“You know, George Burns smoked all his life and he lived to be 100” she said, as she puffed away on her cigarette., squinting at me through the haze of smoke.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard my mom say that.  She always drew on his example whenever one of us complained that she was shortening her life with her habit.   I don’t think any of us were feeling the need to get all up in her business about it though:  she lived a hard life with a cruel and vicious husband.  So what if she had this one vice?  This was something she clearly enjoyed, so who were we to cause her any angst?

Though she died at a young age (71), I’m still not sure I’d change anything.    She knew the score.  She was an intelligent woman, and she knew full well that George Burns was the exception not the rule.  She knew she was playing a form of Russian Roulette – which she ultimately lost.

I wonder though:  if she had known that 71 was her magic number, would she have changed her mind?   There was so much left that she wanted to do.  She was fascinated by computers and the internet, and never got a chance to have one or get on the other before she died.  She expressed interest and I had promised to get her set up.   It didn’t happen.

Spilt milk.  Barn doors and horses.

The past is done.

Enter the present.

I was on Facebook and the subject was Chris Christie.   He is one of the few die-hard Republican for whom I hold a hearty respect.  (No worries, I’m not here to talk about politics.  You can stay and read on.)


The group was mostly conservative, though there were a few independents there, including myself.  We all seemed to like him, and a few of us thought that maybe he’d be a good candidate for a future Presidential election.

One guy – we’ll call him “Ace” said:  “well u should like christey cause he will be prez in 2020, and rubio as the vip”

(Naturally my spelling and grammar Nazi hackles went up after reading that.  I stifled those reactions, repression being the healthier choice.  May have sprained something though.)

“Peter” said: “I frankly wouldn’t bet heavily on a 300lb 50 year-old seeing 2020.”

The conversation went back and forth between them.  Ace thought it was unfair to pick on the man because of his weight, and I jumped in with a note that the weight thing wasn’t a political or partisan slam; that it was a real factor.  Quite apart from the politics, being morbidly obese has a number of highly probable consequences.  I felt that his running for office in 2020 would be an exercise in optimism.

Then, “Ace” came back with this erudite observation:  “hell i am obesed and 54 and I am very much alive”

I don’t normally comment on anyone’s health habits, whether it involves weight or smoking.  And I am loathe to comment on anyone’s cerebral faculties:  the written word is not always the best indicator of a person’s mental capacity or resources.  A person might have learning disabilities or a mental condition which precludes accurate and graceful discussion.  This is also why I refrained from commenting on Ace’s spelling and grammar.

However, using one’s own obesity to bolster a point that Chris Christie’s morbid obesity does not pose a health risk struck me as slightly obscene.

I said “well you should be worried too.”

“In addition to heart problems, there are potential health risks to be considered, such as stroke and diabetes”, I added.  “This isn’t a personal shot against you though:  it’s just a reality.”

The man replied “i am not ignoring anything ohave the heart rate of a 20 year old and the b/p of a 20 year old, so yes i plan on being here along time” (sic)

To say I was amazed would be an understatement.  The more I argued with him, the more he denied any potential issues.  It was like talking to an emo teenager.

I said “do you even know what being ‘morbidly obese’ means?  Or for that matter, do you understand the meaning of the word ‘morbid’?”

Eventually though, I gave up.  There wasn’t any point, especially after he bragged about being a smoker too.

It just amazes me that anyone can be so neck-deep in denial as to honestly believe that he can live that way and not suffer consequences.  The hospitals are filled with denial-based consequences.  In fact, doctors will say that most patients aren’t in there for exotic or unusual diseases; most are dying from preventable behaviour-based illnesses.

I would have understood if he had argued the way my Mom did. If he had said “look I know all of the statistics and the dangers, and I’m okay with them – just shut up about it”, it would have been easier to drop the topic.  The fact that he used his own stupidity-based beliefs to justify his stance that Governor Christie has nothing to worry about seemed bizarre beyond belief.

I finally said “You’re insistent upon your march to the grave. Eat as much as you want and smoke as much as you want. It’s not my business, Ace.”

It really isn’t.   I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tolerate obstinate stupidity or wilful ignorance though.   It’s the itch you can’t scratch, or put balm on.   And you can’t take a knife to it, and cut it out of your psyche.  It’s there and you have to pretend it isn’t.   Like foreign matter dangling from the boss’s majestic nose.

