August 16, 2017

Full-Body Scans, Federally-Mandated Groping, and Atrial Fibrillation, Oh My!

By Mellanie True Hills

I just got home from a one-week multi-city trip and have so much catching up to do. But with the furor over the new airport security screening procedures that have just gone into effect in the US, I have some thoughts that I simply must share before my head explodes. This is truly a lose-lose situation as neither of the two new options is reasonable or acceptable, at least not for those of us who have, or have had, atrial fibrillation.

Are They Taking the Easy Way Out Because of the Uproar from Men?

I didn’t experience any differences from the usual screening procedures at DFW Airport in Dallas when I left last week because I didn’t go out of Terminal D, the only terminal that currently has the full-body scanners. But when I went through O’Hare Airport in Chicago enroute to Atlanta this week, I noticed something odd—the only people being subjected to the full-body scanners, at least at the checkpoint I went through, were women.

In light of the recent uproar from men, such as the “don’t touch my junk guy“, is TSA going after easier targets? Do they consider women to be more compliant and less likely to object to the full-body scans? Or do they think that if women opt out, we are less likely to complain because for years we have been accepting some pretty invasive secondary screening? At least it seemed invasive to me. In fact, for years I’ve used my airport security story, “The Federally-Mandated Groping”, in speeches about stress and heart disease since the stress of being a road warrior contributed to my own heart disease. Now, with these invasive new “groping protocols”, I have lots more new material.

So how many women terrorists have we seen in the US? Does more intensive screening just for women make any sense at all?

Religious Exemption from Invasive Pat-downs

And now there is word that Muslim women won’t be subjected to pat-downs below the head and neck, for religious reasons. So what about those of us brought up in religious households where modesty was a virtue? These new screenings amount to nothing short of molestation. Parents, please don’t let your daughters be subjected to this abuse from strangers. Is it time for the rest of us to stand up and proclaim exemption for religious reasons as well?

What About Our Safety From Radiation?

Aside from the privacy issues of these full-body scanners, there is the radiation problem as well. Atrial fibrillation patients who have undergone afib procedures have generally already been exposed to some radiation from tests performed before these procedures and from fluoroscopy during catheter ablations. And if we have underlying heart disease—about 80% of afib patients do—then we’re likely to have received radiation from other procedures and tests as well. Radiation exposure is cumulative over a lifetime. Do we really need even more radiation?

When these full-body scanners came out, I found little information on them, presumably for security reasons. We still don’t know much more, and know virtually nothing about the health effects. The wavelengths—at least for the millimeter wave machines—are short, and similar to microwaves. If I won’t even stand near a microwave oven while it’s running due to the potential for leaks, why would I subject myself to being directly bombarded with similar waves several times per week? The shorter wavelength means a higher energy density, so the effect appears multiplicative, which is why newer cell phones are considered more concerning, too.

Do we really know how well controlled these transmissions are, and whether the machines are calibrated frequently? If they can’t even maintain proper calibration on the simple machines that process the swab tests for explosives, what makes us think that they can keep these very complex new machines calibrated correctly?

I just can’t believe that we are being asked to subject children to something with untested health effects. Due to their small physical size, they get many times the exposure of adults. And what about doing this to women of child-bearing age, or even worse, to pregnant women? What are we thinking? And it appears that as we get older, our bodies become more susceptible to these ill effects as well.

According to Scientists Concerned About Safety of New Airport X-Ray Scanners:

David Brenner, who heads Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, doesn’t think that the small dose of radiation from the scanners poses much of a risk to most individuals, but the scale of the operation—and the fact it will include a small percentage of the population who may be unwittingly sensitive to radiation—is problematic. Recent research, Brenner says, indicates that about 5 percent of the population – one person in 20 – is especially sensitive to radiation. These people have gene mutations that make them less able to repair X-ray damage to their DNA. Two examples are the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, but scientists believe many more such defects are unknown.

And from Biochemist says ‘naked’ X-ray scanner may be unsafe:

Air travelers over 65 years old are especially susceptible to the “mutagenic effects of the X-rays,” they say, as are HIV and cancer patients, children and adolescents, pregnant women, and men (because the X-rays can penetrate skin and put the testicles “at risk for sperm mutagenesis”). Eyes could also be at risk because X-rays can penetrate the cornea.

