I’m too fat for an MRI at the zoo

Phone rings. The physician’s assistant from my orthopedic doctor is on the line.

Bad news.

Because of my weight (I’m morbidly obese), there’s not an MRI machine in town I can fit into.

“We even tried the zoo,” he said.

I’ll repeat that for people who think I made it up: They even tried the zoo.

You know the zoo, where there are elephants and rhinos and whatnot.

I’m too fat to get an MRI there.

They also tried Iowa State University’s famed veterinary clinic.

Nope. Not set up for humans. Legal reasons. Yada, yada, yada.

The physician’s assistant remained optimistic. Calls were out to Iowa City and locations out of state.

Unquestionably, this was the lowest moment of my life.

The torn meniscus in my left knee throbs constantly and makes the simplist of movements a challenge.

I’m to start my last semester of classes at Drake University before student teaching in the fall, earning my master’s degree and becoming a teacher.

I need to be able to walk to class, even with the assistive devices and a temporary handicapped parking pass.

I felt my mind slip toward a spiral. The pain in my knee ebbs and flows between a dull throb and the feeling someone is taking a rusty razor blade across my nerve endings.

How was I supposed to get to class this fall? Forget about student teaching.

Some friends kindly suggested disability. But what about the student loan debt?

What about my plan to do something positive with my life?

My despair had little time to overtake my mind.

The phone rang again. It was another guy from the orthopedic doctor’s office. My knee brace had come in.

Well, that’s something.

I went down to pick it up.

The guy strapped it on and showed me how to do it on my own. I stood up. It felt much stronger. The pain was still there, but it was reduced due to the brace’s compression.

With my cane, I could manage.

School was back on.

Survival was possible.

I could lose weight and get on one of the MRI machines and get the surgery later.

It would be hard. Damn hard. But what isn’t these days?

I drove out to the weight loss clinic in Clive. My nutritionist had moved back to Omaha, but the people were kind enough to let me come in to get a weight.

I got the number. I choose not to share it. I’m not ashamed of it.

I don’t want to talk about my weight like it’s a baseball statistic.

I don’t want its change, up or down, to be the thrust of my story. I am more than that number, whatever it is. I did that once, very publicly, and it ended in mixed results.

The last time I submitted to a weight was May 2020. The number I got Wednesday was the same. The clinician who helped me said I could safely shave off three or four pounds because I was wearing my clunky shoes and knee brace.

This was better news than I expected. There was a very good chance I weigh as many as 20 or 30 pounds more than I did in May 2020.

I began tracking my daily calorie intake May 12. Since then, I’ve cut calories by 34%. I also changed the quality of food I eat — more veggies and fruits, better cuts of meat, more home cooking.

Things are going in the right direction.

I stopped by the comic shop to pick up my latest funny books and got home exhausted, sore, and ready to rest.

I was proud of myself. Not too long ago, the challenges presented by this day and the back-and-forth between extremes would have inspired suicidal thinking. I would have started mapping out my overdose, my jump into the river, or hanging.

Instead, I called my therapist, but not in an emergency call. I wanted to talk through the disability option. He knows about such things.

To be clear, I don’t want to go on disability.

I want to finish school and become a teacher.

Persevere. Keep moving forward.

But the Cub Scouts taught us to always be prepared, so I checked out some facts.

I resigned myself to limping along with my cane and brace until I could lose enough weight to get into the MRI machine.

The phone rang again. It was the physician’s assistant. They found a surgeon at the clinic who was willing to do the surgery without an MRI.

I meet with the surgeon Tuesday.

That’s a lot of stuff for one day. A hell of a lot.

Sometimes the ride is filled with so many potholes and detours I think the car is going to come apart before I reach the destination.

But if I’m moving forward, I’m still headed in the right direction.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.

Morning lies give way to pain symphony

Morning lies. There’re a few minutes after I wake up when my knee and its torn meniscus feels fine. It’s as if my body has forgotten the injury.

Sometimes I can make it across the bedroom to the bathroom with only the common stiffness attributable to middle age.

But the lie evaporates all too quickly.

Here comes the pain again.

The pain begins with a dull ache, almost like an orchestra warming up with chopsticks.

Then the first notes of symphony begin with a kind of throb, like kettle drums pounding in a Hans Zimmer score.

My physical movement acts as mad conductor Leopold Stokowski bringing the orchestra to crescendo using all the instruments to maximum effect.

At times, it feels as if a razor blade is sawing across raw nerves below my kneecap, back and forth like a witch’s hands on a cursed harp.

Still other moments, the tendons tighten and scream like the strings of a violinist attempting to bring about the Apocalypse with each stroke of the bow.

I don’t like the drugs but the drugs like me.

I swallow over-the-counter pain relievers the way a man far gone on the neighbor’s noisy stereo jams cotton balls into his ears.

I rub in lidocaine on the joint, but even the gentlest touch inspires a shrill mezzo-soprano vocalist to pierce the brain with violent notes of pain sustained for impossibly long breaths.

Finally, I wrap the flexible bandage around the joint in effort to muffle the damned symphony. I lie in my bed and try to contort the joint to some position that minimizes discomfort.

Slowly but eventually, the pain mutes. It is never gone, but it can be quieted.

An overture may erupt at any twist, turn, or bend.

The little movement I do during the day in my 650-square-foot apartment is all measured, slow, and tentative.

I feel like a Jenga tower teetering on a single block, ready to collapse at any moment. I lean heavily on countertops, walls, door frames.

Terror of alone.

The joys of living alone become terrors when your body fails you. I clutch my smartphone wherever I go, even if it’s just from the bedroom to the living room.

I fear the fall that leaves me a crumpled mess of fat and limbs on the floor, alone with no one to offer me a hand up.

To surrender to self-loathing would be — and is — easy. Intellectually, I know obesity is a result of childhood trauma. I eat to feel better and, of late, I’ve had damn little to feel good about.

But the idiot society, the one that shares cruel memes of people using scooters and laughs at others’ foibles, creeps into my brain. It stirs the already tainted brain chemistry sick with depression and anxiety.

Soon, I blame myself. I question my worthiness for the gift of life.

Behavioral therapy has taught me the methods to quiet those illogical outbursts by thinking of them as just poor results from a computer with some buggy source code.

But they are there.

Reforming the sinner.

Find me a stack of religious texts and I will swear upon them to never take mobility for granted again. I can barely walk 200 feet without excessive pain.

This means I have two, maybe three roundtrips down the hallway of my apartment or one trip to the car for an outing such as meeting a friend for lunch or a trip to the comic store.

I met a friend for lunch Monday. He’s a good, longtime friend. I love him like a brother. But for our first 10 minutes together, I heard nary a word he spoke, instead only the symphony of agony from my knee.

My pain generates in me a newfound sympathy for athletes who suffer injuries. I covered scores of such injuries when I was an aspiring sportswriter.

But I wrote about them like it was a plot point in the great unscripted drama of sports rather than a moment of human suffering.

Now I know.

Resilient. Again. Damnit.

Despite this column’s grim tone, hope lies ahead. My doctors are trying to get an MRI test approved by my insurance company. When that happens, we move toward an arthroscopic surgery that will cut away the piece of torn meniscus causing the trouble.

It’s not a permanent fix, but it will get me mobile again.

Resiliency wins again.


This is a good thing, I know.

But this in the future at the end of a long, hard path.

But sometimes I find myself thankful for those morning lies, when the brain has forgotten how much pain the body is in.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.