Tuesday, May 31, 2011

You Can't Be Too Rich or Too Thin

During one of my yo-yoing escapades thirty-four years ago, Est, my sister-in-law, who hadn't seen me in the five months it took me to shave off sixty-six pounds (I went from 188 to 122) exclaimed when she saw me, "You look like you are rich!" The remark confused me; but then I had been living upstate in Albany for eleven years and the place was fifteen years behind the times. It may be better now with globalization and the internet, but everything upstate from fashion trends to cultural attitudes seems to move slowly, retro-throwbacks to a softer, sweeter, adolescent age. Anyway, Est's comment thrilled me. I was accustomed to perceiving myself as ungainly, unfashionable and unappealing. "Rich" was an excellent descriptor for my "new" selfhood at 122 pounds. Too bad I couldn't maintain the identity or the weight.

The next time I heard a similar remark I was 175 pounds, fifteen years later, after having yo-yoed four times. I was on another slide toward thinner when a teacher colleague who was naturally thin but was pregnant commented, "Well, you can't be too rich or too thin." Again, the equation between wealth and uber thinness! I was annoyed and offended. I had struggled to lose twenty-five pounds and I was obviously still a fatty and the thought that "regardless of how much weight I lost I would never be thin enough" did not endear me to my colleague or my situation. I thought to myself then, what is this cultural idea that wealth and weight are correlated?

Apparently, the concept has been around for centuries. When food sources were scarce, oftentimes the wealthy and the merchant class were the only ones that had access to good food. The poor starved. Thus, it was fashionable to appear plump, overweight, heavy as a sign of economic status, security and prosperity. If you appeared attenuated, chances are you were from the lower classes, scratching around for your next meal. Rosy cheeks were a sign of health and well being; in the eighteen hundreds, even men at court wore make-up to appear robust, healthy and full "of money."

What a reversal of fortune! The situation has radically undergone a 180 degree turnaround. In this century there is an abundant food supply and Americans have access to it, regardless of whether they eat healthily or not. Now, the trend is to deny oneself the foods once indulged in to prove oneself superior to everyone else. That is the jist of any century; proving the superiority of the ruling elites who in fashion and social trends distance themselves as far as possible from the lower classes.

The irony is that once again, women get the short shrift. Three centuries ago, it was pleasurable to be able to eat sumptuous meals, satisfying one's hunger with impunity; you were encouraged to gain weight to appear rich. Now wealthy women must tighten their belts, forgo gustatory pleasures and exact a lifetime of hunger pangs to accommodate updated versions of beauty and glamor which only lionize gaunt looks, high, bone protruding cheeks and sharply chiseled stick bodies.

"You can never be too rich or too thin." This phrase governs the lives of many wealthy socialites who, according to Paul Campos in The Obesity Myth, are anorexic, and struggle to appear as thin as media celebrities and Haute Couture runway models (many of whom are BMI Underweight). But the fact remains that women who are uber thin, starve themselves so that they will not appear fat. All too well they understand the equation of obesity to poverty, an equation that reeks with morbidity, mortality and obscurity. To thrive, they must repudiate fat. They must adhere to rigid standards in order to dominate in their socio-economic class.  They must be what they are, look what they are, act what they are to fulfill their identities, their marriage vows, their destinies. Scrawny scarecrows by the standards of yesteryear! Someone is having a laugh, but I don't think it's the scrawny scarecrow socialites who must struggle to "make weight."

Of course, this ethos sets a standard for the rest of us. BUT IT ISN'T WORKING!!! America is resistant, that is middle and lower class American women are resistant. For middle upper class American women, like those appearing on "The Real Housewives of...." series, the ethic is burgeoning. It is also burgeoning for young golddiggers who intend to marry a "wealthy" man. (Well, ladies, just make sure your body is BMI Underweight. Wealthy men don't like heavy or obese women, except maybe as mistresses, or girlfriends in addition to their wives and mistresses. You'll have to get in line.) While it may be status for wealthy women to be uber thin, it is status for wealthy men to have in addition to their Ivy League educated wives, a panoply of mistresses and girlfriends. When you're wealthy, you can have your cake and eat it too, except if you're a woman.

