A story that has been making the rounds lately is that of Lillian Coakley’s writing her own obituary as she awaits bariatric surgery in Nova Scotia. Because the wait list is ten years plus in NS for the surgery, Lillian fears that she would die and leave her children motherless before she got the surgery, hence her obituary.
Putting aside any personal opinions about bariatric surgery, my main concern with this story is the feedback it’s been generating from people whose diet primarily seems to consist of savouring the taste of their own bullshit. Excepting people like the always excellent Dr. Arya Sharma and Yoni Freedhoff, the primary reaction to this story has been to offer Lillian unwanted advice on how to lose the weight “naturally”. Join a yoga class! Try eating a macrobiotic/vegan/whole food/paleo/low carb diet! Go to the gym once in a while! Stop being so lazy! Ride a bicycle! Cut out the soda pop!
All of these are rancid but highly typical whenever a story centring on a person’s struggle with health complications and obesity comes up. Even though Lillian documented that she’d been discriminated against because of her weight, the bias and judgement was still abundant. The most horrible comments of all, however, came from people who suggested that Lillian didn’t “deserve” the surgery on the taxpayer’s dime, and that people who “dig their own graves” shouldn’t be allowed to consult doctors, since Canada’s system serves everyone and is funded by the public. Ditto smokers and motorcycle riders too, just to put some icing on the holier-than-thou low carb vegan gluten free flax seed stevia-frosted shitcake.
Even though I don’t talk about this as often as I do about disability and queerness, I am also obese. At 6 feet and 225 pounds, I clock in with a BMI of 30 (More here on why BMI is a crock, by the way) making me officially obese, even though people who know me are always quick to yell “But you’re not fat!” when I describe myself as obese. Pica, obsessive eating rituals, bulimia, and yo-yo dieting have wrecked my metabolism, and it’s likely I’ll always be fat. I’m learning, slowly, to live with that fact. Am I less deserving of healthcare? I heartily admit that I did this to myself, and it is more or less irreversible. If I should get into an accident on my bike, suffer a severe allergic reaction, get my arm bitten off by a beaver, contract diabetes, or require a surgery on my knee, shall the doctor take one look at me and tell me to come back when I’ve shaved off 70 pounds, and just keep a stiff upper lip until then?
No. And if I develop diabetes, cancer, or high blood pressure, nobody can say whether it is a consequence of genetics, my diet, or some other freak factor, and it doesn’t matter what did. The cause isn’t important. Keeping me a healthy, productive Canadian who can have honest conversations with her doctor without being made to feel like a cockroach is what matters. Healthcare for all Canadians is something I am extremely proud of, having come from an American family which was nearly bankrupted by medical bills when my father died, and who ended up being hounded for $3,000 after suffering a near deadly panic attack and having to take an ambulance to the hospital.
I’m saddened that Lillian was put on such a long waiting list and felt so close to death’s door (Both Freedhoff and Sharma are keeping up with the story on their blogs if you want to know how she’s faring) But this is not a conversation which should foster judgement and superior attitudes about life choices. This is the time to talk about how we can make healthcare more accessible to all Canadians, what options the government should help with in combating ill health, obesity-related or not, and hone the inherently Canadian value of ensuring nobody gets left in the dust.