A couple of days ago, when I was writing about Mary Lou Retton’s recent health crisis and her daughter’s subsequent crowdfunding campaign, I went on YouTube to jog my memory. I found a large collection of ads she did in the 80s and 90s. Watching some of them was quite a time warp for me, although I still remembered them well. Below are just a few ads from back in the day…
But I also remember Mary Lou pitching Energizer batteries… and she did so a few times.
She also did a lot of ads for Revco, which was a drug store chain that was eventually sold to CVS. I remember her saying “And another thing…” in a lot of those ads, but I can’t seem to find those particular commercials on YouTube. However, there are plenty of other Revco ads she did back in the day. Behold…
Obviously, Mary Lou Retton has historically been pretty good at pitching things. She has a big smile that is always convincing. Her eyes twinkle, and she has no problem hamming it up for the camera. It’s interesting to me that Mary Lou did so many ads for Revco, a place where people used their health insurance benefits, but she doesn’t have health insurance herself. As of today, just a few days after her second eldest daughter, McKenna Kelley, posted a crowdfund plea for donations to fund Mary Lou’s current hospital care, the fund is up to $414,195. That is an astonishing amount of money, although sadly, it’s probably still not going to be nearly enough to pay off her medical debts if she really doesn’t have any insurance.
I remembered that Mary Lou Retton has also done public and motivational speaking. I also remembered seeing her profile listed on a site that pitched her services. Last night, I decided to see if the profile was still available on the Washington Speakers Bureau Web site. It was, and still is… Feast your eyes.
Notice that her fee ranges between $25K and $40K. Granted, we don’t know how often she’s been asked to speak recently, nor do we know if the people who would book her would be expected to pay for her airfare, ground transportation, and hotel. However, I would expect that if she was less in demand recently, that asking amount would be less than it is now. Mary Lou is also listed on a site called Celebrity Speakers Bureau, and interested parties are advised to call for her fee. On Sports Speakers 360, she asks for $20,001-$30,000 to speak.
The Washington Speakers Bureau site is very interesting browsing, by the way. There’s a huge range of speakers available– everyone from George W. Bush to Elizabeth Smart. And it does look like, based on this site, Mary Lou’s fees are quite a bit lower than some others. I see some of the most powerful and influential people require calls to the WSB for information on fees, while lesser known people have their fees readily listed.
I don’t begrudge Mary Lou Retton for charging whatever she can for her public speaking talents. She worked very hard in the gym for years, and she was the first American woman to win all around gold at the Summer Olympics. She is a legitimately successful person and should earn money accordingly for everything she’s accomplished. It still doesn’t explain why her daughter has to ask the public to fund Mary Lou’s medical costs when it looks like she could have purchased health insurance for herself. And her family is not being forthcoming about why Mary Lou lacks health insurance.
I guess what I really find sad about this situation is that there are so many people who aren’t famous, and don’t get paid five figures to give speeches, who also need help paying their medical bills. I mean, it’s great for Mary Lou Retton that she’s well known and loved by many, but I can’t help but think about much less fortunate people who can’t raise money to pay for their necessary healthcare. And living in Europe for the past nine years reminds me that there are so many developed nations in the world where this kind of thing isn’t necessary, because healthcare is so much more affordable and people are expected or even required to be insured. Most people also don’t have access to the U.S. Olympic Committee, who are reportedly reaching out to Mary Lou’s family to help with her expenses.
Mary Lou Retton is still motivating people to spend money, even though she’s in the hospital. It used to be she’d get them to spend by lending her likeness and perkiness to commercials. Then she’d get them to spend in order to hear her speak about her accomplishments and how to be a winner. And now they’re spending to help pay for what will almost surely be astronomical hospital bills, to say nothing about the doctors and pharmacists who will also need to be paid. While people are certainly free to spend their money as they choose, it does seem to me that the least Mary Lou’s family could do is be more transparent about why she needs the money, especially if she’s reportedly worth millions and can command such high fees for motivational speaking engagements. And especially when she is aligned with a political party that is all about personal responsibility and not looking for handouts (unless, of course, we’re talking about corporations).
