People Are Not Their Disease
I spent many weeks in the hospital recently due to my father’s lengthy illness. Although the hospital is familiar to me as a nurse, it’s quite different when you have hours to observe the surroundings and interactions as a visitor. Six times in three weeks, I heard visitors and staff make discriminatory comments about another patient who was also there for several weeks. This individual suffered from numerous health conditions, involving several surgeries and procedures.
Much to my dismay, sadness and frustration, I heard others describing the patient as “the obese guy,” “the big fellow” and even “the fat guy in room 462.” All the while, my dad was referred to (appropriately so) as “the gentleman in room 460,” when others would inquire about him to facilitate care or transportation.
The difference? My dad suffers from cancer; the other gentleman suffers from severe obesity. Lack of empathy and ignorance often comes from lack of knowledge or misconceptions that this disease is a lack of will power. More than 3 million individuals suffer from obesity and 12 million suffer from severe obesity. This disease does not discriminate between ages, gender, ethnic or socioeconomic lines. The fact is that severe obesity is a complex disease with a strong genetic predisposition. People suffer from obesity or severe obesity; they are not an obese person. My father suffers from cancer, he is not cancer .Your aunt may suffer from breast cancer, she is not breast cancer. People are not their disease.
Evaluate your own language, and catch yourself. Learn more about this chronic disease. Until we, as a society, see severe obesity as a disease, we will never optimize collaborative efforts to cure it.
About the Blogger:
Tracy Martinez, RN, BSN, CBN, is a certified bariatric nurse and Program Director at Wittgrove Bariatric Center in LaJolla, Calif. She is the past-president of the Integrated Health section of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Ms. Martinez is a member of the OAC National Board of Directors and an avid animal lover and advocate.