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My Left Breast Put Fancy TSA Scanner to the Test

5 years ago
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A funny thing happened to me at airport security this week: The full-body scanner appeared to detect my fake left breast.

After I sauntered sleepily through the regular scanner at Denver International Airport, the TSA guy motioned me into the clear, cylindrical, full-body scanner (aka, the Millimeter Wave). The woman there asked me to step on the yellow footprints and raise my arms above my head. She murmured into a headset to start the scan. There was a quick motion through the plexiglass. She asked me to turn, step on the green footprints and hold my arms straight out. Another scan.

She motioned me out of the scanner and asked me to wait for word from someone in some secret room somewhere, someone looking at a vision of my body sans jeans, cardigan, turtleneck, etc. Hmmm . . .

Then she said she needed to check something. And she began sweeping her hands around my left breast and rib cage.

This didn't bother me all that much; in fact it made me smile. For one thing, I don't really have any feeling in my left breast. That's because it doesn't exactly exist. For six years now, it's been a composition of part of my lat dorsi (mid-back muscle) and a skin graft from my back, supplemented by a sac of silicone. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the result of a mastectomy and reconstruction, which in turn is the result of breast cancer.

Since I've broached the subject of breast surgery, let me detour here to address any of you who might be thinking of elective enhancement. I totally understand the consternation that may result from being small-breasted. But are you really willing to have major surgery to alter this fluke -- or blessing? -- of Mother Nature? Really? General anesthetic? A breathing tube that'll leave your throat sore for days? Taking a month or so off from exercise and exertion to recover from surgery? Hoping you don't have rejection issues? Really?

Back to the TSA. As the security screening woman felt me up, I mentioned to her that I have an implant, the result of mastectomy. She relayed the information to those unseen through her microphone.

A few seconds later, she sent me on my way. And I tweeted and Facebooked about the experience. A friend in Tallahassee mentioned that friend of his had to lift his shirt to expose his colostomy bag to the TSA in Philadelphia. I'm happy I didn't have to expose anything to the scanning lady, and she should be too. Medical professionals I've met consider my surgical aftermath a work of art, but laypeople might be kind of weirded out by the oval skin graft and the way I can flex my breast (the lat dorsi still seems to work!). Then again, this is nothing compared to what my friend Diane goes through -- she has two rebuilt hips and two fake tatas, the latter courtesy of breast cancer.

Yet, the so-called Millimeter Wave isn't aiming to detect things like my fake left breast, according to Carrie Harmon, a TSA spokeswoman in Denver.

"It looks for metallic and non-metallic items under clothing," she says. "It could have been something else inside your body."

Except the only other things around my fake left breast were a cotton tank top and cotton turtleneck. Who needs underwires when there's so little to support?

"That's not a usual experience," Harmon says.

My plastic surgeon, Dr. Winfield Hartley, agrees.

"I know they have tightened security but you are the first patient I have heard from that has had a . . . search from images of a gel implant," Hartley said in an e-mail. "I expect we will see a lot more of this type of security until the image readers get used to seeing implants."

Frankly, I think it's a good thing that they're being careful about my left breast. It's probably only a matter of time until someone tries to be the first "boobie bomber." Because, really, shoes and underpants are so passe in the terror world these days.

The takeaway here is, if you have fake body parts, you should be prepared to explain them to the full-body screening folks at the TSA.

Meanwhile, I've got a great revenue idea for those folks. They could sell images from the body scanners to us after we gather up our belongings. It'd be sort of like those photos of us screaming on rollercoasters that theme parks offer up after the ride is over. Only it'd be weird X-ray-like images.

Really, it could be a money-maker for the feds. And it might cut down on the risk/fears of TSA employees going all rogue by selling our scans to, say, National Enquirer or some such. They could offer both digital and print images. Use them for your holiday cards, frame them for the office. I'd probably post mine on Facebook.

But that's just me. Think about it, TSA folks.

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