I continue to wish Mary Lou Retton well in her recovery. I hope her situation highlights how badly the United States needs extreme healthcare reform and a complete revamping of our system. In the meantime, we still have videos like the one below for a good reminder as to why Mary Lou used to pitch Energizer batteries…
I woke up at about 1:00 AM this morning. I had a terrible coughing fit, thanks to this cold I’ve been fighting for the past few days. After a couple of trips to the bathroom to deal with the cough and the inevitable call of nature, I was pretty wide awake. I went on Facebook and saw a news article by The New York Times about 1984 Olympic gold medalist, Mary Lou Retton.
I realize that I may have some readers who weren’t around in 1984 and may not know much about the legendary Mary Lou. In 1984, after she became the first American to win Olympic gold in the women’s gymnastics all around competition, Retton was everywhere. She was the first female athlete to grace a box of Wheaties, a cereal famously promoted as the “breakfast of champions”. After the Olympics, she got in tight with Republican politics, appeared in a couple of films, had her own kiddie exercise show, and was in lots of commercials. I distinctly remember her as the pitchwoman for the now defunct drug store chain, Revco, in the 1980s. She was also on Energizer battery ads and wrote at least one book, which I read about twenty years ago. More recently, she was on Dancing With The Stars, although I didn’t see her perform.
In 1990, she married Shannon Kelley, a football player, had four daughters, and made her home in Houston, Texas, where she reportedly purchased a huge home. The marriage broke up in 2018, and Mary Lou reportedly suffered from some health problems. A former professor of mine recently commented that she’d seen the famous gymnast on an ad for Colonial Penn life insurance and didn’t think Mary Lou was aging well. I remembered reading about her having total hip replacement surgery on account of hip dysplasia exacerbated from many years of demanding gymnastics training. I mentioned the surgery to my old professor, thinking maybe that was part of the reason why she might have seemed poorly.
I was still surprised when I read about Mary Lou’s most recent health issues that landed her in the ICU (intensive care unit) with a “rare” form of pneumonia. Her daughter, McKenna Kelley, also a gymnast, posted a Spotfund campaign for her “amazing mom”. Below is a screenshot.
Now… far be it for me to want to know the minute details of Mary Lou’s medical condition. It’s none of my business. And God knows, I understand that medical care is very expensive in the United States. What I don’t understand is why Mary Lou doesn’t have medical insurance. I can only make assumptions, which I will now proceed to do, realizing that I don’t know what her personal circumstances are. Based on this May 2022 article by homedit, Mary Lou has had nice digs, at least in the past. To be fair, I’m not sure if she still owns the house mentioned in the article, since I did see that it was listed on the market at one point. Hell, she has actual streets named after her in at least two states– Texas and her home state of West Virginia. And yet her daughter needs to crowdfund her medical care.
People are heeding the call for funds, though. When I woke up again at about 5:00 AM, I noticed the original goal of $50K had already been surpassed by about $60K. About three hours later, I see that people have donated about $134K. Every time I refresh, the total increases. It’s good that Mary Lou Retton has so many fans and friends.
The [US Gymnastics] federation has had no shame, either. When the sex abuse bill was introduced, Penny and others from U.S.A. Gymnastics met with Feinstein about the federation’s sexual assault policies. How about this for a public-relations stunt: Tagging along was Mary Lou Retton, the smiling, bubbly sweetheart from the 1984 Games, as they said that the federation’s policies were solid and that gymnastics was a happy, safe place.
You would think that Mary Lou, as a gymnast and a mother of four daughters, would have some empathy for the hopeful girls in the sport, dying to achieve what she and a few other Americans have in gymnastics. After all, it was Mary Lou’s big victory in the Soviet Union boycotted 1984 Olympics that enticed so many girls to the sport. But instead of trying to protect girls in gymnastics and other sports and showing respect to the many gymnasts who have already been victimized, Mary Lou chose to side with the conservative establishment. And, it appears that she may have done it again by not having health insurance. Maybe it’s because of a reason other than not wanting to participate in “Obamacare”, but I’m hard pressed to determine what that reason might be.
