I have been subject to a ‘blogging malaise’ over the past few weeks. Trying to think of a subject to cover; a poem to recommend; a book to discuss etc has seemed too much trouble. No more wriggling out of writing was the title I chose for this blog three and a half years ago now, before I could really call myself a professional writer. Now I am one. So why need I blog?
Well today I thought, at last, of a reason to get on here and say something and it struck me that perhaps I had forgotten how important it is, even as someone lucky enough to have commissions to work on, to simply WRITE. No wonder I am feeling low – I haven’t been writing much at all. I have been reading a lot, but as an escape and as procrastination. So I am grateful that Radio 4 and Any Questions actually got me sufficiently riled to put finger to keypad once more. Here is why.
2013 was not a good year for my insides. I started suffering acute stomach pains and was sent for all manner of scary tests at the hospital. Many of you will know that as someone who has been treated, successfully, for breast cancer, I find the words ‘because of your medical history we just need to check’ are words that strike the fear of the Almighty in me. I had a few of those moments in 2013, but eventually it was discovered that my gallbladder was as a bulging bag of lead shot, overflowing and requiring urgent removal. The stress here is on ‘urgent’ as I had narrowly avoided one hospitalisation and was fearing another at any moment. So the surgeon saying ‘we should have you in here in a month’ seemed like good news. Our local NHS hospital, Musgrove Park in Taunton, has always seen me right. Saved my life even. But as one month went to two, and then to three, I was getting worried. But a strict low-fat diet and regular, gentle exercise was seeing a weight loss of 2lb a week. By the time I was called in, I was two stone lighter and although still suffering from the shot in the gut, I felt much better for it.
As is so common, I have struggled with my weight for years. I have been slim, fat and somewhere in between. It IS hard for me to lose the flab; I have lymphoedema in my legs that makes them heavy and prone to serious swelling and I am on cancer and anti-depressant drugs that make it even more difficult to shed the pounds. But never was it more obvious to me that I had been using these things as an excuse than when I was waiting for my gall bladder op. I could do it if I tried, and I did because I knew my health could be seriously compromised if I didn’t. I took control.
Over the past few days, and on aforesaid Any Questions, the subject of the obesity epidemic in the UK came up again. Last week it was said that some 2 million people in the UK could be eligible for NHS gastric band operations in the next few years. Should we regulate the food industry? Teach kids what a vegetable is?
Now, at last, I get to the point. When I did at last get my appointment, after weeks of nice phone calls with helpful appointments staff, I found myself on the ‘gastric band’ list and was told that they often ‘squeezed’ a gall bladder removal (or choleocystectomy) on to that list. I was surprised, not least because I had no idea there was a ‘list’ for NHS gastric band surgery but also because those who were in the waiting room had not struck me as very different from your regular ‘Taunton tummy’ type, in which classification I would, two months before, have had to include myself. Overweight, possibly obese, but still a pretty common shape.
As I slid down the day’s operating list to accommodate those with Type 2 diabetes who had to go before me to ensure their blood sugars didn’t spiral out of control, I had one of those wicked thoughts that creep up on us occasionally and cause us to judge others more harshly than we might otherwise do. Why had that woman just gone in front of me to have her gastric band, accompanied by her two sons who had had the same operation eight weeks before? She was no more overweight than I had been. Why couldn’t she, and her two sons, have done what I did and controlled their diet and exercised a bit more? Wasn’t that gastric band fitting a dangerous operation to control appetites that simply needed more self-control? If they needed it, then half the UK would qualify surely?
Perhaps. What worries me most is that since I had the gallbladder operation, for all my good intentions, the surgeons words ‘well you can go back to a normal diet now’ have inveigled themselves into my subconscious and eaten away at that very self-control I bemoaned the lack of in the woman and her family in the hospital. I must have put half a stone on since Christmas. Being overweight, for me, means a long hard road to fitness but it can be done. Surely I have no right to expect the NHS to sort me out just because I can’t pass a chocolate bar or a bun without cramming it in my mouth? Surely, if an NHS doctor can’t find it possible to tell me that, without my gall bladder, I still have to eat carefully, he is making work for himself and our cash-strapped health service?
I am a greedy pig and I know it. But it seems I have long term medical conditions that could qualify me for this radical surgery. Why should we offer gastric bands as apparently ‘preventative’ medicine? Diabetes may be a silent killer, but tell us about it, have us in to your office and tell us we will die if we don’t cut out the pies and walk round the block. Tell us we are neglecting our kids if we encourage them to eat in the same way. Take adverts for McDonalds and KFC off the telly and sod corporate anger. Anything, but DON’T fit us with something that could kill us and will certainly not teach us how to live our lives in a healthy way. Who knows, is it far-fetched to think that we may end up fitting young girls with gastric bands just to help them achieve some ridiculous idea of ‘body-image’ that the madness of the media and big business would have us believe is the only way to be?
Put the money into treating those with life-threatening illnesses unrelated to gluttony.
There, said it. And perhaps you wish I had kept this bile to my duct, where it belongs….