Cynical? Can't you think of any films that reinforce these cultural assumptions? Now? How about real life: politicians recently making the news for their philanderings while sporting their perfect wives on their arms (until the flames of public exposure became too hot for them and they pursued divorce)? While the woman is damaged, her X-man may be excoriated and ridiculed for a season, but he always comes out of it with another woman ready to take the wife's place, regardless of his emotionally niggardly ways and pathetic prior history. And why oh why do I get the feeling with every public exposure of these deceitful, lascivious rakes, secretly, men are back-slapping each other and whipping the air with the "thumbs up" sign.

You can't be too rich or too thin? For whom?


Monday, May 30, 2011

Low Down, Lipitor

High Cholesterol? Take Statins to lower it and reduce your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke. Esther, my sister-in-law bought into this advertisement like millions of Americans, perhaps even more so because as a nurse, she was a part of the medical establishment and she embraced its tenets, its gravitas, its pronouncements as holy writ. She regularly got physical check-ups, always had blood work, mammograms, pap smears, two stress tests, EKGs, in short, every test doctors advised her to take as a precaution to forestall any dangers lurking below the surface. The woman was always spot on.

When her doctors prescribed Lipitor after blood work showed high cholesterol, we thought nothing of it and neither did Est. Heart disease was in the family and this drug would protect her from it. Since her body produced the bad LDL cholesterol, she needed to lower it significantly; I remember her telling me her numbers were severe, but the medication appeared to be working and the doctor was checking her bloodwork to make sure there were no elevated numbers indicating issues with her liver.

This went on for some years. Est's doctor retired and she selected another doctor she knew from her job. One day I visited Est and Gabe's home in Medford. It was summer and Est and I walked into the backyard, past the outbuilding into the lush wooded area. I noticed Est was limping. She told me the doctor after recent bloodwork discovered her cholestrol was over 430; he upped the dosage of Lipitor. After a time, she had aches and pains in her muscles and around her groin; she was finding it difficult to walk. After additional monthly bloodwork, the doctor lowered the dosage again. She had muscle and liver damage. Though he switched her to a lower dosage, he still kept her on Lipitor.  It took her months to be restored and by that point she told me her doctor had put her on another Statin drug. Nothing was mentioned by the doctor, but it was obvious that Lipitor was dangerous if high dosages were perscribed, to the point where she was taken off the drug.

The entire incident was absolutely scary for me. Bloodwork was required monthly to check for liver damage? Well, why did the doctor up the dosage knowing he could be harming her liver? Was she going to have a heart attack because of her cholesterol levels? I had read somewhere that it wasn't even conclusive that there was a reasonable certitude of the correlation between cholesterol and heart disease...the first causing the second. There were even reports that researchers were beginning to think that there was a stronger correlation between inflammation and heart disease.  Well, the doctor wasn't a researcher; he was following what was proscribed by others in "the know." Unfortunately, they and he didn't have "all the information" and Est listened to him, at her peril.

Her fear of having a heart attack like her father kept her enslaved. She didn't think for herself or question the dosage or the doctor. She didn't do her own research; she didn't have the time; she was busy with family. As I think about this in retrospect, she like others in the medical profession performed what was the trend. She wasn't raised with a healthy skepticism; in fact, to cram all the required facts in her brain, skepticism would have gummed up the process. Besides, Est was birthed from the system, beholden to it; she made her living from it. She believed that drugs would help her live, though she almost convinced herself that she would be dead before she could collect Social Security. You see, heart disease was in her family; it was a given she would get it. That's how enthralled she was to her fear and to the doctors who nurtured it and watched it grow like an abscess, albeit, for them, a profitable one.

Eighteen or nineteen years have passed since then. Est is not on any Statins; she has been off them for four years. Her heart is fine; she doesn't have heart disease. She is as healthy as an ox. But her short term memory is practically gone some days. Other days she is better, especially in the morning. On bad days she repeatedly will ask the same question every five minutes, especially if she is anxious. She forgets what you say to her and you must often repeat it. Cumulatively, she has stopped her love of reading books. She has stopped her interest in antiques. She no longer cooks and actually, she doesn't do much these days. My brother now is taking charge of the household, the shopping, the meals, the laundry, most tasks. Est occupies herself with their three cats with Gabe's help; they swim in their pool. My brother is concerned and doesn't let her drive, especially after her car accident and the surgery she had from whiplash.