As I sit here reading about Mary Lou’s troubles, I’m reminded of the last communication I ever had with one of my very conservative cousins, who was a big time Trump supporter. I’ve written about the conversation in the original OH blog, and on this blog. But for those who don’t want to read the posts about that conversation, here’s a brief rundown. I was discussing high drug prices on Facebook with my friends. My cousin, who was then a Facebook friend, but rarely commented on my posts, came along and basically chastised us for lamenting the high cost of medical care in the United States. She wrote:
So success is defined by having cheap drugs? Those 35 million Americans that take these drugs don’t realize they are dying quicker by taking them than by doing without. We’re enslaved by Big Pharma whether the price is small or great. BTW, I’m a Republican. I am 62 and don’t take any medicine.
Later, when some of my friends (even one of the conservative ones) were writing WTF comments, my cousin came back and posted this:
Don’t mind me, I’m just Jenny’s off the grid organic farmer cousin. I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who really need medicine but there are drug companies and doctors who push all sorts of medicine unnecessarily. For the most part if folks would just take responsibility for their diet 3/4ths of the medicine now prescribed would not be necessary. But Medicine is big business. I live on the edge with no health care and use a lot of essential oils. I would rather pay a penalty than pump $6K a year or more into the healthcare insurance business. Call me crazy. (Indeed I will)
You know where my cousin is now? Six feet underground. My cousin died of colon cancer at age 67. She had no health insurance, and when she developed stomach pains, she decided to write it off as a potential ulcer and wait until she was eligible for Medicare (horrors, more socialism!) to see a doctor… which she never actually did until it was far too late and her cancer was well advanced. In January 2021, a couple of months after her death, I wrote this:
Last night, I read about how my cousin had let her disease go unchecked for at least six months because she didn’t have health insurance and was waiting for Medicare to kick in. The dramatic event that led her to her sick role had occurred in May of 2019, but she’d had Medicare coverage since late October 2018. As of May of 2019, she’d experienced severe abdominal pain for over six months. Still, she’d ignored it, dismissing the pain as a potential ulcer until she was passing bright red blood rectally in the wee hours of the morning.
I’m actually surprised that my cousin agreed with using Medicare, since she was a proud Republican and a Trump supporter, and a lot of Republicans seem to think Medicare is a socialist idea. If she had seen a doctor right when the pain started, would she have survived 2020? Would she have had another Christmas and New Year’s with her family? Would she have made it to her 70s and been there to see her grandchildren come of age? We’ll never know, but I suspect that she would have had a much better quality of life and a more favorable outcome if she’d been able to see, and pay for, a doctor much sooner than she did.
To be fair to my cousin, both of her parents died of different forms of cancer. She watched them go through the treatments of that era and probably really feared them. And she probably avoided doctors for much the same reason I do. But she had children and grandchildren, many friends and doting family members, as well as a couple of businesses she ran with her loving husband. If she’d done something about that pain sooner, maybe she’d still be with us. On the other hand, given my cousin’s loudly proclaimed love for Jesus, maybe she’s better off dead. She believed in Heaven, after all… and being in Heaven would mean being with her parents and our beloved Granny and Pappy, as well as the many aunts and uncles who have also passed.
I guess what really pissed me off about her situation was, she intruded on a conversation I was having with my friends, on my space, lectured us about desiring more affordable drugs and health care, pushed “essential oils” as an elixir for health, and then promptly got very sick with cancer and passed away. It was sheer stupidity, hypocrisy, and stubbornness on her part. And, aside from that, she was very publicly a Christian, even though she voted for people who were not very Christian at all.
I should mention that I don’t think this cousin liked me very much. I, in turn, returned the sentiment, especially after that exchange. She used to get offended when I cursed, and would chastise me for enjoying alcohol (which– sorry– I come by honestly. Our family is full of alcoholics). I suspect she also didn’t like that I sing, because before I came along, she was the family troubadour. I am sorry she got cancer and died. I didn’t wish death on her. But I couldn’t help but see the irony… she chastises us about hoping for more affordable healthcare, refuses to pay for health insurance, and pays a huge price. Or, rather, her family is paying… because in spite of my less charitable feelings toward her, I know they loved her very much.
