Travel and Learn

Travel can be educational as well as fun. Certainly, most air travel doesn’t qualify as “fun,” so there’d better be something of value that comes from it.

On a recent quick trip from Phoenix to Calgary, I was puzzled by the warning sign on a desk at the gate. A sign legible only from quite close and even visible only from a seated position, mind you. Plastered onto a surface below and sloping away from the top counter, it wan’t visible at all, for example, to anyone actually going up to the desk to ask about anything.

Like, say, hazardous materials in their luggage.

Sign warning about hazardous materials not allowed on airplanes.I’ve complained before about lack of clarity in what seems to be an area requiring clarity: what we’re permitted to take on airplanes, and how. This sign left me more bemused than annoyed.

While I was glad to realize that my carry-on luggage and my person were uncontaminated by fireworks, explosives, paint, and tear gas (in my defence, I can only say that I was travelling light), I was left a little puzzled by two things:

  • First, how any of these materials could be used for medicinal or toilet purposes
  • Second, what the heck a “radio pharmaceutical” was

In resolving the latter question (sort of), I think I have also resolved the former. Here’s what I learned about radiopharmaceuticals (most commonly rendered as one word, for those who care):

Radiopharmaceuticals, or medicinal radiocompounds, are a group of pharmaceutical drugs which have radioactivity. Radiopharmaceuticals can be used as diagnostic and therapeutic agents. Radiopharmaceuticals emit radiation themselves, which is different from contrast media which absorb or alter external electromagnetism or ultrasound. – Wiki

Now, back in the early 14th century, I was myself subjected to radiopharmaceuticals for some diagnostic test whose purpose I forget, perhaps because it gave a blessedly negative result. But I was blessed if I could figure out why I — or, indeed, anyone — might have occasion to carry up to 70 ounces of them on an airplane.

But the answer is that radiopharmaceuticals are also used for treatment, including for cancer and for palliative relief of pain.

Whether healthcare professionals are in the habit of sending patients off with a stash of radiopharmaceuticals for self-administration, I don’t know. And I hope I never find out.

Sometimes the best learning is how small my problems are.


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12 Responses to Travel and Learn

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Fortunately, my titanium elbow doesn’t set off the metal detectors.
    Jim T

  2. On the other hand, news photos of luggage items taken from travelers at the border include tasers, tear gas, shotguns, ammunition, blades of every description including spears, and pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products in quantities deemed inappropriate by the authorities. Not to mention booze shopped somewhere other than at the duty-free outlet and cannabis and other drugs. Oh, and two grenades, one fake and one not “loaded.” This evidence is against the notion that we are flying the “friendly skies” even when the fliers (that includes the pilots) have been disarmed before boarding.

    • Who is monitoring these things now at the U.S. borders during the shutdown and subsequent “sick” and quitting chappies who do this? Ideal time for terrorists, eh? Added bonus for Trump who is dead keen to declare a national emergency — no better excuse than an attack. Sorry, I’m in the weeds of this dystopian administration, being a dual citizen and all. In Canada for 54 years, citizen for 48, but still grieving my birth country.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – In Calgary, we were advised to leave extra time for the TSA security check. As it turned out, on a Saturday night, there were not so many travellers and no line-ups at all. And as you’ll see from my response to Laurna, they were still doing the laptop-swab tests, so all is not lost. But I hear your pain.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – On returning to Phoenix from Calgary last night, I had my laptop and on-loan Kindle swabbed twice for explosives residue (I guess) by two separate security teams. But they ignored my knitting needles.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Recently, at the Hamilton airport, from which I was flying to Winnipeg, I had a 125 ml. container of leave-in hair conditioner confiscated from my carry-on bag. Over the 100 ml. maximum limit. Actually it was only half full, but no matter. The security person said I could go back and see if they could put it in my stowed luggage and come back through security again. I decided against it, but the rule seemed a bit sketchy.
    Apparently if it contained an explosive it would be alright if it went off in the baggage compartment but not inside the plane.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes, the rules can seem both sketchy and arbitrary, which seems wrong, not to say unlikely! However, in this case, I believe the original prohibition against liquids exceeding 75 ml (or liquids in containers larger than 75 ml, as you discovered), had to do with an apprehended attack where terrorists intended to combine liquids — innocuous in themselves — in flight to create something explosive or caustic or otherwise dangerous to people or equipment. So to that extent, the option to put an unacceptable carry-on item into checked luggage makes some sense.

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