Who decided that full body scanners were a good idea? The Electronic Privacy Information Center contends that scanners are "invasive, unlawful and ineffective." My concern is slightly more superficial: Do I really want to be seen without my Spanx? At the airport, you have to make a spot decision. Do you want to glide through the scanners like everyone else, or do you want to make a scene? I was traveling with my mother. There was no doubt which choice would be hers.
"I'm going to refuse," she said to me as we loaded our wheelie bags onto the conveyor.
"Why not?" She moved to the line of tape marking the floor.
"Ma'am, step into the machine and place your shoes on the designated footprints," the unsuspecting TSA official called out to her.
"I don't want to be x-rayed," she said.
"Just go in," I whispered. The security line snaked, tension coiled behind me. I leaned forward and urged. "We don't want to be late."
She threw out an elbow, jolting me back. For a woman who weighed barely 100 pounds, she sure packed a punch.
"Ma'am, are you choosing to decline the body scanner?"
"You bet I am," she said with obvious glee. "I've had x-rays of my teeth. I've had mammograms and bone scans. Lord knows how many other rays have permeated my body. I've had enough radiation to light the Olympic torch."
They ushered her to a holding area as I stepped into the machine and surrendered my arms overhead, posing like a human suppository.
"Look who they pick on!" I heard her yell over the sound of the machine. "A 75-year-old lady with swollen fingers and fallen arches."
As I waited with our bags, someone bumped my shoulder. I recognized the boarish wheeze before I saw his sweaty face. He'd been behind me in the security line. He grunted in my mother's direction. "Is she with you?"
I shook my head. "Never saw her before."
Guilt swept through me fast as lightening and then, an immediate wash of defiance: What if my mother was right about radiation? I took out my phone and found the EPA website. Cosmic radiation, I read, is a constant sprinkle of particles from space, raining down on the earth. The higher you go, the more you're exposed to radiation. "On a typical cross-country flight," the EPA report claimed, "in a commercial airplane, you are likely to receive less than half the radiation dose you receive from a chest x-ray."
Who hasn't had an x-ray? A friend once said: "You know you're old when you drive around with your films in the back of the car." If the contents of our cars indicated our ages, I'd have celebrated my last ten birthdays on "The Today Show" with Willard Scott. I have the films of a centenarian: x-rays, CT scans and an MRI that I probably didn't need. I'm a glowing example of what medical science offers. In fact, I should be grateful I don't hear Radio Netherlands through my dental fillings or leave a visible smear in my wake like the Road Runner.
Once on the plane, I turned to my mother. "Well, we made it."
She smiled back at me. "You know, they always hassle me at the security checkpoint," she said. "I honestly don't know why. I never do anything wrong." In her lap, a skein of yarn released a long strand that she wound effortlessly through those crooked fingers. I heard the familiar sound before I saw what was poised in her hands: 14-inch, pointed-tipped, aluminum knitting needles.
"When traveling it's important to know what medications you're on and to make sure that they don't cause a change in your behavior," said Dr. Adelman. Some medications may increase blood clotting, which could be troublesome on a long flight or on a vacation where you aren't moving as much, according to Dr. Adelman. "Arrange to get a bulkhead or aisle seat so you can get up, walk, and stretch. Also, avoid crossing your legs -- it increases the likelihood of clots."
"A travel medical specialist can really understand where you're going and what you'll need if you change your itinerary," said Dr. Adelman. Proper immunization is important before going away, according to Dr. Adelman. "You need to be strict about where you're going," said Dr. Adelman. "If you take a side trip you have to be sure you're properly immunized. You need to make sure you adequately brainstorm where the possible trip might lead you with a travel doctor." Travel medical specialists, as well as information on vaccinations, can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also lists resources for health departments by state. Travelers can access lists of travel medical specialists by country, city, or clinic name through the International Society of Travel Medicine, or by country or state/province through The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Finding a dentist while on vacation could prove to be a difficult process, according to Dr. Adelman, who suggests making a trip to the dentist before leaving a priority. "Make sure you go to your dentist and get a dental checkup," said Dr. Adelman. "You really don't want to need emergency dental care while you're away."
Dr. Adelman suggests vacationers take with them a list of all of their medications and medical conditions. "Bring a copy of your EKG if you have a heart condition," Dr. Adelman said, adding that if you suffer a chest ailment, the data will be helpful for doctors to make comparisons. "Ask for essential copies of tests. If you were hospitalized, obtain a report of what that involved. It's nice to have the most updated information."
It's important to drink a lot of water, especially if you're on a diuretic and taking a flight, according to Dr. Adelman. "In flights you get dehydrated easily," said Dr. Adelman, who adds that vacationers should generally avoid alcohol on flights, as well. He also advises to know where you can drink untreated water while away. "Be aware as we age we don't feel thirst in the same ways," said Dr. Adelman. "If you're walking in a brutally hot area, make sure you replete with water constantly. Even if you're not feeling thirst, you should constantly be drinking."
It's important to know your own physical limitations, according to Dr. Adelman, adding that vacationers should plan trips where they can have a place to stop, rest, and cool off if needed. "Don't be pushed by group pressure," said Dr. Adelman. "People have to be smart. This doesn't mean you can't go on vacation, just be wise about your capacity. Make your needs known and be very explicit."
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