I don’t actually know why Mary Lou Retton isn’t insured. I just think there’s no real good excuse for it. Moreover, it always BLOWS my mind when Republicans want to crowdfund things like medical care and funeral expenses as they lament people who access welfare, that if the recipients have ever had a job, their tax dollars actually went to help fund. Why is crowdfunding better than accepting welfare? Frankly, I think crowdfunding is worse than welfare, since you’re essentially begging, and relying on other people’s pity and compassion to pay your necessary bills. We all die, and we all have a need for healthcare. And if everybody pays for health insurance, that means there’s less bad debt for the rest of us to pay in the form of higher healthcare costs… and less need for crowdfunding.
By the way… as I finish this post, the results of Mary Lou’s crowdfund appeal is now up to $138K (as of less than six hours later, it’s at $174 K). That’s great for her, but most people don’t have Mary Lou Retton’s ability to make people want to reach into their wallets to help pay for healthcare expenses. And again… I strongly (and sadly) suspect that Mary Lou’s bills will be a hell of a lot higher than just six figures. I do wish her well, and I hope she will make a full recovery. I just wish she’d done the responsible thing and been insured. I’m pretty sure she’s one who could have afforded it.
Featured photo is from the current crowdfund Mary Lou’s daughter is running in support of her mom’s medical expenses. You can donate to it by clicking here.
Edited to add: Yesterday, Mary Lou got a $50,000 donation from the wife of a Texas tycoon. Her crowdfund is now at over $332K… Most people commenting have been very kind, but one person wrote this:
I remember when I first read about the genetic disease, cystic fibrosis (CF). It was December 1985, and my parents had a subscription to Reader’s Digest. That month, the condensed book excerpt was Frank Deford’s heartbreaking memoir, Alex: The Life of a Child. Deford had written this achingly beautiful account of his daughter, Alexandra, who died from CF when she was just eight years old. Alex was almost a year older than me, so her story was particularly poignant as I read about her as a 13 year old. Later, I bought Deford’s book and read it more than once.
Ever since I first learned about CF through Alex’s story, I’ve been interested in reading more about people who have lived with and died from it. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects everything about living. Though there have been some significant medical science breakthroughs that have made it possible for many CF patients to live much longer than Alex did, the sad truth is, it’s a disease that still claims so many young, promising, amazing people long before they should die.
Mallory Smith was, like so many CF patients seem to be, an extraordinary young woman. She died on November 15, 2017 at age 25, having accomplished incredible things during her short life. Her passing came about two months after she received a double lung transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). When she was still living, Mallory was a prolific writer. She kept a diary while she was struggling with cystic fibrosis.
After her death, Mallory’s mother, Diane Shader Smith, edited and published her diary, which she started when she was 15 years old and continued until her death at age 25. The book is called Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life. The title refers to a universal condition of babies born with CF, salty skin. It’s such a well known phenomenon, there’s even folklore about it:
“Woe to the child who tastes salty from a kiss on the brow, for he is cursed and soon will die.”
Salty skin is a hallmark of babies born with cystic fibrosis, a disease primarily of the lungs that is passed down via genes from both parents. Mallory was also a native of California and grew up near the Pacific Ocean. She was a swimmer, among so many other things. As I read about her medical travails, I couldn’t help but be amazed by all she managed to do with her life, in spite of her inevitably fatal illness. And, based on what I read in Salt in My Soul, she managed to do most of it with a positive, uplifting attitude, that won the respect of thousands of people who were lucky enough to know her personally.
Mallory was diagnosed with CF in 1995, at the age of three. She grew up having to endure frequent hospitalizations, taking endless medications (about 60 pills every day), having daily therapy sessions to loosen and expectorate the thick mucus caused by CF, and becoming all too familiar with hospitals in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Like most young people, Mallory had dreams of traveling the world and doing great things in her life. So, even though she was very sick at times, Mallory did all she could. She somehow managed to get excellent grades, participated and captained three sports teams, and got elected prom queen. She was clearly very likable and inspirational and based on her book, had so many friends and loved ones who adored her.
