May my indignities bring you amusement on a Monday

The new semester started roughly for the old newsman. Surgeons cut torn cartridge out of his left knee 10 days before the first day of school.

He thought that would be enough time for him to recover before traversing campus with his cane.

He was wrong.

After two days, his leg hurt so badly he could barely walk. He went to a post-surgery visit with his doctor. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and a walker.

The old newsman asked for the walker.

He resisted it for some time, but the reality set in. The cane worked fine for short trips. But to move on a schedule, he needed more help.

This bothered the old newsman more than he wanted to admit. His obesity had long been a problem, but now his body felt like it was breaking down.

He wasn’t out of it, yet. No, the old newsman still had more adventures in him.

But, still, he did not expect to be cutting tennis balls for the legs of his walker at age 46.

The old newsman didn’t get much of a chance to try out his walker before he got knocked on his bulbous butt by what our best scientists can only describe as “a stomach bug.”

There is probably a more ominous name for the affliction, but this is what is understood and spoken by layman, nurse, and doctor alike.

The old newsman thought “up down” would be an appropriate moniker.

The virus gets a person up and down out of bed with frequent trips to the bathroom to dispose of the sick in a variety of ways.

His fever hit 102.0 on the first day and slowly fell to 99.1 and eventually normal ranges. He eventually kept down five saltine crackers and a few sips of sugar-free sports drink.

The newsman recovered, though not before making several pledges to God about future swearing and church attendance.

The dehydration he endured, however, complicated a longstanding issue with his calf muscles. Without the proper electrolyte balance, his calves tend to pull and knot up like a string of last year’s Christmas lights.

This latest pull came in the shower and nearly sent his massive frame to the tile floor, which likely would have resulted in another visit from the fellows at Fire Station No. 4.

The old newsman already owes them money from their visit in late June, the day he tore the cartridge in his knee.

These calf knots need to be massaged with heat applied.

The old newsman does his best, but it’s the kind of job you need extra hands for.

His former physical therapist, Stefanie Mullins, used a series of metal tools to divide and straighten the jumbled muscle fibers.

The old newsman often told her that if the physical therapy thing didn’t work out, she had a future as demonstrator of Medieval torture at a living history museum.

Her method was preferrable to the one used at his former gym, where one of the trainers took a 45-pound bar and rolled it over the lump in the calf until, apparently, it collapsed like a can of pizza sauce under a steamroller.

Neither of these methods were available to the old newsman at the time of the most recent calf injury. So, he ordered up some compression socks.

He ordered black. Black is cool. Socks should only be black, gray, or white. The old newsman is conservative about socks.

Unfortunately, he received beige. Beige is the color of nursing home feet.

Nobody in the history of fashion has ever said, “You know, this outfit needs more beige.” No, what they say is, “That beige really highlights the blandness of your personality and overall social invisibility.”

So come Monday morning, when you, dear reader, are likely reading this over your Raisin Bran and cup of maple nut crunch from your Keurig, the old newsman will be gingerly preparing to return to campus.

The 6-4, too-big-to-weigh-at-home man will don a t-shirt with some comic book nonsense on it, wrinkled khakis, tightly laced New Balance shoes, his Yankees cap, and smartly accessorize with his new walker built especially for the big and tall man, yellow tennis balls replaced with sleek new skis, and tan compression socks.

Whatever happens in your day, keep that image in mind.

He hopes the amusement salves whatever indignities your workplace might savage upon you this Monday.


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.
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Journey to health begins with a single splash

Photo by Milkovi via Unsplash

I jumped in the pool Saturday. The water felt cool, but a welcome cool against the humid late June air. I was there to work. My gym bag was filled with rehab tools: a pair of foam dumbbells, a pair of aquatic bells, a stretchy orange cord knotted in a loop and a yellow pool noodle.

My physical therapist gave me a laminated list of exercises from my last trip through aquatic rehab.

A case of pneumonia and months of layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic led to weight gain and weakness in my legs that make it difficult for me to walk more than a few hundred feet.

My doctor prescribed aquatic therapy, but the pandemic closed pools both for therapeutic and recreational use, including the one in my apartment complex.

The pools reopened, but between the time my doctor prescribed the therapy and the time the virus protocols allowed pools to open, my employer cut my job and I lost my insurance.

I bought insurance off the healthcare exchange, a part of the Affordable Care Act, which provides insurance to the poor and unemployed discounted through tax credits.

My plan didn’t cover aquatic therapy at the provider I used in the past. I could have used a different provider, but I only have unemployment to pay high deductibles and expensive copays.

So, rehab became a do-it-yourself job. Saturday was the first lap.

The first disappointment came when I pulled on my trunks. They were tight, much tighter than last year. This was to be expected, but to feel it is a tactile revelation of how badly I’ve deteriorated.

The second disappointment was how much range of movement I’d lost.

