Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Traveling to D.C... and Back Again.

These posts are all scattered and swimming around aimlessly in my head, so you’re getting a glimpse of them in no logical order – just as they surface in my brain and translate into words on the screen. As you likely know, this is part of the continuing coverage of JDRF Government Day 2011 from several within the Diabetes Online Community.

Traveling with diabetes is always an adventure, one you never know quite what to expect until you’re there being all Johnny On The Spot at the airport or particular mode of transportation.

So was the case with my recent trip to Washington D.C., where I got to engage in some sweet diabetes advocacy on Capitol Hill.

This was my first plane ride since last summer, since the TSA imposed its pain in the ass new security protocols. I’d made sure that all of my medical supplies – syringes sealed in the bag, clearly labeled insulin bottle in box, pump and blood testing supplies – were all in one easy to find case that could be displayed and searched. A letter from my Endo dated that same month explained that I needed to tote all of these supplies with me in a carry-on, and I was ready to flash that at anyone raising an eyebrow about my carry-ons.

Nervous but feeling prepared, I arrived way early and was ready to go. The line was packed leading to the terminal security checkpoint, and some small chat with those waiting in line was pleasant enough.

Getting up to the conveyor belt, I undid my shoes and belt and took off the coat and put the laptop in its own bin. Then, I motioned for one of the blue-shirt TSA officials to alert them to my medical supplies and desire to not pass through any electronic-device-killing-metal-detector-or-body-scanner. Blue Shirt TSA Official 1 pointed to the side, and watched as my meter case with supplies was rummaged through and ultimately passed through the scanner. Then, a second Blue Shirt TSA official pointed me in the opposite direction. I didn’t know where I belonged, and felt myself wanting to step in both directions.

So, I did what anyone might do in that situation: I crossed my arms and stood there like a little child who wasn’t getting his way.

“Sir, you need to step through there for the scan,” a male TSA official instructed.

Obviously, he wasn’t aware of what his two other Blue Shirt TSA folks had already told me.

“I’m waiting for a pat-down, because I’ve already told two of your colleagues that I have an insulin pump and do not want your scanner to make my medical device malfunction. Tell me where to go.”

TSA official 3: “You can go through just fine, it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s not what I’ve been told by the company who sold me this device for thousands of dollars. If it breaks, I’ll be looking for you specifically to buy me a new one.”

He glared at me, and I really regretted opening my mouth and challenging his authority. I felt like the airport security was going to Taser or tackle me at any moment and lock me up for being a threat.. but luckily that didn't happen. TSA Lady 1 emerged out of nowhere and with a smile directed me to the place that she'd originally pointed me to before the other Blue Shirts got all confused.

I was happy to see her, but honestly it was like the Left Hand not talking to the Right Hand. I see why people get frustrated with the process.

Already, a line was forming behind me and I felt pressure to just dart through and run toward my gate with my arms waving above my head. But I thought twice, and TSA Lady 1 helped me move through to the glass-walled pat down box without incident.

A new TSA Official, this one a man wearing a White Shirt, appeared and took the lead. He told me to raise my hands, which I did. My license and boarding pass were still in my shirt pocket, and this apparently set off alarms and caused a fuss. I was scolded by TSA White Shirt for that, though I caught a smirk on his face as he said that.

But he was pretty familiar with the insulin pump. I had to hold it in my hand above my head as my hands were raised, and at that point I was very thankful for wearing long infusion set tubing that day. He asked where my site was, and I pointed and he gently felt around the spot on my abdomen. But he wasn’t as familiar with the whole CGM component, so asked questions about what it did and where it was located. He asked that I roll my sleeve up so he could inspect the arm-sensor, which I happily did while explaining the transmitter and CGM graphs for him.

He seemed impressed.

“Well, that’s cool! Certainly better than all those finger pricks,” he said about the CGM. I smiled, deciding it wasn’t worth going into the whole “CGMs don’t replace BG tests because of accuracy issues” point.

Other than that, the pat-down was no hassle at all and I got to educate a little while going through it all.

Of course, the security spectacle raised the awareness of some of my fellow airline travelers that day, too.

As I made my way back to the pick-up-your-crap from the bins area, a curious woman approached me with excitement in her eyes.

“Does that happen to you every time you fly with your insulin pump?” she asked.

“Not always just like that, but this is the first time I’ve flown since the TSA put all the new security in place. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.”

“I saw you had an insulin pump, and I’ve been thinking about one of those myself,” she proclaimed.

Oh really!!! Ah, the connecting power of diabetes!

This woman was traveling with her husband to Florida, and we struck up a conversation immediately as he put his shoes back on nearby.She’d been diabetic for four years, and had just gone onto insulin at some point late last year. Her numbers have been “all over the place” she said, and she’s been talking with her doctor about going on a pump for better control. We talked about the features and the CGM component, and I told her what I thought about it. Then, I gave her my contact information to keep in touch if she wanted to.

After all of this, my next stop was the Starbucks – which was logically placed on the opposite end of the terminal from where my gate was located. So, I trucked my baggage along and secured a Grand Latte, then settled down into a seat and read some Tweets to pass the time before boarding.