So are afib patients among the five per cent who are “radiation sensitive”? We could be. Since afib is an electrical condition of the heart, and there also appears to be a genetic component to afib for some people, it’s certainly possible. I personally will not do anything that could invite the return of the “afib beast.”

Opting Out

Having spent a bunch of money and time having an atrial fibrillation procedure to cure my afib, and having been afib-free for over 5 years, I am unwilling to subject myself to any machine that might have the potential to impact my heart’s electrical system. We have no proof as to whether it’s safe or not, but why take the risk?

Therefore, when I have encountered these scanners, I have opted out for medical reasons and have just resigned myself to an invasive pat down. But that was before they started going places where they should be arrested for going. I believe that nobody, not even our government, has a right to violate us.

Why should I put myself through a humiliating, demeaning, and invasive search such as this? I have to seriously reconsider whether it’s worth being violated to go out and save lives.

Why can’t we go back to a Registered Traveler kind of program for those of us that fly a lot, or even opt to submit more info and get a background check when we get our US passports? Let’s be practical about this whole thing and look at behaviors for clues. (No, behaviors and profiling are not the same thing.) If you will talk with me for a moment, you’ll know that I’m not a likely terrorist.

As someone who travels the US and internationally to save lives from heart disease and stroke, and who is old enough to be a grandma, am I a likely candidate to blow up a plane? I don’t think so. Is the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that I carry for treating my sleep apnea, and which they test ever so thoroughly, likely to carry explosives? I don’t think so. Come on TSA, get a clue!

Is It Really Necessary to Threaten Us?

Most TSA agents are respectful and just trying to do their jobs—I appreciate what they have to go through. But occasionally you run across a few who are obsessed with their power and are downright rude. That was the case a few months ago at DFW, my home airport. (They used to be courteous here–what happened?) When the machine testing my CPAP for explosives didn’t produce a green light, I respectfully asked if they could re-test it on the other machine. That didn’t seem out of line as that is exactly what they had done (on their own) on the same machine at the same gate a few days earlier. They had suspected that the original machine was out of calibration, and it apparently was.

Oddly, my CPAP had not been touched since it had passed at Reagan Airport in DC a couple of days earlier, so I couldn’t see any way that it could have been contaminated. Surely this machine must have been out of calibration. But they said that they couldn’t retest it. I politely asked if the machine could be out of calibration and mentioned what had happened with the same machine a few days earlier, and that my CPAP passed with flying colors on the other machine. That’s when they told me to shut up, and if I said one more word I would be arrested.

I stood there cringing (and so angry that I was almost in tears) as they ran their germy hands through all my stuff. As somewhat of a germaphobe—inflammation is a very serious issue for me as a heart patient—I almost came unglued as I had to silently watch them put their germy hands all over my medications. Wouldn’t you have, too? Let’s use some common sense, TSA.

I’m Mad As Hell

This blatant lack of common sense and judgment when it comes to screening has forced me to re-evaluate whether I’ll continue to travel, or not. I have a couple of weeks at home before I leave again, but I have to really do some soul searching. And I haven’t bought my tickets yet.

It will be sad if I can no longer travel to help the afib community and to save lives from strokes and heart disease because TSA is putting my health in jeopardy with two very invasive and stressful options. But I have to walk my talk—my health has to come first.

If I truly thought that we were safer because of what they are doing, it might be different. But this is just a show to make us think we are safer—we really aren’t. It’s a real travesty.

They are putting your life, as an afib patient, in jeopardy as well. This kind of abuse should be illegal, and probably is. It’s time for some of the best minds in this country to figure out a solution before we shut down our whole economy because people refuse to fly. It’s not like our economy is healthy enough to sustain that.

Impact on Afib Patients

So what about the concerns of the afib community? I personally think that those with afib, and probably anyone with an arrhythmia, should opt out of the “body-snatcher machines” until we know they are safe for those with electrical problems of the heart. And the new pat-downs are so invasive that the stress from them could be enough to send you into afib, at least if you have adrenergic, or stress-related, atrial fibrillation.

Please share your thoughts and experiences here, or over at our StopAfib Discussion Forum. Here are some of my questions. Feel free to add your own and your thoughts about them. I think it’s important that we share our experiences about this.

