There is a character in Futurama, a popular animated series by Matt Groening. The character’s name is Bender. If you are unfamiliar with the show, Bender is a robot who is a bending unit, he’s supposed to just bend metal. In reality the way the character is written, Bender is an alcohol drinking, foul mouthed, egomaniac with little regard for humanity. He exists for many reasons in the show and is generally written to be an entertaining character. For the purposes of this article, his disregard for humanity is related to the point I want to make. Bender believes in the superiority of machines over man. He refers to human beings as meat bags. Sadly, I can relate.
FYI, this may be a TMI section. So if you don’t like hearing about aches and pains, you may want to skip to the next section. I have a bad back. I can’t lay on it for long periods of time without a dull ache starting and growing into real discomfort in a short period of time. This means I haven’t spent a full night in bed in nearly a decade. I can lay for a few minutes and then the pain starts. I went and got all the tests including multiple MRIs to learn about exactly what is wrong. Once I got the results, I found out that it was due to a collection of fairly well known issues that I won’t go into for the sake of brevity. What is important is that I went and tried everything that most people with bad backs do to fix the problem. I have seen everyone from spinal specialists to the modern equivalent of the snake oil sales people. I discussed my surgical options with surgeons and learned what a dead end that is. I’ve been told how well I can be pounded into a healthy back with just three weekly chiropractic sessions that only have to go on in perpetuity. I’ve been to the physical therapy providers. I even got one of those adjustable beds. From CBD to essential oils, and from MonaVie to energy lights I’ve heard every wacky solution out there. After all of that, I still have a bad back and I can’t sleep in bed.
I’d like to say that is the end of my physical woes but I have another chronic problem that dovetails with the bad back and is really the nail in the coffin when it comes to sleeping in bed. I have bad sleep apnea. The goto fix CPAP machine that was prescribed didn’t work. Along the way I did some research and learned that there’s several different solutions that are out there for this problem. The primary one is to lose weight, but we’ll get back to that in a second. The other ones include a surgical procedure where part of your soft tissue is cut away tightening everything up. There is another operation where support sticks are embedded in the tissue that closes the airwaves making them more springy. My favorite was what I call a pacemaker for your soft palate. A device is inserted that delivers a light electrical charge that constricts the tissue and keeps the airway from being blocked off. What I found so interesting about it is that there are two parts to the device. One part is a wand that you put against your chest to turn the implanted half on at bedtime and and off when waking. I don’t know what it was about this particular solution, but it just seemed so insane and overboard to fix something that should not be a problem, but is for so many people.
I said I would get to weight. let me preface this by saying I have always had a weight problem. My wife calls it the Peluso Gene. Most everybody in my extended family has this short, stout look about them. I’ve battled it in my entire life. I found it’s just easier to weigh less because of many reasons. The biggest ones are daily convenience. For example, I am on the cusp of fitting into clothing you can buy off the rack if I keep my weight down. If it goes up I either have to go to a big and tall store or have everything altered.
A few years ago I lost almost 100 pounds through dieting. I had my sleep studies for the apnea before I lost this weight and so to make conversation while the technician was connecting all the wires to my head, I told him I was trying to lose weight so I could sleep through the night in bed.I’ll never forget this moment because it was The first time in my adult life when I got unfiltered truth out of the medical industry. for years I heard doctors tell me if I lost weight I wouldn’t have sleep apnea anymore.
The technician looked at me and said “Don’t get your hopes up. I’ve had thin people in here with the worst apnea you’ve ever seen, I’ve had fat people in here who sleep like a baby. Your weight doesn’t have as much to do with it as the doctors think.” Unfortunately, the technician had a better grasp of me than the docs did. After I lost 100 pounds I still snored as bad as my English bulldog and to this day still suffer the worst symptoms of sleep apnea if I try to sleep laying down.
My weight is also the reason for this article. About a year and a half ago, my pants started getting tight on me again. I realized I was putting on weight. At first I thought it was water weight because I was sticking to my diet. After a while, it became plain to me that additional dieting wasn’t going to get rid of this weight coming back. I got scared and went and had my blood work checked thinking something may be wrong with my thyroid or hormone levels. The test showed that I was in the normal range. I decided to try something new if my body wasn’t going to lose weight just through dieting. I went the route of getting a personal trainer and spending months trying to put on muscle weight, because the more muscle you have on you, the more your body needs to burn calories just to stay alive. My thought process was if I couldn’t eat less to that thinner person I enjoyed being, then maybe I could eat normal but burn more. I was religious about following instructions and working out on the schedule prescribed.
Ironically there was a weight loss challenge at work that coincided with my working out. As part of the challenge, we had some sophisticated tests done measuring body and muscle mass to track our progress. After several months of working out it was determined that I lost muscle mass, but gained fat. So much for the personal trainer and an hour a day, six days a week, working out. I was emotionally crushed. I think my trainer said it right. “Your body is addicted to its weight” was how she put it. She said it as an empowering statement, a challenge statement, something that we can work together to overcome. I heard something different. I heard that I will never be a thin guy who can eat a regular meal and have a few Friday night beers with my buddies and maintain the type of weight where I can just walk into a store and buy clothing that fits me off the rack.
I will always have to watch everything I consume down to the ounce and show extreme discipline in what I eat. In a perfect world where I had all the financial resources and time I needed to do whatever I wanted, I’d have to spend two to three hours a day in the gym with my trainer micromanaging my every exercise. Obviously, when you have a full-time job, a part-time job, a family, and interests that are not 100% aligned to the local physical fitness community, you will never be able to live the lifestyle that will produce results.
