I should say up front that I am fat, very fat. I am the kind of fat that is technically called morbidly obese. I am the walking, talking embodiment of what society and the medical establishment have come to fear and hold in contempt. I am the poster child for type 2 diabetes, gout, and high cholesterol.
Except I am not.
I do not have high cholesterol. I do not suffer from gout. I have never been diabetic. My blood work has always been exemplary. Yet, throughout my life, the focus has been on my weight, and now I wonder if that is why they discovered my multiple sclerosis (MS), by accident, when I was older.
Although I was a very active and athletic child, I was always overweight. Despite my weight, I was a playground champion. I was an undefeated tetherball champ and the fastest runner and the strongest girl among my peers. I fearlessly jumped off the swing while high in the air. In junior high, I set the shot-put record for my school. I even placed fourth in my county. For my Marcus Welby-type family doctor those attributes were irrelevant. He was the one that told me “a touch of anorexia would do you good.”
It did not matter what my health records said or what I achieved athletically. I was obese and that’s all that mattered. No one ever asked me about any health issues I was experiencing. While there is no way to prove it, based on my symptoms I believe I was a child living with MS. Symptoms such as tinnitus and trigeminal neuralgia were always present. For a while, I was clumsy. While these incidents would not be enough today to diagnose MS as a child, it is an example of things to come.
The focus on my weight did not stop as I grew older. Medical professionals of all kinds were consumed with my weight. Not because it was seemingly my only health flaw; they were obsessed with gastric bypass to the exclusion of anything else. When I had an ear infection, it was because I was fat. When I broke my ankle walking up concrete steps, it was because I was fat. Just as what happened during my childhood and adolescence, all of my medical incidents were because I was fat.
I can’t help but wonder whether it was MS all along, especially since it was identified purely by accident. It was literally 2 1/2 hours between following up on a cauterized nose bleed and a potential MS diagnosis.
I did not have classic MS symptoms, though I did have a cluster of lesser-known ones. I will always wonder if my weight interfered with my ultimate MS diagnosis. In my late 30s, I had a wonderful primary care physician who, while concerned with my weight, was more interested in what else was going on. He questioned me on anything besides my weight. As a team, we both knew it was an issue that had to be addressed. We also acknowledged that obesity was not my only issue.
To my great sadness, my favorite doctor moved out of state. He took along with him my lifeline to better help. By looking at me as more than a morbidly obese patient, he was able to do things like diagnose my extreme lack of vitamin D and write a prescription. I firmly believe had he stayed we might have figured out together that I had MS all along.
Being fat is not a badge of honor. Nor should it be the Scarlett Letter of shame. Fat is fat and nothing more. Don’t let it be the end-all. It should just be one of the factors to explore.