  • What do you think of the current situation, and what are you planning to do?
  • If you are someone whose afib comes and goes (paroxysmal atrial fibrillation), and you have been through the body scanners or had the new pat-down, did doing so put you into afib? If so, do you think it was from stress or from the scanner itself?
  • If you are in afib all the time (persistent atrial fibrillation), did the scan or pat-down have any impact on you?
  • If you have had an atrial fibrillation procedure, did you notice any differences as a result of going through security?

Comments

  1. All Perils- This is a combination of collision and comprehensive coverage.
    By increasing your liability insurance you are also increasing
    the financial protection which you will receive if there is an unfortunate accident.
    It is impossible to keep track of each and every change that takes place.

  2. TISH kETH,

    When they start doing body cavity searches, I’m sure you’ll be okay with it. After all, you just want to be safe — right?

  3. Patrick Teicher says:

    Regarding Stopafib website:

    Mellanie, your stopafib.org was a Godsend for me. I also am an afibber who has been through the mill. at age 67, after 10 years of patronizing treatment after an early generation ablation attempt, your column helped motivate me to propose to my new EP Doc that I feel that my age and activity (even though I had become somewhat accustomed to running on 3 rather than 4 cylinders) and the condition of my heart should qualify me for another try at ablation using the new technology currently available. My new EP Doc sat for a moment, and then said ” OK, lets try you on antiarhythmic and cardioversion, and then see how you feel in sinus rhythm”. I felt great for 2 weeks – the “experiment” worked! This past month I got my enhanced catheter ablation in San Antonio, Methodist and I feel great. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I felt I needed to thank you for your excellent website, and for arming me with the tools and determination I needed to get what I needed and deserved.

    P.S. I told my EP and his nurse about your website and they checked it out and were excited and impressed. Keep up the great work.

    P.P.S. I also travelled in my job as a software consultant and have always asked for the pat down rather than scanner. I tolerate it and I understand those who get upset…but please tone down the rhetoric…it will create more stress for an already stressed enough.

    • Patrick,

      Thanks so much for your kind words, and for your sharing us with your EP and nurse. Congratulations that you are finding a solution to your afib.

      Regarding the pat-downs, if you haven’t had a pat-down since early November, then you haven’t experienced the truly invasive procedure that I’m talking about. The previous pat-downs were benign, but the current ones are definitely not.

      FYI, patient groups have been putting so much pressure on the TSA since several demeaning and tragic incidents at Thanksgiving that the head of TSA sent written apologies to those patients and the TSA has actually modified their procedures this past week, just in time for Christmas travel. They have created an official patient card that those with chronic conditions can present to explain their condition prior to pat-down so that we may now retain some of our dignity and respect. So yes, the rhetoric and pressure really does make a difference.

      Thanks, again.

      Mellanie

  4. Patrick Teicher says:

    Regarding Stopafib website:

    Mellanie, your stopafib.org was a Godsend for me. I also am an afibber who has been through the mill. at age 67, after 10 years of patronizing treatment after an early generation ablation attempt, your column helped motivate me to propose to my new EP Doc that I feel that my age and activity (even though I had become somewhat accustomed to running on 3 rather than 4 cylinders) and the condition of my heart should qualify me for another try at ablation using the new technology currently available. My new EP Doc sat for a moment, and then said ” OK, lets try you on antiarhythmic and cardioversion, and then see how you feel in sinus rhythm. I felt great for 2 weeks – the “experiment” worked! This past month I got my enhanced catheter ablation in San Antonio, Methodist and I feel great. I’m not sure how long it will last, but I felt I needed to thank you for your excellent website, and for arming me with the tools and determination I needed to get what I needed and deserved.

    P.S. I told my EP and his nurse about your website and then checked it out and were excited and impressed. Keep up the great work.

    P.P.S. I also travelled in my job as a software consultant and have always asked for the pat down rather than scanner. I tolerate it and I understand those who get upset…but please tone down the rhetoric…it will create more stress for an already stressed enough.

