Friday, May 18, 2018

Could previous surgery lead to problems with TSA screening?

If someone has orthopedic surgery that resulted in the placement of metal in his/her body, could that person expect disruption when going through security with the TSA?

I had a plate placed on the left side of my pelvis after an acetabular fracture from a convenience store fall in Minneapolis in January 1998.  I was told that the plate was titanium and a new device. The surgery was successful and I recovered fully and relatively quickly, able to discharge crutches in late March.  I did not have an actual hip replacement.

Since 9/11, I have made at least twelve round trips by air (probably more) and this has never come up. My most recent air travel was by Southwest from Reagan to Florida in November, 2017.
Nevertheless, there is some literature on the issue. 

In 2008, the TSA wrote a posting saying that doctors’ notes didn’t do any good because a determined terrorist could fake one.  It admitted that extra pat downs were possible, although that has never happened with me.  The TSA said it was testing new equipment that could identify internal medical devices more accurately. 

Since then, there have been a couple of other posts(spinemd and Livestrong) that suggest that a note might help, and also say that screening is supposed to stop at the skin level.  (Theoretically, I guess a determined suicidal terrorist could swallow a device (as with drug mules), however, or even have one clandestinely surgically implanted, although this gets into Hollywood screenplay plots that we hope don’t ever happen – yet security experts say that writers and spy fiction authors are good for the industry by helping it keep up with “imagination”.)  

Recent articles say that medical identification cards are never required.  The recent TSA Bulletin (2017) confirms this. TSA does offer an optional blue notification card to carry. 
More interesting, there are comments that titanium doesn’t give out the same signature as steel, and that most surgical devices (like hip or knee replacements) have started using more titanium and plastic in the past decade.
I don’t personally have a problem with the idea of pat downs.  But in August, 2002, well after my layoff, I actually went to a job fair in Bloomington MN for TSA screener trainees.  I was concerned at that the time that, by analogy to “privacy” arguments that had been used to justify the now repealed “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military, persons in my circumstances with self-publicized sexual orientation should not be allowed to take these jobs.  I withdrew from the job fair for other reasons, however (a miscommunication of the pay to be offered).

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