The Scale

After waiting several minutes in the waiting room for my first doctor visit on July 8, 2016, my husband was escorted to an exam room, and I was escorted to a scale.

Side note: When I was 7, and I had “gotten fat.” I knew I gained weight because I had this awesome orange sweater with a penguin on it.  It fit perfectly at the beginning of 2nd grade, and by the end of the school year, my mother told me to put it in the “garage sale” box because I was too big for it.

I remember the exact moment the scale changed from a simple, subjective object to an emotionally charged monster that measured my self worth. We didn’t have a scale at home, and we were weighed twice a year. At the end of 2nd grade, I emotionally connected the scale in gym class with the loss of my favorite sweater.  My first diet came in 4th grade, or when I was 9. My parents gave me a product called “Get In Shape, Girl.” I had the ribbon edition, see below:

Get In Shape, Girl came with an audio cassette that would shout out the exercises I was to perform with my ribbon. In the upstairs hallway of my childhood home, I ran back and forth with my ribbon several times a week for months. This product didn’t teach me that exercise is important; it taught me that because I was fat, I didn’t get to have real toys or have real fun. Nope. Being fat meant that your “play” was exercise.

But, the diet didn’t work. My parents felt it was important to humiliate me for my weight but did not feel it was important to educate themselves on proper nutrition for their children or themselves. When I stepped on the scale at the end of school that year, I hadn’t lost any weight. Instead, I gained a pound. I worked so hard. My mother told me my weight was good because at least it was just one pound unlike the other years where I had gained so many. When I got home that day, I put the damn ribbon and the cassette tape in the “garage sale” box. End side note

The gym scale eventually turned into a bathroom scale in my childhood bathroom which turned into my own scale in college and graduate school which turned into a scale at my husband’s house when I moved in. That was the end of scales in my life until after the information session. We brought a digital scale into our apartment that was not wide enough for me to stand on without squishing myself onto it performing a feat of balance. I was too fat to fit on a scale purchased at Target.

The first time I stepped on the scale the number appeared was the largest number I had ever seen or will ever see again. The number was terrifying; I instantly screamed and cried. I didn’t have a penguin sweater to tell me about the weight I had gained. I had simply filled out my big and baggy clothes a bit more.

I knew I was going to be weighed at this first appointment, so I wore my favorite blue jeans, my Bob’s Burgers T-Shirt that read “Tina is my animal spirit,” and sandals. I made sure both my stomach and bowels were completely empty. As I look back on the decision of what to wear and being completely empty for that weigh in, I wish I had made a different one. I would have worn a coat, kept my shoes on and eaten a massive meal beforehand. This would have given me a bit more ammunition in the fight against the weight loss war that was to come.

I was scared. I was afraid the doctor would reject me for the gastric sleeve surgery. After I had accepted this was the path I was going to take, I feared the doctor would block my entrance. I made sure I was as light as I could be in order to get clearance to begin the journey.

The scale, much like the chairs at the weight loss clinic, is an exaggeratedly large size. It is double the size of the scale at my primary care doctor’s office, which doesn’t sound odd upon first glance, except that the scale at the primary doctor’s office is handicapped accessible to accommodate people in wheelchairs. The scale at the weight loss clinic can accommodate at least 2 people in wheelchairs.

I was told to remove my shoes and step on the scale. As I did this, a new ritual was born. Every single time I stepped on the scale in front of these people, I was greeted with a “mmm-huh” noise and a loud pen scribbling down the number. The number was clearly visible to me, as it was also much larger than necessary.

This scale became my enemy and my obsession. That number was the number they would use to calculate my pre-surgery weight loss requirement.

Every weigh in is a nightmare on this scale because no matter how large my obsession with that number was, it could never outweigh the clinic’s. You were “good” if the number was the right one, and “bad” if it wasn’t. To them, I’m a statistic. My success with the number on the scale means one more notch in their belt of one more person either becoming a success story or a failure.

Even when I hit their goals, they do not praise me in any way. They never tell me I’m doing a good job with my weight and obviously following their program. I wonder what they are striving for. What sort of “perfection” do I need to be?

I was escorted back to the exam room where my husband was sitting on a giant chair, his hand open so I could put mine in his.