Looking back, do I see how the changes came on gradually? Yes. Confusion, forgetfulness, disorientation. This is what Est is struggling with. And it grieves me to think back to the time when I first heard her tell me she was taking Lipitor for her "high" cholesterol. I have so many questions and no answers except what is offered online. I'm not sure that Est's memory loss was conclusively caused by the Lipitor. Did it contribute to it? I think there is a good possibility. People are different; their bodies are different. Not all drugs affect everyone the same. And this IS THE PROBLEM. Often everyone is dosed the same. How can people who are brilliant be so blind? (I am talking about patients, not doctors.) For are we not the ones aware of and responsible for our own bodies, feelings, well being? Aren't the doctors our advisers? Aren't we the last word on our own health?

There is a class action lawsuit against Pfizer, not because of false claims that Lipitor lowered cholesterol and didn't. No. The litigation centers around the lies of omission. Pfizer neglected to emphasize the dangerous side effects of the drug. As the truth is coming out  by degrees and we see "through a glass darkly," apparently, the side effects were worse than even noted. Websites abound and abound. Take your pickLitigation is on going. And the information is getting out and some doctors are advancing the movement questioning the use of Lipitor and Statin drugs. The problem is that the drug is still being prescribed to millions and even worse, the threshold of what is considered "high cholesterol" has been lowered to 185-200. In other words, regardless, those doctors who are not brave enough to be mavericks and investigators of the medicine they dispense, follow protocol and use these lower-threshhold guidelines.

Meanwhile, Est's memory is deteriorating. Memory loss is not a known side effect of Lipitor, you say? What do you really know about Lipitor? What your doctor told you? What the advertisements say? What your friend who is taking it says? Or the extensive research you've done for yourself on the drug and its side effects?

Pfizer is absolutely correct. Lipitor does lower one's cholesterol. But...do we really want to replace one potential problem with one that is far worse...liver damage, memory loss, confusion, muscle damage, especially when we aren't really sure whether cholesterol IS CAUSING heart disease or if it is just a sympton/by-product of the process that is contributing to heart disease, a process which may be multifactored?

If Est knew there was a risk of memory loss, a risk of how she is experiencing life now, would she have agreed to take Lipitor? Maybe not; she was robotic medical profession. But if she was aware of those side effects and started experiencing them, she might have asked to be taken off the drug sooner. She might have been more wary.

We know what the medical profession and Pfizer think. For the last word, check this out

Now, what do you think?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weird Al Yankovic's Parody, "I'm Bad"

I was visiting Est (sister-in-law) and Gabe (brother) in their apartment before they moved into their Oak Street house (years ago). I heard my 10 year old nephew David in the living room pealing out high pitched guffaws and chortles. Wanting to check out "the rumpus," I walked in to see John Candy on the TV set performing a parody of Michael Jackson's song I'M BAD. I don't remember the channel or show, but his rendition of  I'M FAT, was to me, one of the funniest, most marvelous examples of Candy's genius. I don't remember David ever rolling in hysterics like that, nor I, myself, as I joined in with him. I have been searching for the Candy clip or the show, but have been unable to find this song paean to male and female Fat Acceptance.

Unfortunately, Candy died of a heart attack. He was 43. So the parody has become a rude, ironic, dark joke. But on the positive side, if Candy is in heaven and if a pastor I know is accurate (The pastor jokes that Heaven is the only place you can eat as much as you want because the calories don't count there.)  he's eating a 10,000 calorie diet in a svelt, buff bod, having finally escaped vilification from the fascist thin-culture vultures.

For Memorial Day weekend I have posted a substitute; he has taken up Candy's mantle. And though the performance is not live, nor is Weird Al Yankovic's singing, let your imagination ride the crest of Candy's genius and visualize him doing it, while listening, and viewing the lyrics.

Enjoy: (click for Weird Al's lyrics sung to the music of I'm Bad )

RIP, John Candy.

Have you seen the Candy clip? Do you know where I can locate it?