  5. Mia, Thanks for sharing. That’s a very interesting article. Someone recently suggested that TSA should be staffed by ex-military because they are so good at observing people and surroundings. It would be great to at least test some of the behavioral approaches that the Israelis use to see if they would work here, and our former military personnel would be good candidates for training to do so. Mellanie

  6. eric stosius says:

    You can get somthing that i am having trouble keeping . you can get a medical certificate from the faa. learn to fly, go anywhere almost any time. your scheduale,no tsa. it will take a little time and comittment, you might find it well worth it. i have lone afib that keeps coming back. i can still get a medical but i must meet thier standards before they reissue my certificate. if my afib coverts on its own or by drugs im ok to fly. if i need a cardiovertion i must notifie the faa and i will be grounded for a least 90 days. then i must submit all the medical paper work they require for review and await thier ok. like i am now. just a thought .

  7. I don’t have Afib,
    .
    As far as I am concerned either scanner or pat down is fine. I don’t care who sees which bits of mine as long as I am safe flying, and if that is the only way to be safe then lets have it. As someone suggested they could keep the officer or person checking the same sex as the passenger.

    • Tish,

      Security experts are telling us that these new procedures DO NOT make us any safer. If they did, I wouldn’t object to the offensive new pat-down procedures. But going through this is needless because you are not any safer.

      And pat-downs are done by same sex already.

      Mellanie

  8. John Hartshorn says:

    Radiation is scary stuff to those lacking a technical background. To radiation physicists, however, it’s just another of life’s innumerable risks, which should be quantified and put into context before deciding how dangerous it is in any particular situation.

    According to a recent statement released by the American College of Radiology (www.acr.org), the level of radiation passengers are exposed to is extremely low:

    “An airline passenger flying cross-country is exposed to more radiation from the flight than from screening by one of these devices. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP) has reported that a traveler would need to experience 100 backscatter scans per year to reach what they classify as a Negligible Individual Dose. The American College of Radiology (ACR) agrees with this conclusion. By these measurements, a traveler would require more than 1,000 such scans in a year to reach the effective dose equal to one standard chest x-ray.”

    The Health Physics society estimates that a backscatter scan delivers a dose of .005 millirems. American Science and Engineering Inc, estimates the dose to be .009 millirems. To put these numbers in context, compare radiation doses below from everyday life and common sources:

    * Transcontinental flight – 4 mrem
    * 2 days in Denver – 1 mrem
    * Chest X-ray – 10 mrem
    * 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day – 1300 mrem per year
    * Watching TV – 30 mrem per year
    * Airport screening scan – 0.009 mrem per scan

    • John,

      The published numbers for these machines are being seriously questioned by expert scientists who believe these numbers to be way off. But even so, where a chest X-ray might be the highest exposure most people would get, many of us with afib or heart disease have had many times that much in procedures and tests. Therefore, the additional exposure from these machines may be the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” So for non-afibbers, it may not be a big deal, but for us, it’s a huge deal.

      Mellanie

  9. Hey Mia. I share your despair. I can’t believe what people are accepting.
    The heavy-handed pat-down is pure coercion. They want us to accept the body scan and they’re making their monkeys at the TSA to make us feel as violated and humiliated as possible so that we begin to consider the scan as walk in the park compared.

  10. “Scanned-or-crammed-if-you-do-and-banned-if-you-don’t”
    Israel lives with imminent terror all the time and Israel would not dream of submitting its nation to either DNA tearing back scatter rays or physical probing.

    http://www.thestar.com/iphone/news/world/article/744199—israelification-high-security-little-bother

    On the other hand, watching people on this continent rationalize exactly how MUCH violation they will submit to is beyond heartbreaking. It is rather like witnessing a nation crumbling, one violated person or child at a time. Hell, there is even corporate money to be made by selling the public a Playmobil toy to get kids used to police state tactics! It is called Airline Screening Playset: Body Imaging X-Ray Edition
    Is this now a nation of forelock tugging, compliant serfs subservient to a reign of government implemented terror? The aim of terrorism is to terrorize, in order to gain outposts in the enemy’s head.
    In that sense this has succeeded.
    America is now officially terrorized throughout its travel day, day/week in and day/week out.
    By the time minimum wagers qualify as a job creation program, empowered to violate fellow citizens with few to no background checks carried out on themselves, and by the time the nation is urged to go to these politically correct absurd and risky lengths to avoid the appearance of profiling Muslims, isn’t the nation on its knees? By rationalizing being frisked, probed, groped, humiliated, and physically harmed, accepting being treated as if guilty until proven innocent, while offered only the lesser of evil choices, the Constitution has gone beyond liberty and into a quasi police state predicated on security phobia. There is no net benefit, – except to that skull faced psycho Michael Chertoff, the former head of the TSA who has become an overnight billionaire by creating the mindset & then selling these machines back to the government through which he used to make top income.
    This is nothing short of one huge lab rat experiment conducted on the populace. There has not even been any risk/benefit analysis proven by the TSA re back scatter technology & long term effects.
    Terrorism has already achieved its purpose & is by this measure very successful. All airports, and indeed all projected modes of travel, including one’s car, are now under consideration for similar violation of constitutional rights.
    Indeed the entire nation is apparently on the defensive enough about terror to consent to being terrorized routinely.
    How many will subject themselves to just about anything, even though statistically terror strikes less often than being hit by lightening?

