After a fun filled week in California, it was finally time to pack up and go home. Robby was tired and homesick. He cried himself to sleep on our last night in California because he missed his daddy and Charlie Kitty. It was easy to convince him to help pack up, and we happily sang songs on the way to the airport.
I was nervous maneuvering the airport with Robby in tow. Scott was able to secure a security pass to help me tame Robby when we departed last week. I was thankful for his help because, being an amputee, getting cleared through airport security can be a lengthy process. I have never gone through security with Robby by myself, so I was apprehensive. Little did I know that my fears were founded.
As predicted, and as is typical, I was directed to the Plexiglas waiting area after I triggered the metal detector. Robby proudly walked through the sensors, running into my arms. Apparently that was a mistake, because he was taken back through the sensors again because he had been "compromised" by touching me. He was not pleased.
I am used to the screening process. I have also learned that, although the system is supposed to be standardized, no two airports approach the amputee in the same way. I never know exactly what to expect, but I have learned that being gracious and smiling goes a long way to shorten the process for all involved.
In all of the years since I have become an amputee, I can honestly say that I have can't think of a more upsetting and humiliating experience than what I endured at the hands of TSA at the Orange County, California airport. Robby and I both left the screening station flustered, in tears and late for our plane. It didn't take long for my humiliation to morph into anger.
After Robby's second screening, he was directed by an imposing figure to sit in a chair and not to communicate with me. He was scared and asked me if everything was okay. He broke the "rule" and the consequence was a full body pat down. I was forced to sit in a chair and helplessly watch my scared little boy get patted down for explosives. I was angry and perplexed when they pulled back his hands and peeked into his diaper. When his ordeal was over, Robby sat quietly shaking in a chair staring at me.
When they were done clearing a four year old for explosive materials, they turned their attention to me. I was taken through the normal pat down procedure to which I am accustomed. I was then informed, in a matter of fact tone, that the rules have changed as of today (Friday, May 28, 2010) and that further screening was necessary.
I was instructed to remove my leg. I refused, stating that it was against procedure to insist that I remove my prosthetic. Another man was brought over, who lectured me about the increased security risk and the need to keep screening procedures current. He reiterated that the rules have changed, and that he needed my prosthetic. Looking at my frightened little boy and knowing that we were becoming pressed for time, I begrudgingly removed my leg and handed it to the rude agent.
"What's that?" the man asked while pointing to my liner. I explained that it was my prosthetic liner, and that I wore it to keep my prosthetic attached. He insisted that he needed to run my liner through the machine as well.
I don't think that the general public understands how personal a residual limb is to the amputee. It is on par with one's genitals. I simply don't remove my liner in public exposing my limb, and I was humiliated by the request.
At this point, our plane was boarding. I had amassed a group of four TSA officers around me, and Robby was scared and in tears. I knew that what they were asking me to do was wrong, but I also knew that fighting at that moment would caused us to miss our plane. I just wanted to get home.
I took off my liner. I sat quietly in a chair as onlookers and gawking passengers watched me expose one of my most personal features. I felt defeated and humiliated.
My liner, which is supposed to be maintained in a hygienic manner, was thrown into a screening bin inside out and run through the machine. No care was given to sanitizing the container which I am sure is riddled with fecal matter and bacteria. I was given no opportunity or materials to clean the liner after it was contaminated. It was half-hazardly thrown into my lap as I was told that I could leave.
I put my leg on and gave Robby a huge hug. We gathered our carry-on items which had been removed from our bags and strewn on a metal table. Tears were rolling down my face as I called my family for support.
My tears quickly turned to outrage as I recounted my experience. No person should be subjected to this level of humiliation. If Robby had not been with me, I have little doubt that I would have stood my ground. I am not one to back down from an injustice, and I regret submitting so quickly. The removal of my liner, without so much as providing a towel for cover, placed me in a submissive and vulnerable position.
If there had been a devotee nearby, pictures easily could have been taken and my limb would now be plastered across pornography sights. I hope that no pictures were taken, but I will never know for sure. My liner's cleanliness was compromised opening the possibility for infection and, worst case scenario, leading to a higher level amputation. I was put at undo risk because of my TSA screening.
As an amputee, I accept that more screening is necessary. I understand the necessity of keeping the skies safe, and I have little doubt that terrorists have considered utilizing amputees and prosthetics for carrying explosives. This being said, what happened to me and my son is unconscionable.