One of the exercises requires me to lift and lower my leg by pressing a pool noodle to the floor of the pool.

The biggest stress of that routine was getting the pool noodle under my foot. It took so long that I almost gave up.

The rest of the exercises went OK. I went slow. I did not want to injure myself. I went through a period of painful heel tendinitis after more vigorous pool workouts last year. I could barely walk. I don’t want to lose any more mobility.

I finished the workout. As I started to climb out of the pool, my left calf and shin started to cramp. I got back into the pool and let them spasm for a few minutes. Whatever hurt in water was going to be worse on land at full gravity.

The trouble passed and I got out of the pool just as a party started to gather. Someone was celebrating their 24th birthday.

The people who arrived were young and beautiful. Fit men with cut muscles in their arms and chests, and fit women in bikinis.

I felt like Quasimodo. I skulked back to my apartment to take a shower and pain relief medication.

I know I should celebrate the beginning of the effort to get healthy.

But I don’t.

My friend Lewis pointed out the other day: “Forty-five is different than 40.”

And it is.

My patience is thinner.

My obesity is fatter.

My disgust of myself and my failings higher.

My confidence is lower.

I would not describe myself as hopeless, but deeply discouraged.

What I’m trying to do for my health happens at the same time I’m in the middle of a seemingly futile search for a job and trying to launch a little business.

I like to leave readers with hope whenever I can. I am not a Pollyanna. Not all stories have happy endings and I won’t force one.

But this story is not about an ending.

It’s about a beginning, albeit to a sequel.

And when I close this elegant laptop, I plan to squeeze my fat butt into those trunks and go out to the pool and try again.

That’s the hope.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

591: Obesity and the damage done

Photo by twinsfisch via Unspash

My friend invited me to a high school baseball game down in Winterset on Monday. The thought of it appealed to me: my favorite game played in the sun at my almost-alma mater by my buddy’s kid, whom I’ve watched grow up.

I agreed. Then I withdrew.

I sent a sappy text through tears in the early morning Monday. I wanted to go, but I was afraid.

I was afraid the walk from the car to the stands would be too much for me. I was afraid if I fell, there would be no one strong enough to help me up. I was afraid that I would bend or break the chair I sat on.

I worry about these things all of the time.

This is the curse of obesity.

And I am that: morbidly obese.

The word “morbidly” is not tacked on for flair. It’s a medical diagnosis that means being as obese as I am shortens my life expectancy.

So here it is, the big number that everyone wants to hear and recoils in horror when I reveal it.

I weigh 591 pounds.

That’s a cheeseburger and fries away from 600. That’s 91 pounds beyond a quarter ton.

Now come the judgements and the advice delivered as a sneer.

Eat less, move more.

Maybe put down the fork.

Exercise.

Show some will power.

And so on.

Longtime readers will note that I once, somewhat famously, went on a very public campaign to lose weight starting in March 2015. That campaign started when I was 39 and weighed 563 pounds.

I wrote about this effort to get healthier in a blog called “Making Weight” for my previous employer. The work was popular for a while and it helped me get healthier.

I used a combination of psychotherapy, diet, exercise and an unusual treatment for depression.

I lost 144 pounds between March 2015 to January 2017. I was 41 years old and weighed 424 pounds. I was still morbidly obese, but the weight training made me physically stronger than I ever had been in my life.

My goal was always to get back under 300 pounds.

But something went wrong in 2017.

My gym time waned. My eating habits declined.

I struggled through a bout of major depression.

Major depression is poorly named, but I don’t know what simple words can describe the mood disorder.

There are few easy, meaningful ways to say I went through a period where opening my eyes to face the day was almost physically painful, a time where I dreaded every single interaction with other human beings yet never needed my friends and loved ones more and a time I generally felt the gift of life was wasted on me.

Another painful experience befell me in November 2017. I choose not to reveal it in a public blog post at this time. Maybe someday I will talk about it, but not today.

The events nearly crippled me and sent me back to my psychiatrist for another round of transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

That’s a treatment where clinicians beam magnetic pulses into the brain in an effort to stimulate the naturally occurring chemicals that regulate mood in the brain such as serotonin.

The effectiveness of TMS is debated, but I have found it exceptionally helpful each time I used it.

The mental health care gave me another excuse to take time off the gym and all through 2017 and 2018, my weight climbed.

I slipped and fell on icy sidewalks on a cold January night in early 2018. I fell again trying to get to my feet. I later learned that I pushed in a pair of my ribs near the bottom of my ribcage.

My pain sidelined me. I could barely walk. Aquatic physical therapy got me back on my feet. It took almost three months. I started back to the gym in the fall, but attendance was irregular.

Another personal event occurred in early 2019. Again, I choose not to be public about it, but I was unsettled and struggled with more anger and depression.

I started this year with some optimism. I messaged my trainer about getting back to the gym.

But I developed pneumonia in mid-February. It took almost two weeks from which to recover.

