Unhealthy Skinny 5/4/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

The last time I taught, it was at a women’s college. As is my practice in labs, I was walking around during an experiment just to keep an eye on what the students were doing when I overheard two students talking about weight control. I interjected, since I was not asked to, and mentioned that I eat so many sweets and fatty foods but never seem to gain weight. “Well, just brag about it, why don’t you?” one of them said.

But it wasn’t a brag. In fact, it was a teaching opportunity. See, I weigh around 160 pounds which, at 5’8” is not bad. I also had a major heart attack at 48 (I’m 60 now), have high cholesterol, diabetes, and several other medical conditions. I pointed this out to the students and suggested that perhaps the reason that I am not putting on weight could be because my body is not processing food correctly. And I asked them if they still think that I’m lucky.

Looks can be deceiving, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder if some of us just don’t fit into those little “healthy” guides that medical professionals insist that we must fit. Isn’t it possible that some people just function better if they’re higher, or lower, than “normal”? What’s more, I wonder how many people make themselves sick with worry because they don’t fit into those ranges. I think this is especially true of weight because, as a society, we put far too much emphasis on weight.

The point that I’m (poorly) trying to make, though, is that you really can’t base decisions on looks. I look very healthy, but I’m not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s human nature, I suppose, to look at people and immediately pass a snap judgment. My boss, who I consider to be my friend as well, is in a similar situation as I am. He had a heart attack last year, and although I’m not sure just how old he is, I’m certain that he is very young, especially for having a heart attack. I was 48, but couldn’t afford the proper follow-up care, so I didn’t have rehab. I was basically discharged and left on my own, told only to walk up and down stairs as I could. He is fortunate to have a caring family and the proper insurance to continue to take proper care of his health, as I hope that he will. But to look at him, you would never know.

I had an appointment for an interview in Rapid City for the position of director of the forensic lab shortly after having my heart attack. I was told that I couldn’t drive for two weeks after my discharge, so, I didn’t. Fortunately, my follow-up interview was exactly two weeks and one day from my discharge, so, technically, I followed the rules. Of course, I don’t think that they would have wanted me to drive for four hours my first time out for a job interview, but I did. What’s more, when I showed up, one of the Captains was walking me around the building, giving me a tour as I was the one they were planning to make an offer (which they did at the end of the visit). Of course, I didn’t say anything to him, and did my best to keep up with him as he dashed up and down stairs and across floors. I must say, I didn’t do too badly, falling behind occasionally but usually not by more than a couple of steps. I may have looked okay during that visit but trust me when I say that looks can be deceiving.

We are all familiar with phrases that remind us not to jump to conclusions, but it goes for health as well. We are all on our own journey and have our own struggles with which to contend. Snap judgments are a defensive mechanism but are often wrong. A friend of mine was bitten recently by a foster dog. Understandably, she spent a good deal of time nervous around dogs, fearful that it might happen again, but not all dogs respond the same way. I do not know the story of this incident, just that it happened, and I am very proud of her that she seems to have overcome this fear, but it is this kind of incident that leads to snap judgments. The next time she sees that breed of dog, she might again feel in danger. There is nothing that can be done about these kinds of feelings, except to recognize that they may not apply universally. If we recognize that these judgments are not necessarily true, then we can overcome our own snap judgments and give ourselves time to gather new information to make more informed decisions.


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