second, while joint replacement does cause issues like having to deal with airport security, a replaced joint can be an almost miraculous relief from daily pain and immobility. So getting frisked by a friendly TSA agent on an occasional basis is a small price to pay.

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