medical device

A West African Cane Beats TSA

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West Africa shirt

Rarely do I find anything nice to say about the TSA. Thanks to the events of September 11, the overzealous efforts of Congress, and the willingness to surrender more of our freedoms, Homeland Security began to make life much more difficult for travelers.

Personally, I resent the intrusions imposed on American citizens simply using airlines as a quick mode of transportation from one part of the US to another. However, I do have some appreciation for the protection airport security seems to have provided in keeping terrorists from boarding airplanes again.

Strangely, those same terrorists though can still just walk across a very unsecured border from Mexico into the US or from just about any part of Canada into the US as well. But I digress as that would be a story for another day.

In 2012, our family moved from Liberia, West Africa back to the United States. As we prepared to depart, we checked our bags and entered the Duty Free Zone at the Roberts International Airport located in Monrovia. While there, we availed ourselves of one last shopping experience as we purchased several Liberian artifacts from the various shops.

One of my purchases was a very nice walking cane that had been carved by a local artist. It was carved out of one of the hardwood trees that are found in abundance throughout West Africa. Before making my purchase, I asked to verify that there would be no issues in getting my cane through customs as we made our way first to Europe and then back to the US.

Assured that there would be no problems, I purchased the beautiful walking stick and we prepared to board the plane.

Nobody said a word to me about the cane and one or two stewardesses even commented on the beauty of the hardwood as well as the artist’s skill.

Arriving in Brussels, Belgium, we proceeded to walk through the entire airport for about five hours. Not once did anybody stop me or ask me if the cane was some kind of a weapon. Common sense prevailed and again I had a couple of staff members comment on how nice a cane I had. At no point did I attempt to walk with it. There was nothing on the bottom to prevent it from slipping on the tiled airport floors and it was really only for decoration.

We arrived back to the US and landed in an airport on the east coast. Disembarking, we had to get all of our bags, go through Customs, and then to make our connecting flight, we had to recheck our bag and go through Security again.

Remember, I have been carrying my new West African cane through three different airports on three different continents. Not one time did anybody question me about why I was carrying this cane with me. Not one time did any police or soldiers follow me and wonder if I was going to attack somebody with my prized possession.

Until we had to go through TSA security to fly from one US to another.

Having already been up for way too many hours, we did not want to have to deal with another inconvenience, but had no choice.

Finally arriving at the front of the line, the TSA staff member took one look at my cane and said, “You cannot take that with you on the plane!”

She was NOT rude about it, but simply had a job to do.

I asked what I was supposed to do with it. Her response was that I would have to check it in and it would go into the hold of the plane. However, I knew full well that somewhere along the way that my exquisitely carved cane would disappear and would never make it to our final stop in Memphis, Tennessee where we had family waiting to pick us up and welcome us back to the US.

I graciously told the TSA staff member that I was not prepared to put my nice new cane and asked why there should be a problem. I told her that we had now crossed three continents and three airports without one concern.

She looked at my wife and I for a minute and responded.

“The only way that you can take the cane on the plane is if it is a medical device.”

I looked back at her and said, “But it is not a medical device.”

She paused, looked at my wife again, and spoke again but emphasized a few words.

“Sir, the ONLY way that YOU can take the cane ON the plane is IF it is a medical device!”

My wife nudged me as she caught on a little quicker than I had done. “Sweetheart, she is saying that you have to use it as an actual cane.”

Not wanting to be dishonest in anyway, it was true that I had been sick in Liberia. In fact, one of my daughters and I had almost died. While I did not use the cane to walk around, it often hurt just to walk. My joints ached from the ravages of severe cases of typhoid and malaria, but I did not want to mislead the TSA staff member either. While in Liberia, I did have to use a walking stick regularly to help support myself at times while on the various roads and trails in the jungles.

“Yes, I can use my cane as a medical device.” I informed her hoping that with such a declaration she would let us pass and we could board our fourth and final flight.

The TSA staffer said, “Sir, in order to let you take the cane on the airplane, I will have to see you actually using the cane as a medical device or aid to walking.”

Are you kidding me?

The bottom of the cane was slick wood and we were on a slick tiled floor. By the time I was done demonstrating my “need” for a cane, I probably would need a real cane or a wheelchair.

However, not wanting to lose my cane, I decided it was best to oblige. With a few slightly exaggerated limps, I sashayed, glided, and attempted to do-ci-do across the TSA Security enclosure while making sure that I did not slip, fall to the floor, and crack my head open.

With a wry smile, she responded. “Yep, looks like you definitely need your medical device. Have a safe trip!”

It was all I could do to keep a straight face as I used my medical device to limp my way around the corner and away from the TSA area.

I still have that cane and every time I see it, it reminds me of the day that a West African cane was allowed to beat TSA at their own game.

To the kind, unnamed TSA staff member, “Thank you and walk on!”