This isn’t just a vent session written down and shared with the world., It’s more of a commentary about my personal journey has it relates to the human physical realities. I know I’m not alone in this. There are others who struggle with their weight. I have at least two friends who got the operation to rework their digestive system to force them to eat less. Both have dropped tons of weight initially, and both have struggled with their weight coming back. I’ve also had several friends who have given up fighting their weight challenge entirely. They prioritize their hedonistic pursuits over weight and health. “I drink beer” was the sarcastic answer I got out of one friend when I asked her about what she has planned for dealing with her health issues.
These are more of the type of health issues that are dealt with by the mass of humanity. There are also other chronic issues like diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure issues, etc. Some of this stuff is mechanical like my back or the eyes of everyone over 40 years old. I overused my back and wore it out like a sports professional will wear out their bodies more quickly. We lose water in our eyeballs as we age which is why most people over 40 gravitate to readers. The other stuff is chemical, and that’s way more complicated. Everything in the body chemically is often related to other things. if you screw with the mix a little bit, it has a tendency to put something else out of whack. It’s like Domino’s all lined up, if you flick the first one they all go down. The scary part with the body’s chemical issues and related treatments is they affect everything. Your moods, your sexual desire, your energy levels, and even your thoughts.
Going back to Bender at the beginning of this article, when something broke with him he just replaced it. Unfortunately, like Bender is always saying to anyone who will listen, we are just meat bags and it’s very difficult to replace our parts like we could if we were robots. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just replace the worn out pieces? Modern medicine has tried this and in some cases it works but in general it doesn’t work so well. In almost all cases the replacement part is inferior to a healthy biological original part.
I think we’ve had better success with chemical treatments. At least the more common ones. Ibuprofen and penicillin are wonders and have been around long enough to where we know there are limited long-term effects. That’s not the same with much of the newer medicines that have come out. As anybody who’s ever been to the doctor knows, more often than not a med is prescribed. Little by little, as we get older more and more are prescribed to the point where we are a heavily medicated society.
This isn’t an article about the value or morals of a single-payer system. It’s really more to say that our biology is a challenge that exists in perpetuity at least for our existence in life. We can rise to that challenge or we can give up. I have to admit I undulate between the two options.
On one side, it’s fairly obvious that no matter how hard you work, there are certain things that are nearly impossible to overcome. I will always struggle with my weight. I will go from diet to diet, sometimes with some successes but they will always be relatively short-lived. Even if I don’t give up on the diet, my body will as it did this last time. Then there’s the price you pay. For example the next diet I can try is keto. I’ve done keto before when it was called Atkins. It works, but only if you stay on it and are ever vigilant. I know from past experience, it’s very difficult to do this. It’s not my personal discipline that is the issue, it’s society in general. When your friends want to go out for a beer and you’re on keto, guess what? No beer! Too many carbs. What about business meals? Those little box lunches they serve at meetings are not designed for people who are only eating proteins. Even if you work through all of that, like I did, eventually your body gets used to it and goes back to the weight it wants to be at. All this is relatively benign. It’s hard to compare weight loss issues with something like diabetes or someone who has to be on dialysis multiple times per week. In all instances, if you’re never going to win, then why try? It’s the same philosophy practiced by my thick friend who is proud that her personal healthcare philosophy revolves around India pale ales. If she can’t win, she figures why try and she might as well have fun.
On the other side, sometimes you shouldn’t give up hope. If you think about the folks with HIV, when treatments first started coming out, they were a disaster for quality of life. Patients spent more time being sick than being able to live life. Over the last two decades the pharmaceutical industry has come up with enough solutions, where many folks with HIV have been able to get back to something akin to a normal life by taking just a couple of pills every morning. There’s progress being made towards cancer, diabetes, and all sorts of other ailments. If we take this progress and use it as inspiration, it can help folks like me try to figure out the next front in the war against our body’s resistance to our efforts to turn our bodies into what we want them to be.
There’s an added complexity that I won’t delve too deep into and that is, in America at least, our employers and related insurance companies are intimately intertwined with our healthcare system. For the most part, on a macro level, the model ranges from acceptable for some to a disaster for nearly anything except for innovation. No matter if it is a social system, or an employer provided system, it doesn’t change the core question of: should you engage the fight against the unwanted aspects of our biology or walk away from it?
I enjoy being healthy. I enjoy it when I can go to any department store and take something off the rack and it just fits. I enjoy it when I can button my collar and put on a tie, and not feel constricted around my throat. I enjoy being able to run up and down the stairs without having to breathe heavy.
The question is do I enjoy that so much that I have to mostly give up everything else in my life I also enjoy? I say this because that is what I have to do when my body is fighting me every step of the way.
In the cases where I can’t fix the problem I also miss being healthy. I really miss being able to sleep in bed. I ask myself, for the quality of my life, should I try these solutions? They are extreme, cost a ton of time and cash, and I wonder if the benefit is worth it?
This question, is it worth it? As we get older we have to ask ourselves this question or something like it again and again. As I sit here and finish this article, I honestly don’t know the answer. I think that’s the worst part about this. Knowing your direction with certainty, be it good or bad, is definitely better than not knowing. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with a direction. And honestly, I don’t think Bender would expect anything more out of me either. After all, I’m just a dumb meat bag.