When she was choosing colleges, Mallory applied to Stanford University, not just because of its stellar academics and excellent reputation, but also because it had a hospital with CF experts on staff. Mallory’s college career was punctuated with hospital stays and doctor’s appointments, yet she was determined to live as normally as possible. She had roommates, and they became accustomed to everything she needed to accommodate her disease. Mallory eventually graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford with a 4.3 GPA and a major in human biology with a concentration in environmental anthropology. After graduation, she became a freelance writer and lived in Los Angeles for awhile, until her health required her to move back to San Francisco, to be closer to her Stanford doctors.
When Mallory was a teenager, her lungs became infected with bacteria, including a deadly form of Burkholderia cepacia that became a superbug highly resistant to antibiotics. CF is bad enough when the bacteria involved are not superbugs; however, Burkholderia cepacia colonization made it much more difficult for Mallory to qualify for the double lung transplant she desperately needed to survive. Salt in My Soul covers the story of Mallory’s fight for a transplant, which doctors were reluctant to do. The superbug infection makes it much less likely that the transplant will be successful, as the bacteria can still colonize in the patient’s lungs and kill them quickly. Ultimately, that is what happened in Mallory’s case.
Even as she was dying, Mallory’s family and friends were trying to find a new treatment for her. Her parents reached out to an epidemiologist whose husband had “phages” treatment, a new and experimental protocol that has shown some promise in helping people vanquish superbug infections. They were just about to try it with Mallory when her health went past the point of no return.
The phages treatment was one that Mallory never had the chance to try, but she did help research at least one drug. Mallory was being treated with a medication called Ataluren, which had seemed to be helping her. However, she experienced multiple episodes of hemoptysis (coughing up blood), and was taken out of the study. The drug was later discontinued.
This book covers the incredibly challenging financial issues faced by families who battle CF. I got the sense that Mallory’s parents were fairly well off financially, and they did have insurance. However, like all insurance companies, Blue Cross didn’t want to pay for certain necessary services. When it came time for her transplant, it was offered at a hospital that was not in Blue Cross’s network, and officials there refused to approve her for coverage. It took a minor miracle to straighten out that mess, and I was left sitting there, shaking my head in amazement. If I hadn’t married Bill, I might have wound up working for a health insurance company, as one of my graduate degrees is in public health- health administration. Health insurance is kind of in my wheelhouse… but reading about the dirty dealings Mallory’s family had to endure with their health insurer made me glad that’s not my life’s work. Health insurance companies in the United States literally gamble with people’s lives.
Mallory’s story also includes insight as to what it was like for her to have a love life while suffering from CF. Mallory had a very devoted boyfriend named Jack who was always there for her, just as her parents were. Jack includes some entries in the book, writing about how he knew his love affair with Mallory would end in tragedy.
I just finished reading Salt in My Soul this morning. While I don’t think it affected me in quite the profound way Frank Deford’s book, Alex: The Life of a Child did, I did find Mallory Smith’s story very moving and, at times, infuriating. A few days ago, without naming the book, I wrote about how Mallory was mistaken for a coke fiend because of her illness. She almost got arrested, simply because a bathroom attendant thought she’d been doing lines of cocaine in a public restroom. No… she had been suffering from one of the many symptoms of her fatal disease. It was just one more indignity and inconvenience she had to endure, thanks to being born with a genetic anomaly.
In another passage, Mallory’s mother wrote about how, even though she had a handicapped placard on her car, a tow truck driver in Pittsburgh tried to extort $200 in cash from her. It took the kindness of strangers to prevent him from taking the car and potentially putting Mallory’s life at risk, due to the fact that her necessary medical equipment was in it.
I felt a little guilty about my own persistent bad attitude about life. All Mallory wanted to do was live her life and achieve her dreams. So many of us are born with healthy bodies, and yet we fail to live up to our own potential. And so often, when I read about someone with CF, I read about an extraordinary person who does all they can just to live. I can think of so many people with CF who have achieved the incredible, even though they suffer(ed) from such a devastating disease that robbed them of so much– independence, dignity, normalcy, even the most basic of freedoms. And at the end of her life, after Mallory had had several “dry runs”, waiting for new lungs, she suffered so much that she had brief wishes for death. I almost wonder if it would have been better, and she might have lived longer, if she hadn’t had the surgery. But I know from reading Salt in My Soul, Mallory desperately wanted to try everything.
