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a man being called over by a security guard at an airport

Detained For Possession Of Arthritis

I have come to the realization that I have the sort of face that airport security can’t help but to "randomly select" for an inspection. So much so that when I travel with friends, they now ask me to go in front of them to get my inevitable stop and search over with in order to save time getting through.

I’ve never allowed it to get in the way of my love of travel which remains my number one passion in life. So when a friend asked if I fancied booking a last minute weekend trip to Madrid last month, I jumped at the chance.

A great getaway

The dates worked out perfectly medication-wise as we left the day after my methotrexate day and my Enbrel injection was scheduled for the day after we returned. This meant that I didn’t have to pack them and go through the ordeal of explaining to customs that I am not smuggling illegal drugs across borders or worry about my injections not staying at the right temperature.

Of course, I know to always expect the unexpected with AS, so I packed my travel walking stick just in case. Luckily, it folds up nicely and doesn’t take up too much room in my hand luggage as I am far too much of a cheapskate to pay for check in baggage.

I had an amazing time exploring Madrid. To my amazement,  all the walking and copious amounts of sangria did not take its toll too heavily on my body. This meant that my walking stick could take a nice weekend long siesta in my bag without being called into action. However, it did end up getting me in a spot of bother on the journey home...

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Going through security

After putting my bag through to be scanned, I received the familiar finger wag from the security guard. However, this time it wasn’t a pat down or even to tell me off for trying to pack too much hair product. Instead, she pulled out my walking stick and asked me (in Spanish): "Why do you have this?"

Unfortunately, most of the Spanish I have learned has been from either reggaeton or Duolingo. Neither of which extensively cover any medical terms. It took me about 3 months to learn how to say ankylosing spondylitis correctly in English, so I haven’t even attempted to learn that in another language quite yet. But I do know "yo tengo artritis" means "I have arthritis" so opted to reply with that.

They understood what I was saying, but maybe after hearing the South London undertones in my accent they thought that I must have got my words muddled up. One of them even repeated back "artritis?" whilst giggling. I went on to blurt out a few more pain related sentences I had memorized, but they were not convinced.

They told me I was "too strong and young" to possibly have arthritis. I guess this could be considered a semi-compliment but I was more annoyed about this stereotypical view of arthritis as being solely a condition for the elderly and how it might land me in trouble.

Being detained

They demanded to see some kind of medical certificate to prove that I wasn’t trying to cover up some plans of a feeble violent attack using a very thin piece of foldable metal. I was unable to provide any as this time as I was travelling without medication so didn’t see the need to pack a doctor’s note.

This prompted them to escort me to a detention room to wait for one of their superiors to come and question me. As I was walking over to the security room I was half annoyed at my body for having a low pain day as a limp right now would have really helped my case and it was too late to fake one now!

I got to room and started to panic. I sat there frantically searching through my phone for any kind of email or screenshot that might prove that I wasn’t some psycho who lies about being chronically ill. Then I remembered I had posted a holiday photo on my Instagram of me outside the Hollywood sign using my stick.

At the time I was a little nervous to upload it as I was worried what people might think or say about it. But thank goodness I clicked that "post" button as it was the only hard evidence I could find to show that I do actually use my walking aid for regular non-criminal activities. Luckily, when the head of security arrived, he saw the photo and swiftly let me go and was pretty apologetic about the whole ordeal.

Final thoughts

Thankfully in the end I was let go in time to make my flight back and wasn’t sentenced to any jail time for "Possession of Arthritis."

But it was a distressing period. Not only was I concerned about the potential of being banged up abroad for embarrassing reasons, but if I missed my flight then I risked missing out on my injection the next day and having more to worry about.

Fortunately, none of this happened, but I boarded my flight exhausted and very frustrated that I was given such a hard time trying to prove I have a condition that already gives me a hard time! It just goes to show the lack of awareness out there that young people can also suffer from chronic conditions. We need to remove the stereotypes of what pain or sickness ‘looks like’ from society and have more compassion for another. Those of us with chronic conditions go through enough hardship as it is;  we shouldn’t be put on trial to prove this to others.

I will certainly be making sure that my phone is filled with medical evidence to avoid a repeat of this in the future. It certainly shouldn’t be this way, but sadly that appears to be the world in which we live.

Have you ever had any similar experiences? Let me know in the comments.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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