  1. I don’t know how I feel about any of this. It’s a tough one. My mom, did NOT smoke, was NOT obese, and lived a pretty decent life-style and ate well. She died at 49. Yes, I said 49. As you well know my dear friend Richard, also a non-smoker, average weight and worked out regularly died at..wait for it, 49, this past year. Both my mom and my dear friend, died of natural causes. Mom had a heart-attack due to asthma, Richard died in his sleep. Eeeh, I know, such a downer — but losing Richard so unexpectedly this past April has just got me thinking about life and the things we focus on… what’s really important.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you. But, Chris Christie needs to be able to live with his weight issue. And although I think he did an amazing job this past week during this whole storm fiasco, I do think he looked exhausted, beaten and completely winded. I wondered if maybe he was a little healthier, meaning lost a little weight, if he wouldn’t have felt better during this whole crisis? Maybe he’ll figure it out and make some changes. But, if at the end of the day, he’s okay with who he is and is enjoying his life — who am I to argue with him?

    Anyone of us can die tomorrow. For any reason. I’m not sure we get to determine the longevity of our stay here, but maybe we do get to decide how good it is while we’re here? Maybe that’s all we have control of?

    eeeh, just a thought.

    (love your posts — see how I always “come out” just to read them? Ha! ).



    • wolfshades says:

      What a great comment Carmen! You’re right of course: when your time is up, there’s little you can do about it. We can only control what we can control, and so we know that making healthy choices can play into that (though it obviously didn’t for your mother or Richard). I know of a guy at my workplace who was equally healthy, and equally young, and he dropped dead of a sudden heart attack too. No rhyme or reason to it.

      I just know Gov. Christie would feel a heck of a lot better if he lost some pounds. I know it because I lost a lot, and felt immensely better. When you’re up there, you have no idea how awful you’re actually feeling, because you’re so used to it. It’s only when the weight comes down that you notice the amazing difference.

      I truly don’t have a horse in the race when it comes to preaching to people about their health. They’ve obviously made some choices, and it really isn’t my business. But when someone tries to tell me that an unhealthy person is healthy – and then tries to justify it by pointing to his own unhealthy lifestyle as proof? Different story. Makes me irate and ornery. : )

      Glad you stopped by to read and comment Carmen!


  2. Karen Milliorn says:

    As a doc, I’ve seen a lot—people who really shouldn’t have lived, but did (a fellow we called “Lazarus” for very good reasons), but many more who could have lived, had they made better choices—& worse, yet, quite a few who could have lived (usually kids) if someone else had made better choices for them (like safety seats or belts). I was consulted on a 46-year-old man the same size & shape as Governor Christie one day. But after running the full range of tests, physical exam, thorough history, labs, etc, there was only one inescapable conclusion—his heart was failing after so many years of struggling to pump blood to all that fat. There was nothing that we could do, either surgically or medically, to save him. You cannot believe how unbelievably frustrating that is to surgeons, who REALLY like to FIX things & see results! You are right—however difficult it may be—we have to live with other people’s choices—even if it kills them, sometimes.


    • wolfshades says:

      I truly don’t know how you stand it – watching someone clearly committing a slow suicide, all the while knowing what they look like on the inside, where all of the damage is being done. Must drive you a little nuts.

      I can imagine a GP telling a patient to lose weight or stop smoking, only to hear the response “sure doc” – and the doc knowing full well they’re just being polite and have no intention of following their advice. Probably happens more often than not.


  3. Rahul says:

    You are right about the whole thing.
    But people think in a way that is beyond explanation.
    Maybe Ace thinks 54 is a great number: 50 to him might be what 90 is to us .
    Or maybe since it is a public forum he doesn’t want to project the negative side of things and maybe he thinks that what you said sounds preachy.
    Hell lot of reasons.
    Anyway Ace is on risk. But I have a funny feeling that he knows it and just wanted to score over you.


    • wolfshades says:

      I think that if the man was otherwise subtle and considerate with his comments and remarks on other subjects; or if he had shown himself to be canny and strategic at any other time, then yes it would be possible he was playing games. I didn’t want to produce the entire conversation here, but the fact is: he truly believed what he was saying. There were several of us involved in the conversation, so it wasn’t about me. In fact, at the start it wasn’t even about him – it was about Christie. All of us – with the exception of Ace – were in agreement that the politician needed to lose weight if he ever wanted to run for President. This guy drew out his own obesity as proof that Christie has nothing to worry about. Bizarre.

      By the way – thank you for your comment! And welcome!