I guess if I can take anything from reading this book, it’s that you really can do things that seem impossible, if you put your mind to it and set your heart on success. Good health is a priceless gift that more people should appreciate and embrace. So many extraordinary people would love to simply be healthy. For that lesson alone, I think more people should read Mallory’s story. I give it five stars out of five. There’s a link to the book on Amazon at the bottom of this page.
Salt in My Soul has also been made into a documentary, and it can be watched on many of the most popular streaming platforms, including Google Play, Vimeo, and Apple TV, as well as Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum on demand. Below is the trailer for the film.
Edited to add, August 23, 2023: I watched the documentary yesterday. It was well worth viewing. Mallory was such a beautiful, remarkable soul. No wonder so many people adored her for her all too brief life. I highly recommend the documentary! I downloaded it from Apple Plus.
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Here’s another repost. I wrote this for the original Blogspot version of OH on October 28, 2015. I’m leaving it as/is, and sharing it again because I think it’s a hilarious story! The featured photo is one of me, taken January 22, 2022, while wearing my Mister Rogers middle finger ballcap. That was one of my more entertaining Amazon.de purchases.
Last night, just before drifting off to sleep, I read a funny news story about a woman who managed to ward off Planned Parenthood protesters with a funny chant. Sunday of last weekend, 29 year old Mary Numair was working a shift at Purrington’s Cat Lounge in Portland, Oregon when she noticed some people with signs standing outside. One of the women was holding a sign that read “Abortion kills children.”
Being the type of person who helps others, Numair went outside to tell the protesters that they were at the wrong address. When one of the women insisted that she and her fellow protesters were in the right spot, Numair decided to launch a counter protest. Using cardboard and rudimentary art skills, she made a big sign that read “Dear PP, Thanks for helping me with my yeast infections!” She drew a stick figure of a woman with big boobs and a smiley clitoris. Then she went outside and joined the protesters.
A few years earlier, Numair had chronic yeast infections that were not cleared up by the over the counter medications available at stores. She had no health insurance, so she went to Planned Parenthood for help. They helped her and she stopped suffering. No more itching, burning, or weeping “down there”. I’m sure it was a big relief AND she didn’t go broke getting a cure.
The protesters called Numair a whore within thirty seconds of her arrival, but she simply held up her sign and started chanting “Yeast infections!” She bent down and asked one of the kids if he or she knew about yeast infections. Then she did cheerleader style high kicks. The protesters were horrified and offended, even though one of them had called Numair a whore. But I guess the idea of someone’s recalcitrant yeast infections being cured by Planned Parenthood’s medical providers was too much for them to stomach. Within a half an hour, they got the hell out of Dodge.
Reading about Numair’s impromptu counter protest made me think that I need to pay a visit to Portland, Oregon sometime soon. I love that there are people in that city that aren’t afraid to chant about yeast infections to get obnoxious pro-lifers to move on. I also love that they have a “cat lounge” there and that Numair could feel free to counter protest without fear of being fired. Thinking about it further, I think it’s very appropriate that the protesters made a mistake and set up their picketing in front of a business that specializes in pussies…
On another note, I noticed that on a link to a different version of this story, a man named Frank wrote…
And you can go to any drug store and buy the cream instead of a billion dollar waste of government money!!!!
So I wrote, Her infections didn’t respond to the creams. She needed a prescription and was not insured. May you experience something similar.
And he wrote…There are prescription strength ones that are now OTC… And I buy my own W/O the gov.. I have experienced it! Shove it!
So I wrote,
She wasn’t able to use those medications when she had her yeast infections. She needed the ones that aren’t available OTC. If something is “prescription strength”, it can’t be sold OTC. That’s what “prescription strength” means. And if you have experienced vaginal yeast infections, I’m sure that’s a part of your life that should remain private. So…
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t bother to comment to guys like Frank… who is clearly an asshole with the intelligence of buttcrud. But I just made the above Mr. Rogers meme yesterday and felt the need to share it with more than a few people. And may I just say that I hope Frank does get a stubborn yeast infection in a place where the sun and Monistat don’t shine.
