Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mutants flying the friendly skies

I guess I am really glad(sarcastic tone) that flying has become so expensive that it really isn't an option to take my family of 6 anywhere. I won't complain too much since I live in a vacation destination, but it does totally suck being away from family and friends. Now not only is it cost prohibitive, but health prohibitive as well. Yeah I'm talking about those new airport scanners that are all the rage.  I honestly don't care that some TSA agent is sitting in a secluded room viewing images of my naked body. I've had 4 kids, my body is a warzone. But big picture- I question the safety- so I started doing research. It's what I do.

I found that the amount of radiation you are exposed to is minimal. It does not penetrate the skin, it merely penetrates the clothing so it can generate a picture. SO what about the skin?  Sure sunscreen protects against UVA/UVB- but I'm pretty sure it doesn't cover this backscatter technology xray radiation.  Is the amount of exposure minimal? yep, I'll give you that.  Is it safe? You are not going to hear reputable people say that. Pay attention. Who so far is declining scans? Cancer patients, pregnant women, and pilots. I heard a story of a bladder cancer survivor who lives with a urostomy bag, had the bag spilled all down the front of him during his "aggressive pat down" . He had to sit on his flight soaked with urine. A breast cancer survivor was agressively searched and had to remove her prosthesis for inspection. I guess technically if she still had breasts, they would have been aggressively squeezed- so should she feel lucky she can at least take hers out?  After spending years of my life with cancer survivors and remembering many who didn't- the quest for normal after treatment or death is a long bumpy road- I would like to thank the Government for adding one more roadblock to our already diminished quality of life. But we are not the majority and these methods are in place to protect the majority.  That doesn't mean it's safe.

In article after article I read, in the USA Today, reuters, cnet, webmd- all say the risk is low to the general population. Not safe, low risk. It is mentioned that as in medical scans- if the benefit outweighs the risk, it is acceptable. Not safe, acceptable. They repeatedly emphasize the radiation exposure is the equivalent to that of 2-3 minutes of flying.  Great so now we are compounding risks. I see why pilots would refuse- they get enough radiation exposure in the flying contraption on a day to day basis- to add to it would be off putting. It is not reccommended for pregnant women. Really? Why so? If it truly doesn't penetrate the skin- the baby should not be at additional risk, right? What the experts will tell you is that studies have not been done on the long term effects and although the risk is acceptable to the general population- it would be cruel to subject the unborn population to it. Hmm. What about children?  Just because they are on the outside- doesn't really make them any more equipped to deal with it, does it? But it's either that or an aggressive pat down and we spend a lot of time teaching them good touch-bad touch. DO we now have to say only doctors and TSA agents can touch you there? Are we going to see a rash of pedophiles dressing up as TSA agents and hanging out at playgrounds, probably not- but maybe we'll see an influx of applications to the TSA. Definitely the moral fiber we want guarding the friendly skies.

The last disconcerting thing I found was the repeated mention that those with genetic mutations that predispose them to cancer should be aware of the additional risks. I have Li Fraumeni Syndrome. It is a genetic mutation that not only predisposes me to cancer, but to many cancers in my lifetime and by lifetime I mean a lifespan that is 10-30 years shorter than the average lifespan. I am one of the "lucky" ones- I have not had cancer yet. Most in my peer group in this syndrome have had at least 1 type of cancer. We have all watched relatives die from it. So what's a little skin cancer when you are looking at terminal brain tumors, and adrenalectomies and colostomies and mastectomies,right? It's one more thing to worry about.  I know mutants who refuse to have dental xrays to limit the exposure to radiation. Radiation therapy in these families is a last resort, because it has been shown that additional tumors pop up in radiation fields. Good times. So what's a mutant to do?

I encourage people to do their research and be aware that you are not being told the whole story. The contract for scanners was in and it went to the lowest bidder, not the one who makes the "safer"- millimeter technology scanner. There are many veils of false security- these scanners are one of them. A friend posted an article on Israeli airport security. Their first line of defense? Eye Contact. You can tell a lot about a person with how they react to eye contact. You'll find TSA shouts over your head- they will actively look away if you try to make eye contact. I'm sure they get their fair share of rudeness as well.  SO what's the solution?  How do we make flying a reasonable safe mode of transportation again?

I have a solution. Combine Healthcare and TSA. Standardized healthcare does away with many of the dignities TSA is starting to. You can be categorized by health status which determines your screening regime. Just think about how many germs you are exposed to in an ER or a plane. The same right? You can get the Xrays you need and be on your way to a different destination all at the same time. Throw the people who can treat those conditions into the mix. I mean international travellers do pose a problem- but we treat most of them on our dime anyway when medical attention is needed, I say just add a surcharge for those tickets. It's the fiscally responsible thing to do. Ok I am being sarcastic, but when you start posing medical risks for transportation, the appropriate specialists should be involved. 

Yes, flying is choice. It is also a business.  Although federally regulated, business is business and rarely is anything but the customers pocketbook considered. Be your own advocate, especially when caught between an ionizing rock and a hard pat down.

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