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Breathing is a Luxury, Right?

July 4, 2012

I live in Colorado Springs, home of Garden of the Gods, awesome views, and a severe drought and major fire in the last week. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s called the Waldo Canyon Fire. The fire covered 17,000 acres; destroyed 346 homes as well as Flying W Ranch (a major tourist attraction); ate some of the Air Force Academy (though no structures were lost at the AFA); and took two people’s lives. At its peak, 32,000 people were evacuated from approximately four different towns, and the only direct road up the mountain pass (SH 24) was closed for a week.

At this point, over 1,500 firefighters from across the US, as well as military personnel, have been fighting the fires. The estimated cost to the city so far is over $11 million.  That’s not including the cost of the houses destroyed. Or the lack of income to the local businesses who rely on tourist season (myself included). It also doesn’t count the cost of the two lives that were lost.

The fire started on Saturday, June 23, and has been burning since then (yes, for over a week and two days so far). The cause of the fire is currently unknown and under investigation.

Needless to say, it’s been a bit of a mess here this past week.

Before I go on, I just want to say that as of tonight, the fire is 70% contained (which does not mean it is 70% out, but that there is a containment line around 70% of the fire that should keep it from eating any new ground or structures). The city of Colorado Springs and the areas around it are mostly safe now.

The fire spewed a lot of smoke and particulates into the air, especially on Tuesday when conditions created a firestorm. Tuesday was the day the worst of the fire, when the buildings were destroyed, the lives were lost, and the mountains really were on fire. When the burning acreage jumped from 6,000 to 24,000 in about six hours.

I’ve talked before about how I have almost a fear of going to the doctor. I’ve been to enough doctors, and had many of them blame everything that’s medically wrong with me on my weight. Knee is slagged?  Hey fatty, no surgery for you! You have to tough it out and lose weight, then your knee will be better.

You’re infertile and trying to get pregnant? You can’t get pregnant because you are too fat, so you need to lose weight and then you can conceive. [One year later] You didn’t lose the weight? You must not want children as bad as you say you do. I’m not even going to help with the infertility problem until you lose weight.

You’re depressed?  It’s because you are too fat, you need to lose the weight. Alternatively, I had a doctor tell me that I’m obviously depressed. He could tell because I was fat, and then prescribed an antidepressant for me, which includes the side effect warning “may gain 50 lbs”. That doctor swore that once I was no longer depressed, the weight would just slide right off me.

So, yeah, going to the doctor is not something I tend to do often.

This week I found myself having issues breathing. You know, all the smoke in the air and such. I was watching the news for days, and each day they talked about it being a very bad air quality day and how people with heart disease or asthma or other health problems should not go outside and should not work outside.

I didn’t think about it. I have no health issues like that, so I didn’t stop my daily routine.

By Wednesday, I had trouble climbing the stairs to the apartment. I needed a recovery time of about 10 minutes to catch my breath. I’ve lived in this apartment for one-and-a-half years. While I’m on the third floor, I go up and down the stairs at least five times a day (I have a dog I take for walks often). I’m used to the stairs. I never need recovery time to catch my breath. It didn’t dawn on me how bad my health had become.

Thursday, Conall and I, and a group of friends, met at a local restaurant. At that point, I realized I couldn’t stand and talk without gasping for air. At one point, a friend asked me if I’d seen a doctor, and I replied, “No.  All they’ll do is look at me, hear I can’t breath, and tell me to lose weight.”

I didn’t go, even though it had been on the news for days that the emergency rooms were filling up with people who were being treated for smoke inhalation for just living in the city. I didn’t go, even though the news was warning “Don’t wait to see a doctor if you have symptoms, which includes shortness of breath. Go now.”

I knew that if I went to a doctor, I’d be told it was all my fault for being fat.

This is the danger of pathologizing obesity. Many doctors will just look at an obese person, and say, “You are too fat. Here’s a diet and exercise plan. Lose weight, then come back to me and you’ll see all your problems are gone.”  That constant sinus infection? Lose weight (True story: Ihave a friend who was told this by doctors). That knee injury couldn’t possibly be from an injury, no matter how much you lie. Having a child is not that important to you.

Doctors can be lazy with people who are obese. They can just blame everything on the obesity and call it a day. They don’t have to do the real work and try to find out what’s really wrong with a person, much less fix the problem.

