Feb 17, 2010

This fat thing is "old hat"

I've been "big" my whole adult life.  It seems that I've missed the boat on so many things because of this. I started gaining weight early.  I was a pot-bellied kid in elementary school.  For those like me, the impact of being overweight was profound.  All social relationships are affected.  Real closeness was avoided by others and in large part by my own actions as well.  A very insecure and fear driven life.

As I got older, my weight increased.  I spiraled out of control.  Eating was my response to stress.  And over time eating became my response to almost all stimulus. As I got bigger my life and my world got smaller.  I began to shut my self in.  What few friendships I had began to erode.  Very few people can say they knew me well during my twenties.  I didn't really ever give up on life, but things were getting incredibly bad.  Then, the end of the road was seen.  I wasn't there yet, but it was now in view.  Death was on the horizon.  I started getting very sick.

I was over six hundred pounds and the skin on my massive legs was infected horribly.  I was almost unable to walk and very quickly out of breath when I did.  I was miserable.  Everything in life is harder in that condition.  Getting a cold was a blessing in disguise.  I went to the emergency room struggling to breathe. It would be a place I would become familiar with.  It got to be a regular annual appointment.  The ER then admission and enough care to get me stable again.  I suppose it was a bit like having hit the guard rails on life with a glancing blow.  Not quite enough to stop, just change direction a bit.  This happened three years straight. Between urgent care centers and the emergency room I was seeing quite a number of medical professionals and the resounding message among them all was serious, grim and clear.  I was back in the hospital again waiting to be admitted, because they couldn't find a bed. There was only one bed able to support my weight in the entire hospital, and I just happened to pick a hospital that had one. Once they did locate it, I was moved upstairs.

I'll never forget the afternoon when I was told I would be dead soon.  The beams of sunlight through the vertical blinds and a the doctor with his spotlessly white lab coat.  I'd been in the hospital many times, but never for this long.  Nearly a month now.  During that month I missed the joy surrounding my nephew's birth, Thanksgiving celebration with family and the death of a friend.  I was twenty-eight years old.  "If you don't change your life and the path you're on now, you'll be dead before you're thirty," said the doctor as he sat on the edge of my special hospital bed. I could very clearly tell that he was uncomfortable telling me this. "There aren't old or middle-age people of your size. They're gone."  I cried.  It was a confrontation I'd had many times before.  No one had been so direct and made a clear connection with me.  I knew I was in trouble, everyone that sees someone at that size knows they're not long for this world.  But it had finally been shoved in my face, and I was finally in a place personally to accept it.  It was such a sharp pain I felt as we sat there, weeping. His words and message were the crack in the dam and years of pain and clarity spilled forward. My doctor had been the final push on a change that was gaining momentum.  I'm sorry to say that it was the pain of another man that opened my eyes and really allowed the change to happen.

I'd been moved to a solitary room in the MICU.  The person two doors down was also massively overweight.  Apparently he was physically smaller than me, but more disabled by his condition.  He required assistance from the staff to accomplish many things.  We never spoke.  Once, as I rolled past his open door, we caught eyes, and shared a knowing glance.  I know how much I wanted to be protected from embarrassment, protected from view by others, hidden, invisible.  I was so frequently humiliated by my condition that it's only normal to become hyperactive to protect yourself.  His door was open and he was being moved onto a different bed, perhaps to change the sheets or whatever, I've got no idea what the four others were doing in his room.  There was a lot of communication between them all.  At the moment we looked at each other he shared more than he probably knows.  He wanted that door shut.  I wanted that door shut for him.  I knew his pain in having only a sheet for clothes because the gowns were vastly insufficient. I rolled past in my special wheelchair, and hung my head for a moment at participating in his loss of dignity.  That night the stakes were raised.  A life changing event was staged and would never be the same.

Life in the hospital is rough.  I had suffered my own indignities while receiving care.  Real rest and restful sleep is hard to come by.  Every morning, right about two or three in the morning, a hard working phlebotomist will enter your room and turn on the worlds brightest light.  The shock from that ought to wake you.  If not, you'll be spoken to or nudged.  You need to be awake for this, we're drawing blood.  The vampire squad would visit every morning and it wasn't long before my body began to anticipate this.  So, right about two thirty or so I would wake and wait for the vampires to show up to take their toll.  Most of the time I was able to get a bit more sleep before the clattering and banging of the shift change and morning meal started.  This night I was having trouble getting to sleep.  My room was west facing, and as the evening sun set, my room heated up.  It was dark now, the hallway lights were off.  Visiting hours were over, the late meal was concluded and things were winding down.  I was very tired and very sweaty.  I had a standing fan going and my door cracked open.  Down the hall I could hear the bright vibrant voices of young women.

I knew the voices, at least some of them.  I peeked through the crack in the door and saw a few nurses and CNA's in scrubs walking into the room two doors down.  There must have been five of them, and I thought for a moment about the young man I'd mistakenly embarrassed.  There were men there too but I was focused on the women.  They were all very attractive.  A quality that made me very aware of how unattractive I was.  I had dreams of a normal relationship with a woman, zero experience.  I didn't really want to know what they were doing, and they had gone inside his room and I went back to my bed.  I needed to get some sleep while things were quiet.  It was only a few hours before the vampires stalked the halls.  My head was spinning.  The heat in the room was annoying, I was thinking of those women and dreaming.  I could hear their voices again.  This time they were very excited but trying not to speak.  I'd better peek again and see what was going on.  I saw two of those women in the hall covering their mouths. They were laughing and fighting very hard not to. 

All the mannerisms of laughter I've seen before combined with the intensity of "we're not supposed to laugh in class but can't stop *snort!*" They were talking in hushed voices, but loud enough I could hear.  The man two doors down needed help going to the bathroom.  It was a personal event he would have to perform with all of them in attendance, while still in bed, and completely naked.  I thought about myself.  Thankful that I didn't require that help.  They would have to help him clean up afterward.  A third young woman came out of his room.  She broke down into a partially controlled giggle fit.  It's such an awkward position to be in I guess.  You don't really know how to handle being the one to wipe the ass of a stranger who's appearance is extremely unusual, and all the things that come along with it... some times I guess you have to laugh.

I was devastated.  I knew they were laughing at him.  I knew there was every chance that it was my future too.  My dreams of finding affection and acceptance were impossible.  I was going to be repulsive to every potential mate, and every other person.  I was the one who, if you'd seen me on the street, you would have to point me out to your friends so they could laugh too.  I didn't want to be that person.  I was filled with rage and pain and fear.  I cried so hard my hands and stomach hurt.  I cried as quietly as I could.  I didn't want to be crippled any further, or this broken any longer.  It was time for a change.

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