The Gatekeeper

July 8, 2016: The day of my first doctor’s appointment at the weight loss clinic began by pulling on my favorite Bob’s Burgers black t-shirt and a pair of comfortable jeans, believing somehow these articles of clothing would protect me or give me comfort.

I was anxious. I was afraid they would find something wrong with me, and I would not be able to have surgery and be stuck in my body size the rest of my life. After the education session, I firmly believed the only answer to weight loss was surgery.

Side note: Every day I am vigilant to rail against the surgery brainwashing. At the education session, and during the months of preparation for the surgery, I was told over and over again about how surgery is the only answer to “real, long lasting weight loss.” Since I became more mobile after the second month post surgery, I have become the type of person I feared — A person who looks at others as potential weight loss surgery candidates. The brainwashing is so innate and severe, when I see an overweight person, my first thought is: “I wonder if they have thought about surgery.”

Fortunately, therapy has helped me become acutely self-aware. When the first thought becomes conscious, I admonish myself. I make myself recognize how beautiful, amazing and strong that person is. They are outside the house, moving around, in yoga classes, at the coffee shop living their lives. They are doing things I found impossible due to fear of people or due to the pain walking caused before surgery. I send them positive thoughts and strength for them to love themselves and find a place to exist in this world that does not make a place for overweight people to fit. End side note.

Returning to the same hospital where we attended the information session, my husband found the closest parking ramp to the weight loss clinic’s office. I was wearing the same sandals I wore the night of the information session, and the walk from the parking lot to the clinic burned my feet. My sharp back pain forced me to sit down halfway between the parking ramp and the office.

Breathless, I stepped to the front desk to speak with a thin, older woman. The woman stood up and said “Hello” with a look of recognition and  through an obviously fake smile. She expressed a familiarity with me that made me uncomfortable. She asked me, “Who might you be?”

Seriously? “Who might you be?” This phrase is uttered by adults to children or animals with their hands on their knees while they bend over to look at the child or the animal.

I told her my name, and she squinted her eyes, looking at me skeptically, as if I wasn’t who I said I was. Then after several awkward silent moments, she turned around and picked up a piece of paper off a table behind her. She placed the paper on the counter between us and looked over her glasses at me. The paper was a print out of all of my information, and she slowly, very slowly went down each box reading my name, my address, my insurance etc. She used a pen to point at each of the boxes to make sure the information was correct. Aside from the obvious violation of HIPAA as my information was laying completely printed and out in the open AND her reading my information loud enough to the entire waiting room, each answer I gave was met with the same skeptical look.

The look made me feel like she thought I was lying or confused. I felt like I was a child lost in a store and telling the security guard my mom’s information, but he doesn’t believe me when I say I’m lost. Finally she released me and told me to sit in the waiting room. This was my first day at the clinic. I was ashamed, anxious and embarrassed because I was there to ask for help. What I expected and wanted to see from the first person representing the clinic that day was empathy, compassion and kindness. Instead, I was treated like a child and a suspicious liar at the same time.  

As far as the actual appointment, it will be covered in future posts. But for now, I will be sticking to the gatekeeper.

GATEKEEPERS

After the appointment finished, I had to speak to her again with a green slip of paper the nutritionist handed to me to schedule the next appointment. This was another excruciating encounter, as she awkwardly fiddled with the schedule much longer than a person should. The appointment was over and all I wanted to do was get to the car before the tears started flowing. Instead, she became a roadblock; a way for the weight loss clinic to make sure I would return.

Once I finally had an appointment, using the same pen she used earlier, she slowly wrote in large, grandiose cursive writing the date and time of the next appointment  as if she was making a beautiful piece of calligraphy art.

Again, I thought this just must be the way she behaves at the first appointment. Nope. This is how she behaves at EVERY appointment. She asks for my information in the exact same way EVERY time.

She doesn’t behave this way with just me. No, this is her behavior with all of the bariatric surgery patients. Her behavior reinforces the stereotypes that fat people are lazy and stupid. Before the surgery, her behavior reinforced the treatment I received in the world. After the surgery, her behavior is a reminder that no matter how much weight I lose, I will still be overweight and stuck facing these stereotypes.

Now, I work every day to not allow people to make me feel like a lazy, stupid child. Some days are easy, other days suck. Weight loss clinic appointment days are one of the latter. I have hope that one day they will be the former.