Use of X-rays taking time to catch on

Use of X-rays taking time to catch on
The latest flap over the testing of an X-ray machine by the Transportation Security Administration in the Phoenix airport was dejavu all over again.

Designed to speed up the clearance of airline passengers, it has run into the same problem which I thought was cleared up over a hundred years ago.

When Wilhem Conrad Roentgen, a German physicist, introduced his famous invention � the X-ray machine � in December of 1895, modesty became a notable factor. The reception was startling!


In London a firm began selling X-ray-proof underwear to protect the squeamish. The state of New York tried to pass legislation banning opera glasses which permitted the the oglers from seeing a women's undergarments. And there weren't any airplanes yet.

I said to Phylis, "Shucks, I even wrote about it in one of my books � Doctors of the Old West (published in 1967)."

"You mean if its accepted you won't have to take off your shoes if you want to fly?" she said, looking up from her latest women's magazine.

I could see that she wasn't interested. But I continued:

"Well, for one thing the equipment is a heck of a lot better than Roentgen's original machine; and the customers in Phoenix are all volunteers. However, the old bugaboo is still there. Critics say the images created by the ?new' technology are ?too invasive.' "

Of course, the ACLU had to get into the act, too!

If the "new" device is effective, they'll also be tried in Los Angeles and New York.

The object they say, is to locate and confiscate all knives, guns and other gadgets which could cause trouble on the flight and were missed by metal detectors and pat-down searches. It takes about a minute, which is better than the technique used now.

It's all well and good, but now frequent fliers must make sure that their underwear is okay when before all they had to worry about was holey socks.

Going back to what I wrote about more than 40 years ago, the problem was cleared up around the turn of the century when Roentgen's machine proved it was good for other things besides ogling underpants. I wrote:

"The defenders of international modesty relaxed when the limitations of the device became better known … At first it was virtually a medical toy and then came a chance to demonstrate its value.

"A youngster had swallowed a belt buckle and was rushed to the Mayo brothers. They were concerned about removal because they didn't know exactly which direction its progs were facing, so they took the child to Doctor Cross.

(Dr. J. Grosvenor Cross of Rochester, MN, who had one of Roentgen's gadgets with in two months of the German's announcement.)

"His pictures clearly outlined the buckle; it was pointed so that removing it through the mouth would have been seriously dangerous. So Dr. Charles Mayo operated with complete knowledge and extracted the buck, blunt end first."

The same thing happened in my home town of Yankton, but much later. When an X-ray machine was installed in the new Hohf Clinic in 1915, a reporter saw a photo of a needle which also had been swallowed. Even the eye of the needle was clearly visible, making the surgery less difficult.

And now they have found a new use for Roentgen's invention � if the prudish skeptics don't stop it. With luck it could save more lives than the medical use.

� 2007 Robert F. Karolevitz

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