    • Mia,

      Thanks for sharing. That’s a very interesting article. Someone recently suggested that TSA should be staffed by ex-military because they are so good at observing people and surroundings. It would be great to at least test some of the behavioral approaches that the Israelis use to see if they would work here, and our former military personnel would be good candidates for training to do so.

      Mellanie

  11. Why can,t there be a one on one inspection by the same sex, in an enclosed room , about four feet square.

  12. With v-tach,chf,cardiomyopathy and a-fib,plus pacemaker/defibrillator,I certainly do not want to be going through any airport x-ray or “wave” machines.Boston Scientific,maker of my ICD,told me the Mill-wave was tested to be ok for ICD’s but nothing else. Pat downs do not bother me and if they get really frisky and invasive,I will make noises like Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” and ask them to share a cigarette after(LoL)!
    I figure our national enemies will be smugly pleased at all of the money
    put in this effort and wonder-were the previous failed attempts part of
    a larger plan to raise our level of concern and force our government to spend
    billions more on defense? It’s a crazy world-but as my grandma used to say,”this too shall pass”.Happy traveling in the meantime-take a deep breath,exhale….
    Shamal

    • Paula,

      Sounds like you will be avoiding the full-body scanners. Not only are we spending a lot of money on these new machines that are potentially dangerous, but the outrage over these invasive procedures is certainly a distraction, too.

      Mellanie

  13. Courtney Haynes says:

    Thanks for writing this. It is the most understandable information I have seen yet on the subject. My lifestyle doesn’t call for flying, and I’m very thankful, but it is very good to be informed.

  14. I believe that most of the security precautions that have been implemented are useless. Remember ALL of the persons captured with explosives since the screening was implemented were captured by members of the crew or passengers aboard the airliners. When they do tests to see if items can be brought on board most of the testers are able to pass through security. I have a defibilator and cannot go through any screening except a pat down. Up till now the pat down has not been that bad. I have not gone through the “new” procedures. I am thinking of going by train next time I travel where I would take a plane. If we don’t speak out they will take any rights and abuse them. We are the “people” and they are “our” govt. employees. Maybe the website members could sign a grievance and send to Congress. Thanks, Ron

  15. Ann Mitchell says:

    I personally, with A-Fib, will go for the pat-down. I don’t care how invasive it is, I’m not squeamish about it. Until we know more about the activity from the full screener, I’m not going in front of it. I feel very sorry for the “urine” man with his urine bag split, and for anyone with a prosthetic breast. Either fly, and put up with the Security for all of us, or don’t fly. It’s that simple!

    • Ann,

      If you haven’t flown in the last two weeks then you will be shocked at how invasive the new pat-down is. But it is still better than subjecting ourselves to machines that have not been evaluated for health effects.

      If these procedures made us safer, I wouldn’t complain. But they don’t–it’s just “security theater”–it’s designed to make us think we’re safer, but we’re really not. So it’s time to call for a change to real security, not just the perception of it.

      Mellanie

  16. There are two main technologies in use here:

    Millimeter Wave scanners which use radio wave in between the frequencies of cell phones and microwave ovens, and which the US and UK governments openly admit to having done ZERO testing for adverse health effects. What we do know is that the US military uses Millimeter Waves as weapons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_Denial_System (Can’t be all that safe then, can it?)
    And the second which is Backscatter X-rays. These are most definitely to be avoided. – Explained here – http://scrapthescanners.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/rapiscan-backscatter-scanners-reflection-and-absorption/http://scrapthescanners.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/rapiscan-backscatter-scanners-reflection-and-absorption/

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