The flight brought even another D-Connection, as it turned out the woman sitting next to me has a nephew in his 50s who’s been diabetic for a decade or so. She was traveling beyond D.C. to a Christian conference, and she was very interested when I started telling her about where I was heading for the JDRF Government Day. But she knew absolutely nothing about diabetes, including that there were two types – so it was a nice little time to help educate her a little. We talked about faith, family, jobs, life, and diabetes – and even showed off my CGM graph with a 162 test. A great way to pass the 90 minute flight into the nation’s capital.

The way back from D.C. wasn’t anything to write home about. With a later evening flight, I arrived way earlier that I needed and was able to pass pretty uneventfully through security. One guy looked at me and smiled as I held up my insulin pump, saying that “the pump is all clear.” I’m sure, being as they are all professional high-level security experts, the TSA guys quickly assessed my risk level and determined that neither I nor my insulin pump was a concern.

Airports aside, the D.C. Travel Adventures were just as eventful.

Journeying to multiple Congressional buildings on Capitol Hill, it was a crap shoot for when my pump might trigger the alarm and when it wouldn’t. From memory, I think I made it through without issue while going into the House buildings, but the Senate side was trickier to navigate. They were all pretty aware of what an insulin pump was, maybe because they see it so often or maybe there was some mass alert that a whole bunch of Diabetes Advocates would be hitting the Hill those days. Who knows. But as someone who regularly passes through all levels of courthouse security, this was no concern for me.

Then there was the transportation itself in D.C., which made me nervous and was its own part of the JDRF Government Day presentation with slides and maps and specific instructions. I'm sure that I'd get lost at some point, going Low and wandering aimlessly through the streets of D.C and stumbling into some secret government meeting I wasn't supposed to know about.

But all would be OK, I decided, since I'd be with other fellow D-Advocates. (insert head-shaking laugh here).

Being one of only two advocates from Indiana attending all the meetings, I found myself traveling solo a couple times. The Metro had already tried to eat my daily passes without letting me pass normally, and at one point among a group of others that I contemplated hopping the gate and escaping to keep up with my fellow Advocates. But that wasn't needed and I was finally able to pass.

But on my afternoon Metro trip back from Capitol Hill one day, I found myself solo in catching the ride back and learned a valuable lesson: The Metro does, in fact, go in more than one direction. Walking up to where I needed to wait, I overheard someone mention college basketball and the matchup between Oakland and Texas…. “Oakland – what is that, like the one in California?” this man asked his friend. Being a proud graduate of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan who knew well my alma mater was set to duel Texas later that week, I jumped into the conversation without thinking and educated the D.C. Metro-Riders on which Oakland they needed to be concerned about.

Unfortunately, while talking basketball, I managed to forget to pay attention to which of the Blue Line Metro Trains I was actually boarding when it pulled up and ended up en route the wrong way. Discovering this a few stops into the ride, I rode on and Tweeted about my confusion before turning myself around and getting back in the right direction. Sadly, I was late in arriving to the Cupcake Challenge Dinner event, but at least I was able to make it there in one piece to enjoy some cupcakes and good company!

Overall while in D.C. , there was little time to sight see but I managed to at least get a few photos in front of the Capitol Building and Supreme Court and even the Library of Congress – the latter which I walked through briefly after my legislative meetings were wrapped up! Did a blood test out front and it was 70, so I sat on the library steps and ate a cookie from the hotel snack shop. Then, it was time to get back and prep for the journey home to Indy…

For Disclosure Purposes, I should probably also mention that these Tales of My Travel Adventures shouldn't be interpreted to say anything about the fact that they were generously paid for by the JDRF. As was my lodging and some meal expenses during this four-day event. I'd be willing to bet that didn't influence the security protocols or experiences I had while traveling... Though, I am thankful that I managed to not raise any serious red flags in airports, Metro stations, or Capitol Hill landmarks.

5 comments:

Penny said...

Great post Michael and I'm, glad you made it through TSA pretty unscathed. So glad your voice is one they heard in DC too.

Kim said...

Your TSA story sounds all too familiar! :( It frustrates me that they always want you to "just walk through with it" (pump), yet they have no concept of the repercussions if something goes wrong as a result of doing that.

Glad you eventually found your way to us on Cupcake Night! :)

Hallie said...

I'm totally laughing at the thouht of you running off without going thru security! Probably because the thought crossed my mind, too! They're usually pretty cool about Sweets - and she's terrified of metal detectors because they beep. She gets a pat down- which makes her giggle, of course!! I got ticked one time because they insisted on patting me down, too- because I touched her. "Next time don't touch her and we won't have to do this". Ummm.... She's FOUR! She's my kid and she's scared. Wth, don't touch her? She's not a leper for the Love of God! (don't get me started....!). Flying is stressful with D. But I'd like to see them just try and mess with my kid. I might look all sweet and kind but give us a hard time because of D and it's ON!

Quinn said...

The TSA stories you all post really crack me up. I mean, I would probably have just caved at some point. But in reading your stuff and Kim's it may give me more of a backbone when I travel next.

Jess said...

glad you made it there and back in one piece! thanks for putting up with it all to get the advocating done. you are a rockstar! :)