DBS Diary 14 – airport security gates

As many of you know, I had a DBS operation (deep brain stimulation) a year ago which has given me a huge new lease of life. But you still have to be on the ball to avoid circumstances that will disable the apparatus.

It’s a party trick for many Parkies to switch off their DBS to demonstrate how quickly their symptoms, particularly tremor, return sometimes even to the extent of being unable to restart the device. I tend to eschew these kind of demonstrations – I’m not a performing seal despite my flappy fins. No exhibiti in a freakshow. I won’t perform for your entertainment.

A situation we DBS chappies are invited to avoid is that of the metal detectors used by airports. There have been occasions I gather when such devices have switched off cardiac pacemakers and, since the DBS system is fundamentally a brain pacemaker, one can reasonably suppose that the same might apply. With that in mind I’m quite belligerent about these portals.

Returning from Paris on the Eurostar last weekend I was faced with just such a scenario. Younger daughter waltzes through the portal without so much as a bleep or a ping. But no way am I going to do the same.

“S’il vous plait monsieur” I call out to the armed officer standing disinterested nearby. He strolls over languidly with a vague air of irritation at the Englishman who had torn him away from an interesting conversation with a very fetching female colleague.

“Monsieur?” he says

I point to the gate portal and say in what I think is pretty decent French when you consider the last lesson I had was nearly 50 years ago. “Je suis desolee mais je ne peut pas passer par ce porte la parce que j’ai un pacemaker” I gesture to my chest.

“stimulateur cardiaque”. I emphasise, leaving nothing to chance (and suddenly remembering the word).

“Pas de probleme, monsieur” he says and points to a small paragraph of text in French, English and German explaining that the portal is safe for people with pacemakers “in the majority of cases”.

Now, I don’t know about you but for me “the majority of cases” falls a little way short of the kind of reassurance I need in this situation. So I have to raise the stakes and it is at this point that I have a mental block and forget the word for doctor (which is of course ‘medecin’ as I recall a few minutes later) and substitute the halfway plausible ‘docteur’ which sounds like it could be right.

“Mon docteur m’a dit absolument pas” I say, throwing in an appropriate gesture of finality to emphasise the point.

Meanwhile, younger daughter turns round to see what the kerfuffle is all about. This confuses the customs man.

“Your docteur?” He says pausing briefly before his lightbulb moment “your daughter”. He points to my daughter. This confuses matters further.

“My daughter” I say abandoning all efforts at French “not my doctor”.

Younger daughter decides that we stand a better chance of getting through the gate if we fess up about the DBS.

“It’s not really a pacemaker “she begins, thereby immediately attracting the attention of the customs officials who now feel they have been misled. “It’s a brain pacemaker” she says and points to my head.

“zen ‘e can go through ze gate.” says the customs man.

Younger daughter shakes her head slowly for extra gravitas. “No” she says. “If he goes through this portal” she says suddenly and forcefully extending her arms widely “his head will explode “

“Pouf- just like that” she adds for emphasis.

Well-intentioned though her intervention doubtless is, it becomes immediately apparent that words like “explode” are not ones to use in the presence of security type people. Especially those who don’t speak English. And have guns.

There is a brief sound of holsters being unclipped, guns cocked. In what felt like a lifetime but was probably only a few seconds, the security guards realise that I am no threat to them (especially with an imminently exploding head). They offer to search me instead which seems a much more reasonable prospect. I immediately volunteer to be searched by the rather gorgeous blonde but in the end it is the rather rough and unshaven Neanderthal. Still, better than having an exploding head.

A small American child, behind us in the queue, is visibly disappointed. After all, an exploding head is not something you see every day. Even in America. Sorry lad, can’t help.