Saturday, April 27, 2013
There is no easy way to introduce this subject, so here it goes. I spent nineteen years watching my dad suffer from obesity-related illness. From the time he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes when I was eight years old, he struggled with the concept of his own mortality, weighing his desire to continue the lifestyle he enjoyed against the lifestyle that would keep him alive. More often he chose the former, and his health suffered dearly for it. Within six years, his kidneys began to fail, and he was placed on a transplant list while enduring dialysis four nights a week.
The transplant came in 2004, but he never seemed to fully recover. His diabetes was out of control. Three years later, his vision was so bad he couldn't pass a sight test to renew his CDL, so he was forced to take a medical retirement from work - something about which he remained angry and ashamed until the day he died. When his driver's license expired, the same thing happened; another indignity leveled against a man who had already suffered so much. A few months later, even he was forced to admit that his eyesight was too poor to operate a vehicle, and his illicit driving stopped. I think this was the point where he truly gave up.
With nowhere to go and no way to get there, he became sedentary. He gained more weight. His knees, already in poor shape due to his youthful escapades in football and the military, began to go. He was in and out of the hospital for the next several years, and eventually, I moved back home - partially out of necessity, but also because I was worried about him. From there on out - nearly three years - I was his caretaker.
The last two years of Dad's life were spent sleeping in an automatic recliner in our living room because his gout and arthritis were so bad that he couldn't get out of bed. His heart, which had been giving him trouble since 1998, began to fail in earnest. In 2012, he went into the hospital for a nosebleed...and never came home. A massive heart attack in the early hours of Christmas Eve saw him admitted to the cardiac ICU in an induced coma to spare him further suffering. He was taken off of life support twenty-four hours later, and passed away, surrounded by family, at 4:05 in the morning on Christmas Day.
I lost it, at that point. Any modicum of sense that I'd managed to retain through those last twenty-four hours - and, admittedly, it wasn't much - went right out the window. I refused to leave Dad's bedside until my mother and my cousin quite literally pried my hand from that of his corpse and dragged me from the room. I was devastated. My dad was my hero and my best friend; he was truly the most incredible man I had ever met. Gruff, and tough, and wild-looking, but truly goodhearted beneath it all. He had beaten death so many times that I thought he would live forever. Not only is his absence devastating, but the realization that I might not be long in joining him is, in itself, a life-changer.
I know why Dad stopped trying. He thought he was too old to change; that it wouldn't make much of a difference either way, whether he had two years left, or five. He figured that if he was going to live at all, he may as well enjoy it. Maybe that makes him a braver person than I am; I don't know. At the same time, though, I know he realized that I had drawn the short straw when it came to his genetics, and that he worried about me. We shared the same metabolism, the same habits, the same risk for disease. While he did as he pleased, he always encouraged me in my attempts to get healthy.
When I became a vegetarian in January of 2012, Dad stood by me (though, as an avowed carnivore, he teased me about the decision). When I stuck with it and began to lose weight, you could tell he was proud. He bragged over the phone to our relatives; he went out of his way to budget my Tofurky and vegetables into our groceries. He gave me cooking tips, since I'm atrocious in the kitchen. Eventually, I even got him to try a few of the things I cooked.
I just wish I'd been able to get through to him sooner.
That, I guess, is why I'm here. If I couldn't save my dad, at least I can save myself. All I want is to make my dad proud. I don't give a damn about bikinis, or celebrity style, or my sex life, or any of the other reasons women in their twenties want to slim down. I want to do right by my father and honor his memory. So, here it goes...from 230 pounds to 135 in a year, starting now.