      • Rahul says:

        Yeah, you’re right. It’s bizarre and as you said, slightly obscene. In the social media you come across so many people who’d swear by the bible that the rabbit that they’d hunted down had three horns. They’d stick by their word as long as they’re alive. I was just trying to find some method in the madness.


        • wolfshades says:

          The fact that you’re curious says a lot about you that’s great (in my opinion). Most are quick to write others off and dismiss them. I try not to, but in this case – I just couldn’t find anything to “hang my hat on” so to speak.


  4. Karen Milliorn says:

    The relationships that surgeons & GP’s have with their patients are fundamentally different. The patient usually doesn’t need the surgeon (fortunately) for more than a relatively brief period, but that interaction is usually highly intense—what is more intense & intimate than letting a stranger cut you open & “play” with your innards & your life? The patient’s relationship with the GP, on the other hand, is one that (ideally) lasts over time, so that each is familiar with the other & there is a bond of trust—at least in the old-fashioned ideal of the “family doc”. I have been privileged to be the “family surgeon for one or two families, or a few “repeat customers”—but they are the exception. . And every now & then a lonesome little old lady has come along who wanted to come in for every 4- month or 6- month breast check-ups (more for social than medical reasons, I suspect). A lot of my job as a surgeon involved hand holding—either real or figurative. Having surgery (or merely the threat of it, or the threat of the sorts of maladies for which you are sent to a surgeon) is REALLY scary stuff! Doctors talk about that stuff so often that they often forget the scariness that their words carry. Words roll off their tongues so easily, “Mrs. Jones, we’re going to take out your brain, then put it back in, but don’t worry—you’ll be fine!” They no longer hear themselves talking.the bottom line is—I usually don’t have to watch the self destruction, but I have no opportunity to try to intervene, either (except with the occasional trauma patient who did something dumb, who gets the TRAUMA MAMA treatment! I tell them, “Youve only got ‘one of you’, so it’s up to you to take care of yourself.” Hey!—I’m a mom—I’m allowed!


    • wolfshades says:

      *nodding* I can certainly stand the thought of going for blood tests or EKGs or anything relatively non-invasive like that (not going to mention colonoscopies for now), but yes, when it comes to surgery or the need for it – or the behaviour that resulted in its necessity, all of that makes me squeamish. Consequently I’ll take the “trauma mama” any old day. : )


  5. Karen Milliorn says:

    “Not going to mention…” Is kin to one of my favorite weird phrases, “Not to mention…” Which is ALWAYS followed by the thing NOT mentioned! Why? The English language is truly bizarre—it’s no wonder foreigners have such a tough time learning it!
    But seriously, I never ceased to be in awe of two things: first, the trust that people put in me in letting me take care of them & their family members—babies, children, wives, husbands, parents—usually with never having seen, heard of, or met me before. Second, I seldom met anyone who did not exhibit grace & strength under the most stressful, painful, &, sometimes, sorrowful circumstances. I took care of numerous trauma patients on what was probably the worst day of their lives, & the innate strength of spirit I saw was incredible. I felt honored to be allowed to care for them, &, indeed, all of my patients gave me that feeling. (although there were a few here & there, I admit, with whom the honor was a bit difficult to bear—but they were no more than I can count on one hand—not bad for 26 years-worth of patients. Wouldn’t you agree?)


    • wolfshades says:

      I’m not at all surprised. Most people have a sense of the honor of your profession. Many know the number of years of study and training it takes to get to be where you are, and know that the end goal is for the betterment of your patients. I’d be surprised if no one wasn’t at least marginally aware of the Hippocratic Oath – and respect you all the more for it.

      As for the few patients who make things difficult: I find them truly interesting. When we pull out the few who have borderline personality disorder, the rest are cause for curiosity: they didn’t get that way by accident. (The BPD folk are a blog unto themselves)

      I often use “not going to mention” as a humour device – the intent is *always* to mention it. : ) I’ve had two routine ones so far. The first was better than the second: it involved lowered lights, and some music. Together with the great drugs, it was kind of romantic really. (Maybe more for the one doing the scope more than it was for me).


      • Karen Milliorn says:

        I’m not into drugs & never have been, but those drugs for the colonoscopy were WONDERFUL! I don’t remember it & don’t want to! I tried to always make sure that my patients who wanted procedures done under local anesthesia with IV sedation got the anesthesiologists who did things that way, too. Stress has negative effects on health, & I don’t think pain is particularly “character-building”, as opposed to some people I know.


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