And people who are obese become too afraid, or too discouraged, to go to the doctor. How many times do we hear about a fat person who could have had their health, if they’d just gone to the doctor? Dr. Oz (when he was still on Opera) chastised a woman who had a 140-pound CANCEROUS tumor.

“When you miss a 140-pound tumor, a couple things happened wrong. The first was you were pretty heavy. You were over 300 pounds. When you’re over 300 pounds, it’s hard for doctors to get to your stomach… It’s difficult to tell what’s normal or not. You were too big to get into the scanner. They couldn’t get pictures that they normally would take of the inside.”

You see, it wasn’t the doctor’s fault.  She was too fat!  They couldn’t get good pictures because she was too fat to get into the scanner!


So, I waited to go to the doctor.  I almost didn’t go to the doctor, due to the belief that if I’m breathing heavy, it’ll just be attributed to the fact that I’m fat, and I’ll be told to lose weight. It actually took a friend who is a doctor telling me, “You really need to take care of yourself!” and telling Conall, when I insisted that I was taking care of myself, “You really need to take care of her before it sunk in.

And still, at that point, I didn’t go.

On Friday, I finally went to an urgent care center (after cleaning a friend’s house, because I promised her I would, and she told me to GO TO THE DOCTOR NOW!), .

I found out that I am suffering from smoke inhalation and that my left lung is functioning at decreased capacity. No wonder I’m out of breath all the time, right? I have medicine, I’m slowly getting better. I still can’t climb my stairs without a recovery time, but rather than a 10-minute recovery time, it’s about 5 minutes. Still bad, but, hey, progress! Right?

The thing is, if I’d not accepted that my doctor friend (along with a lot of other friends) was saying, “Hey, dummy, get to a doctor!” I could have done myself some permanent damage.

This is the consequence of telling fat people that they are lazy and don’t want to do anything to be healthy (read skinny). When there is a real health issue (read not weight related), it makes people reluctant to go find out what’s wrong and work on fixing it.

Because, you know, I’m fat.  All they will tell me is to lose weight and I’ll be able to breath again. Huge fire notwithstanding.

Note: I am doing better. I’m on medications (two different inhalers, one of the inhalers is a steroid, and some steroid pills — which has the side effect of me wanting to eat everything in the apartment that isn’t nailed down). There isn’t any reason to believe that my lung won’t recover from this. I just have to give it time. Did I mention I’m not patient when I’m not feeling well?  :\

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle B permalink
    July 4, 2012 12:09 pm

    I wish you a speedy recovery! You are a shining example of why doctors should practice evidenced based health care, instead of lazy guesswork motivated by bigotry. Doctors blaming every issue on weight are akin to a doctor using a dart board to determine what a patient has. “Well, the dart landed on diabetes, so you must have diabetes!” I really think that doctors who think that weight loss fixes all ailments are heading into malpractice territory.

    I am fortunate that I have a doctor who actually makes a diagnosis based on my symptoms and test results instead of my weight. He’s never even mentioned my weight in the 15 years I’ve been seeing him. But my Dad, who is thin, was told by his doctor that she was surprised he had high cholesterol, since he was so thin. Yeah, his cholesterol levels have nothing to do with his age or family history!

    • July 4, 2012 5:15 pm

      I’m also fortunate to have a nice doctor who’s Korean. I wonder if doctors who learned medicine in another country, outside the UK,, are spared the lesson in weight bigotry they would receive in the states or the UK. I like to think that it’s because Mashimaro is a popular cartoon character in Korea, and he’s a cute chubby bunny.

  2. Cat permalink
    July 11, 2012 1:48 pm

    Dr. Oz is a snake oil salesman. Every time I pass his show he is “revealing” another SHOCKING or AMAZING product that will help with this or that. What I read about the woman with the 140 pound tumor, though is sickening. So, she was, let’s say 300 lbs. If you subtrace 140 from that you get 160! Almost half of her body weight was tumor! Don’t make excuses for why that was not found… It wasn’t fat that made her unable to fit into diagnostic equippment, it was TUMOR!!!

    I hope you are feeling better. I have been to Colorado Springs and to the Garden of the Gods. Beautiful! I got some bad sunstroke though. My husband and I were there for about 10 minutes before we realized that we were going to fry if we didn’t find sunscreen. I am watching people walk by trying to find someone to ask for some. I spotted a man and woman with a baby, they HAVE to have suncsreen! I asked, and they only had a tiny bit left. The man was squeezing it out into my hand and the woman said “Just give them the whole tube! Look how White she is”! It’s sill a running joke for my husband and I.


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