Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Plastic Surgery

This morning we had an hour lecture on plastic surgery. The cases shown were pretty amazing -- individuals recovering from burns, cancer and accidents whose lives have been dramatically improved by plastic surgery.

It was all well and good until the lecturer tells us we have five minutes left, and do we want to see a "really gross case" before the end of class. Of course, the class says yes. So he pulls up a slide that says "Morbid Obesity". He then described and showed images of a panniculectomy. That's an operation to remove a large pannus (basically extra tummy fat that can hang down over the pelvis in fat people). This was an unusually large pannus in an unusally large woman.

I jotted down a few comments, verbatim, from the lecturer:

  • "next time you go to the chip truck" (that is, remember this case, because if you eat too many chips you'll get like this)

  • "she works at the post office" (just to reinforce other random fat-person stereotypes, I guess)

  • "I'm not making fun of her, this is a horrible disease" ... but ... "this disease is from eating"

  • "she's still huge! look at the size of her!" (that is, she's still a giant fatty after we've removed the pannus)

This was a whole lecture of cases that could be considered 'gross'. It's gross to see someone's abdomen ripped open, it's gross to see someone with half their face missing, and it's gross to see a hand with no skin on it. Nevertheless, the panniculectomy was the only item in the lecture that was explicitly described as gross. The part that really gets me is that the prof wasn't describing the surgery as gross, rather, he was describing this woman's body as gross. That's the part that really is not okay.

Afterwards, I was pretty upset about this. Over the next couple of days I asked a few classmates for their impressions. The response was pretty uniform. Mostly, they didn't recall the panniculectomy slides at first. Then they agreed that there would have been a less offensive way to say it -- but on the other hand, there's a lot of black humour in medicine, and I'm being a overly sensitive.

I don't think I'm being overly sensitive. This matters. Fat people don't seek medical care because they worry that doctors will think their bodies are "gross".


Anonymous said...

Man, I love that. "We're not making fun of her...but look she's still huge after surgery!" Uh, isn't that making fun of her?

I just joined your blog, I'm glad someone from the medical community is blogging about HAES and fat acceptance. ;)

chartreuse said...

Thanks for posting! I'm trying my hand at blogging for the first time, so it's nice to know someone is interested. :)

Bri said...

I have just subscribed to your blog. I hope you keep writing because your posts are very interesting!

chartreuse said...

Thanks! :) I appreciate your reading!

Dreaming again said...

I have lupus, myasthenia gravis & PCOS, insulin resistance and a few other bug a boos (including ED-NOS). On prednisone, plaquenil and cellcept.

I'll go to a specialist who will immediately clamp in on weight loss as the panacea for a cure all. (been down to normal weight ...didn't make the MG/lupus go away)

Then they'll finish reading my chart and read "PCOS, Prednisone"
and ask "how long have you had PCOS?"
"Since I was 29."
"How long have you been on prednisone?"
Since I was 31" (I'm 43)
"how much?"
"As little as 5 mg, as much as over 100 mg, but always on it"
"Oh, geesh, no wonder you can't loose weight! I'm so very sorry!"

Gee! and 5 minutes ago, I was a lazy slob? But you see the medical problem and I'm suddenly worth your compassion?