Surgery involves medical, logistical, and emotional issues. The medical ones are obvious: what’s actually wrong with your body, what the surgeon and medical team does to repair/remove/replace that, and what the recovery will involve. There are also logistical issues that most hospitals and surgeons address with you at least in general terms for what to expect when you get home: rearranging furniture to clear pathways, filling prescriptions in advance, fueling the car, stocking the fridge and pantry with prepared foods that are easy to heat/serve/eat, figuring out hygiene issues, finding help for household tasks like laundry.
And then there are emotional issues. All surgery is scary, even when they tell you it’s a simple procedure. You’re in a strange place with people you don’t know poking and prodding you, sticking needles in your arm, and cutting into your body while you’re asleep. Things can go wrong; consent forms tell you of the risks. Some surgery carries with it bad news about cancer or organ damage, and the emotional toll that takes is high, both for you and those who wait with and for you.
We “people of size” AKA fatties (or I prefer the term “fluffy”) have other emotional concerns that generally remain locked deep inside: Will I and my body be respected while I am under your care? Will you think less of me and talk about me and take pictures of my fat rolls while I’m asleep? Will the hospital gown fit me or will my butt be left hanging? Will the blood pressure cuff fit on my arm? Will the boot for my post-op leg actually fit or will it be huge to fit my large calf? If you have to make a trip to get things to fit me, will it be obvious that you consider that an unwanted chore? Do you even know that I’m worried about these things?
These have happened to me more than once, and to everyone else I know who is obese. They hang over me when I go the hospital. They worry me and raise my blood pressure. They make it harder for me to listen to you even when you’re talking about important things. Sometimes they are more important to me than the reason I’m there for the surgery in the first place.
Yesterday I had gastroc recession surgery at an outpatient surgical center for a spine and joint hospital. It was a simple procedure to lengthen my calf muscle, but I was still worried about all of the above other things. The admitting clerk was friendly and efficient – and she was my size. So after we finished signing me in, I asked her if this was safe place for someone of size. And she got it. Immediately. She told me that yes, she trusted all of the people there to respect every patient regardless of size, and that other attitudes and behaviors were not tolerated. It was reassuring.
When I got into the little prep room and even before they took my blood pressure, a woman dressed in different colored scrubs appeared and said she needed privacy to talk with me. The admitting clerk had gone to her senior administrator to tell her of my worries and she wanted to reassure me in person that I would be treated with the best care and respect that they afford every patient. She looked me straight in the eyes and told me she would not accept anything less. I believed her.
The gown already waiting for me was generously sized and fit me. The blood pressure cuff already in the room fit comfortably around my arm. The IV went in without a hitch the first time. When I woke up in recovery, my boot was sized to fit my foot and not my leg, with first velcro and then tape to hold it securely in place. The wheelchair that took me to the car was roomy.
Everyone treated me with respect and care. My worries were real, but I believe I would have been treated that way even had I not shared my fears. But I’m also not sorry I spoke up because it calmed me to know that I was really heard. The clerk heard me and took action; the administrator heard her and took action. They took me seriously and immediately addressed the concerns, which raises their quality as an institution in my eyes. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to others and would go back again without those emotional worries.
Surgery involves more than just medical expertise. We expect that from our surgeons and the staff who work there. The human element that respects all patients regardless of shape, size, age, or physical disability, matters just as much, for more than just the body needs care. At least I do.