Tales from the battlefield – a new perspective on obesity and health care

I talked to a friend who worked in the health care industry as an emergency room nurse, because I figured someone who worked in health care would have a more informed outlook on health care than the pundits inhabiting newspaper columns and 24 hour cable network channels. We talked about insurance coverage, how people use emergency rooms as their primary health care provider instead of emergencies, and then how the obesity epidemic is taxing our health care system tremendously.

My friend talked about the basic things we’ve heard about obesity – people with obesity have higher percentages of problems ranging from hypertension to diabetes to sleep apnea and so on and so on. These long term conditions prove to cause a tremendous strain on our health care system, and that cutting out obesity rates in America would save us literally billions upon billions of dollars.

But one thing she mentioned definitely surprised me. She told a story of when “My coworker just last week had to call in sick because she was having back spasms from lifting a patient.” Apparently, a hidden cost of obesity is work related injuries to health care workers caused by caring for obese patients.

In one instance she told me about, an obese woman had to be intubated after eating at Olive Garden. She kept vomiting her dinner up, putting her at risk for aspiration pneumonia. According to my friend, “She had to go for 2 CAT scans, and we had to transfer her both times from the bed to the scan table. It takes about 4 or 5 people to lift the patient, if not more…There are some tools to help move patients, but they are very time consuming to use, and time is rarely a luxury we have in the health care industry.”

We often think about what obesity does to the obese person, but I had never stopped to consider the idea of caring for an obese person in the first place. Obviously, moving them about to do even the simplest of tasks would cause a lot of problems. While she said insurance coverage is a good thing, covering everyone who needs it would probably be unfeasible. But definitely one of the things we need to do for our health care system is just take better care of ourselves in the first place. Many people will say they don’t take advantage of the health care system, or even have to use it often. They may even be obese and don’t have any serious health problems they use the health care system for. But these kinds of problems caused by obesity take decades to develop, and by the time it has come full circle, there is very little left that you can do to prevent it. It’s too late – you are now one of the many who suffer from extreme hypertension or heart disease or type II diabetes. You’ve become a statistic. In other words, we as an American people probably hold a large percentage of the blame for why our health care system is so unsustainable.


1 Comment

Filed under life stories, politico

One response to “Tales from the battlefield – a new perspective on obesity and health care

  1. justjillsblog

    It’s an interesting thing to point out. I’m tempted to say it’s slightly callous to talk about, but it’s better to talk about it rather than avoid the topic just because someone might get offended.

    There was a Scrubs episode that dealt with this. Do you remember it? There was an enormous patient that needed an MRI or something (whatever that scan is called where you go into that radioactive tube of claustrophobic nightmares), but he was too big for the machine, so they were going to have to take him to the zoo to use the one they had for elephants. Everyone was afraid to tell him that because he was such a nice guy and they were all friends with him. Elliott got fed up and just went in there and said, “We have to take you to the zoo because you are too big for our machines. Maybe you should start taking better care of yourself.” It was very interesting.

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