The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc., is sure to be noticed.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

Come with me back in time a decade or two where I am swimming in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. I’ve had my fill of barbequed meat with all the trimmings. Washed it down with some generic beer from a can. Chatted with all the people I can tolerate. So I’m chilling, way out past the dock, away from the din of myriad related-by-marriage offspring. At over 300 pounds I float effortlessly, my toes tickled by gentle waves. All I have to do is lean back and I’m a pontoon uncapsizeable. I made that word up, according to my spell checker. I don’t care. It’s my blog. I am one with the lake. The water my headphones, a Zen soundtrack playing in my head.

I fall asleep.

Fast forward to this past Saturday. Over seven years since my weight loss surgery. I’m 185 pounds of where-the-hell-did-all-that-weight-go; not lean, yet no longer a whale. I’m with the kids at a pool just south of town. Between sno cones and popcorn, we’re working on floating. For the first time, Zoe gets it. She and the other two have floating contests. Four minutes – give or take, since I got tired of counting around two-hundred-ten-one-thousand – is the new record. “Come on Dad, float with us!” I’m game, so I lean back . . . and damn near drown. I try again, thrusting at the waist, trying to penetrate the surface. Did that sound raunchy? Sorry. No luck. My feet hit rock bottom.

What the hell?

I pose the question to Chris, a scientist, über-smart, a friend and fellow blogger. Here’s the deal:

As I understand it, it is all about cell density. Fat cells are big and loosely spaced, so fat tissue is not so dense. Muscle cells are all wound up on each other – kind of like a rope – so muscle tissue is much denser than fat. The denser something is, the more likely it is to sink in water. Fat tissue is generally less dense than water, so it floats. Muscle tissue is denser than water so it sinks.

How’s that?

How’s that?! You mean if I find myself in water over my head again, I might have to actually move something to stay afloat? Doggy paddle? Or, worse yet, I might have to resort to some hunter-orange-ugly Personal Floatation Device?


The Unsinkable One?!

Shit . . .

[photo credit]


A Boring White Wall

“Right over there, against that wall please.”

She said it after fiddling with some paperwork, greeting me with a generic smile, and while looking not at me but at the buttons and dials on her digital camera. I swiveled slowly around, my entire body moving, as if I wore a neck brace and the individual parts just couldn’t take actions independently of one another.

The wall had no taste. No style. No feng shui. It just stood there, brilloed, barren and bright white. I thought of those black velvet cloths that jewelers display diamonds on for scrutinizing customers. This wall would make anything that leaned against it pop with clarity, no imperfection hidden from even the most casual observer.

I turned back around and took note of all the other people in the office: a receptionist chatting with another patient about some insurance matter; a secretary filing chart after chart, all piled haphazardly on a wire cart; a tech walking through with a vial of blood on her way to the lab across the hall; and my nurse, the one whose job included taking my “before” picture. I’d been weighed (378 pounds), my arms had been squeezed – the pressure of the blood coursing through my deeply-submerged arteries measured and written down – and now all I had to do was lean against the white wall and smile. Or not. The choice was mine. “Perhaps I should save my smile for a few weeks down the road, when all this is finally a reality,” I pondered.

The date was April 11, 2002. Five days before I went under the knife and got my innards rearranged. The medical folks called it an open Roux-en-Y. It’s Gastric bypass or bariatric surgery to us laymen, and simply weight loss surgery to the larger, skinny populace. Some called it the “easy way,” a senseless, overused option for quitters – those who gave up on giving good old honest will power a try, for once. Others called it my last hope and applauded my bravery at taking such drastic measures. Still others remained silent but supportive; the time for words had come and gone and all that remained was to do this thing and get it over with.

I had been through all the preliminary medical testing – poked and prodded by a menagerie of nurses, doctors and technicians, and left sweaty and winded. I drank their concoctions, felt them course through my system as they sucked my thick dark blood into vial after tiny little vial. I let them inject me with their tracer fluids, then stood real still while they donned their protective vests and disappeared behind walls with glass windows and talked to me through tinny speakers. Turn left. Turn right. Raise your arm . . . higher . . . now lower . . . now your other arm . . . etc., like a marionette on so many sterile strings. I spent an hour in the psychiatrist’s office reaffirming my intentions to make the necessary lifestyle changes – drinking oodles of water, taking up walking, visiting the doctors as scheduled – that would make the procedure a success. That I would be happy to reach the higher regions of the statistical benchmarks regarding optimal weight lost, but could also live with the more modest numbers. And that, no matter what steps I had to take, regardless of how far I had to reach out for support, I’d maintain a positive attitude even when times got tough. And times would get tough, he assured me with a gentle yet used and tired smile.

Sort of like the one I flashed ever so briefly on the morning of April 11, 2002, leaning against a boring white wall.