I started to feel better just as the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t go to the gym if I wanted to.

Now things are opening up, but my walk is slow and painful. The months of sedentary life coupled with the anxiety and depression left my body in terrible physical condition.

I ate poorly, heavy into carbs and sugars. I ate to feel good instead of for sustenance.

I lost my job in May. I try to get up each day between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. I hunker over the computer and apply for jobs.

The few responses I receive are rejections.

There aren’t many jobs posted anyway. The pandemic has wrecked employment and companies often want young talent that works cheaply rather than middle-aged workers who bring established skills but cost more.

I feel useless. I feel like I wasted 27 years of my life in a trade that’s burning down and am left with no marketable skills. I know that isn’t wholly true, but I struggle with how to communicate with employers that being able to write a story on practically any topic in a few hours is valuable.

The economy is strengthening, they say. And people have supported this blog, but it’s not enough to make the bills each month. I look at the calendar and I don’t know what I’m going to do after July. It all seems so damn hopeless.

My close friends encourage me to pray. Others encourage patience. I love them. Both ideas are good.

But I look at the calendar. Severance runs out soon and the extra payments to unemployment granted because of coronavirus ends in July.

There’s talk of a new stimulus package. There’s talk of extensions. But nothing seems to happen. Congress and the president are busy grandstanding in advance of the election, not helping people like me and others who have it worse.

But every news story seems to trumpet economic recovery. Unemployment claims are down, they say. America is reopening.

The doctors and scientists urge extreme caution, but many people are openly ignoring the pandemic.

They’re playing high school baseball and softball. The NBA is going to start soon.

Everything is wonderful.

Except in my house, where I have no job and I haven’t been able to get into aquatic therapy for months because of the pandemic.

Yesterday, the provider I use for aquatic therapy called. At last, they could take me as a patient now that restrictions had been lifted.

But I couldn’t go. I lost my job in May. The insurance I had at my previous employer covered aquatic therapy. The insurance I bought off the exchange does not pay for therapy, at least at the provider I’ve used in the past.

Damn.

I know that I am not alone. I know tens of millions of Americans are out of work. And more than that are obese.

I feel empty. I feel worthless. I feel disgusting. I feel unlovable.

Bless my friends, who remind me daily that my life has meaning.

It sure doesn’t feel that way, but I have good, smart people as my friends. It would be arrogant and disrespectful to assume they’re all wrong and I’m right.

Still, I’m down. I’m not all the way down. I’m not depressed. I’m right at the edge of depressed. I can look over the edge and see the hole I’m trying so hard not to fall into.

And I haven’t. I’ve got a great therapist. And the work we’ve done together over the years helps me monitor and control my tendency to dive deep into that abyss.

Still, there is a very outward side of my depression: 591.

I’m morbidly obese. Most people believe obesity is caused by excellent fork-to-mouth coordination. That’s partially true.

But all the research shows that obesity is related to a complex matrix of problems that included mental health and especially adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

I’ve had loads of ACEs and let me assure this is not a great poker hand. My mother was an addict with erratic behavior. I don’t want to detail a poor, dead woman’s sins in these paragraphs. I will say only this: Things weren’t always fun in my house when I was a boy and it deeply affected the way I think, act and move.

Mostly, I am afraid.

Holy higher power of choice, I am afraid. All the time. I am afraid I’m unlovable. I am afraid I’m unworthy of everything — friendship, kindness, love, dignity, respect or anything.

I don’t understand it when someone is kind to me. Don’t they know how rotten I truly am? I am a bad little boy. Well, I’m a bad big man.

Can’t they see how gross I am?

They can’t. Because they love me. And that confuses me. Because most of the time, all I’ve ever done is hate me.

I know this thinking is false.

I intellectually understand that I am a human being, a child of God, worthy of love, dignity and respect.

But emotionally, too much of the time, I feel like the dog dung on the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

Therein are the poles of my self-image. Most of my problems are trying to resolve the gap between intellectual understanding and emotional reaction.

This effort is ridiculously exhausting. It’s harder and heavier than 591.

So about 591. What’s to be done? Do I just wait for the stroke or heart attack?

Sometimes, I’ll be honest, the answer in my head is, yes. If Raygun were to make a t-shirt about me, I think it would read: “Too fat to live, too lazy to die.”

I fight that thought. I want to live. I want to sit in the sun and watch my buddy’s kids play ball. I want to hang out in old age with my friends and drink sangrias by the pool. I want to keep writing, because that’s the only thing I ever felt good about in my life, even when I keep getting laid off or fired from those jobs.

I know getting healthier will be a long, arduous journey. And I know it will be all the more difficult because I am six years older than when I started this stuff the first time.

But so what?

I choose to live.

They filled the pool at my apartment complex. It opens next Friday. I’ve got a sheet with pool exercises to do and tools to do them with.

Here’s to the first splash on a long swim to recovery.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.