From North Central Oklahoma Ostomy Outlook November 2008:

Worldwide Adventures in Ostomy

(Can you explain an ileostomy in Turkish?)

by Jack Crosby, 7/08; via Northern Virginia The Pouch

I have just returned from a much needed vacation. After two years of medical misery I was way overdue for some relaxing fun, but I hadn’t factored in how to explain an ileostomy in multiple languages that I don’t speak. My medical story is pretty familiar to many ostomates – anemia caused by internal bleeding, months of invasive tests in search of the cause, multiple transfusions to keep me going, location of a malignant bleeding tumor, a colon resection, serious ulcerative colitis, a total colectomy and an ileostomy.

Fourteen months after the last surgery I was really ready for what we planned – a trip from Washington DC to Istanbul to be with family for a week, followed by a month in China before returning to Washington for the summer. I downloaded the UOAA Ileostomy Guide and carefully read the section on travel. I followed most of the travel advice in the guide. I bought ample supplies and split them into portions, some for my carry-on and some in each piece of checked baggage. I split supplies so that I could get along for at least two weeks with just the supplies in any individual piece of luggage. I was careful to precut any supplies that would be in my carry-on so that I wouldn’t need anything metal to change pouches. I labeled each set of supplies in English and Chinese. I wrote up a two-paragraph description of an ileostomy in English (and later in Chinese) and kept it with my ticket and passport. I was ready!

The one piece of advice I didn’t follow was to get a letter from my doctor in all of the languages I would encounter. As it turned out, it wasn’t the lack of a letter from a doctor that mattered, it was the lack of any kind of explanation in a language that the security personnel could understand. English was not enough.

The first trouble was in an unexpected place, Paris. To get to Istanbul I needed to change planes at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. At this airport, changing planes means getting into a large bus and being transported to the terminal for the second flight, and upon entering the terminal, going through security. I was still only half awake after the overnight flight and the detection devices were apparently set to a high level of sensitivity. The machines were beeping on almost everyone, and a beep means a frisking. When I was frisked the security agent felt the ostomy pouch and became somewhat alarmed. Security personnel are trained to be suspicious of anything unusual. He kept asking me what it was in something approaching English but I couldn’t seem to explain it to him and he didn’t want to look at any pieces of paper. He and a colleague kept looking at and touching the pouch and asking me to take off clothing. I refused to take off my shirt and they looked at each other and finally said OK. Of course, by this time about 50 people were staring at me and my pouch.

Attaturk Airport in Istanbul was much worse. I went to the airport to see one of my sons off on his way back to his State Department post in Iraq. As soon as you enter the Attaturk Airport you must go through security and they are very nervous there because of recent terrorist attacks. I had absolutely nothing in any pockets when I went through the detector, but apparently my shoes set off the machine and I was frisked again. The security guard immediately became animated and asked for his colleagues to come over. In less than a minute I was being hustled by two security guards into a private room; they spoke no English and I speak absolutely no Turkish. I kept asking them to call a doctor but it didn’t work. A supervisor soon showed up and he calmed the others down. After looking at the pouch for a while he said I could go. This was not fun!

Knowing I would need to go through security again at Attaturk Airport in a few days, I followed my wife’s advice and went to the medical clinic inside the security perimeter at Attaturk and asked if one of the medical personnel there could write up something that I could use to get past the security staff with no trouble. The clinic is there to check people who may have some difficulty in flying and for $65 they will check you and, if you are in good health, they will issue a “Safe to Fly” certificate in Turkish and English. I agreed to the fee and they agreed to do it as soon as the doctor was available. The doctor was sitting just outside the examination room and he was very “busy” watching the Turkish equivalent of CNBC Financial News Network. After about 20 minutes I slowly walked past him and left.

Fortunately on my subsequent trip through security I had figured out how not to set off the alarm at the detector and there was no problem.

During my stay in China I had to go through airport security checks twice. The first time I set off the alarm, but I quickly produced my Chinese explanation of an ileostomy and, using my meager Chinese, implored the female guard to read it. She did, and showed it to a supervisor. This with a few quick words of fluent Mandarin from my son, and we were on our way. On my second trip through Chinese security I was lucky enough to not set off any alarms. I didn’t set off alarms in any US airport. I think this is because they are set to a lower sensitivity.

My advice: Don’t set off the alarms, but be prepared because the detectors are set to very high sensitivity at many international airports. On my next trip I will have a letter from a doctor in multiple languages, and I will have an explanation in multiple languages.


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This page last revised 2008-11-10

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