Spotting the TSA agent with abdominal pain

Whatever the time or the space

The day of the week or the place

It won’t come as a shock

I’m always a doc,

And I could read the pain or her face.


Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I am back having adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. I spent the winter in Nome, Alaska, followed by assignments in rural Iowa. The summer and fall included a funeral, a bicycle tour in Michigan, cherry picking in Iowa, a medical conference in Denver, and working Urgent Care in suburban Pennsylvania.  Right now I’m in Virginia for the holiday.  Any patient information has been included with permission.


I travel with an expensive medication for my ankylosing spondylitis.   Every 5 days I take a shot, and I have to keep the stuff refrigerated.  I put a month’s supply into the smallest cooler in the house along with a gel cold pack, fully prepared to submit to TSA inspection.

With TSA Precheck, I didn’t have to take off my boots or show my computer at the airport in Omaha.  I stood in line waiting for my carry on to finish in x-ray, and I watched the TSA personnel.

The youngest member of the staff sat by the x-ray monitor, and stopped the belt when my backpack came through.  He summoned an older woman, either his supervisor or his trainer.  They conferred while I watched.  My medical training never stops, it’s who I am, and I saw pain on the face of the lightly built, blonde woman.  She might have hidden it from her coworkers, but not from me.  After a moment, I could see that her left hand spent more time hovering over her lower abdomen than anywhere else.  I couldn’t make a diagnosis without a good history and a physical exam, but I could see her abdomen swelled more than normal for a person of her build.  What could this be?  I asked myself, What’s the differential?

The two TSA officials conferred, they went back and forth.  After a minute, my backpack came down the belt, I picked it up and I walked on.

But I knew what had happened.  Pain lowered the standards of the TSA security official.  She had guessed, accurately, that I posed no threat.  But we already knew the TSA hassles constitute more placebo than real security.


I like to show off my talent for sharpening knives.  On arrival to Virginia, I volunteered to carve the turkey and immediately brought a shaving edge to the blade I would use.

Later that evening, one of the family members, chopping onions with that chef’s knife, cut the end of his ring finger, and the cut bled vigorously.

I have no license in this state, but, heck, anyone can apply first aid.  And I learned plenty of basics this summer working Urgent Care; I can’t remember a shift when I didn’t see at least one fingertip injury.  Mostly on the non-dominant hand (because the dominant hand holds the blade), and happened usually in a time of crisis or stress.  Dominant hand lacerations happened almost always on the job.

So we sat together, I applied local pressure, squeezing the area vigorously for 5 minutes.   The bleeding stopped, and I applied Superglue.



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3 Responses to “Spotting the TSA agent with abdominal pain”

  1. Jonathan Taylor, DO Says:

    if you glue a child with a laceration, strongly urge the care giver to not place a bandaid of the glue as it pulls the wound apart when the bandaid is removed. The caregiver also needs to educate the other parent or caregivers not present.

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      Good point. Hadn’t considered avoiding the bandaid. As I think about it, if the superglue is in place, a bandaid isn’t needed. It would be the department of redundancy department.

  2. Jonathan Taylor, DO Says:

    sorry, bandaid over the glue

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