I haven’t seen a doctor since 2010. One of the main reasons I don’t visit doctors is because I once had a very traumatic and unnecessarily physically painful and humiliating experience with one. I did see doctors a few times after the traumatic experience, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten even harder to make the phone call for an appointment. I know very well that this isn’t the greatest policy for promoting my personal longevity. I could definitely use a check up. However, for many reasons, visiting medical people causes me a great deal of stress. One of the main reasons it’s stressful is because of that goddamned scale, and my long history with eating disorders. No, I don’t mean the obvious ones that might put a person in the hospital. There are actually a lot of eating disorders out there, and most don’t get diagnosed. But they do exist, and I’ve struggled with them for years. I have less of a problem with them now, mainly because I have a very loving and understanding husband who doesn’t body shame me. I would be lying, though, if I said those problems have gone away entirely. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it.
I know I usually have less of a problem going to see a doctor if I know I won’t have to be weighed. For instance, in 1999, I had facial cellulitis that almost put me in the hospital. I had to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor for treatment. He was a great doctor, but one thing that I especially liked about him was that he didn’t force me to get on a scale. He simply looked at the mess on my face and prescribed antibiotics. The family practice doctor who sent me to the ENT guy was kind of an all knower, but he actually reassured me that my weight wasn’t that bad. At that time, it wasn’t that bad, since I was waiting tables and lost a lot of pounds because of that. However, I was never so sick, so often, as I was in those days.
Although I know weight is an important measure for some health issues, I think it’s pretty cool that someone has realized how absolutely mortifying getting on the scale is for some people. The above cards were offered at Element Primary Care in Omaha, Nebraska. A 30 year old woman named Dani Donovan, who is an attention deficit/hyperactivity advocate and suffers from binge eating disorder, happened to see the cards at the office. Donovan reportedly avoids going to see physicians because of the stress of being weighed. She happened to find a practice where, apparently, the staff recognizes this issue, and how it prevents people from seeking care. According to the WaPo article:
“I didn’t even know that saying ‘no’ to being weighed was a thing you could do,” said Donovan, 30, an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder advocate who has a binge-eating disorder and often avoided doctor’s appointments because being weighed was so stressful. The card led to a good conversation with her doctor, Donovan said, that helped build trust and make her feel empowered.
These cards were developed in 2019 by a Los Angeles area eating disorder coach named Ginny Jones. Jones is a survivor of several eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia. Jones came up with the cards after many experiences she had when visiting physicians. A lot of them would praise her for losing weight, even when it was noted in her records that she has had eating disorders. She now offers the cards for sale on her Web site. When Jones was contacted for a statement about her cards, she said:
“I wish I could say I was surprised by the ‘controversy’ around the cards. I created them to address weight stigma, and it’s basically fatphobia to jump to conclusions and say blanketly that asking not to be weighed is unhealthy.”
Personally, I think these cards are great, although I can’t imagine presenting one to any of the military doctors I’ve seen in my lifetime. But then, again, I haven’t been to see a doctor in about 12 years. My blood pressure shoots up whenever I’m in a military healthcare facility, and they usually take one look at me and assume I have any number of health issues just by my appearance. I have found that a lot of doctors aren’t good listeners, either. That is especially true with military providers, in my experience.
In 2007, before we moved to Germany the first time, I actually wore an ambulatory blood pressure monitor for 24 hours to prove that I didn’t have hypertension, because my blood pressure readings were so high in the office. As soon as I stepped out of the military hospital, my blood pressure was completely normal and stayed that way. I came back to the office the next day with a bruised arm and documentation in my file that I have white coat hypertension. That may no longer be true today, given my family history, but the way the providers acted during that last visit put me off of going back, even though the person I saw was actually very kind to me when I told her what had happened to me at the hands of an Air Force gynecologist back in the 1990s.
The Air Force gyno I saw back then gave me my very first (of two in my entire lifetime) gynecological exams. It was so painful and distressing that I left her office traumatized and horrified, and actually felt violated on the level of sexual assault. Besides really hurting me with her instruments and not apologizing for the pain she caused me, this doctor also fat shamed me and predicted that when I went to Armenia, I would gain tons of weight. In the 90s, I was dealing with eating disorders more acutely than I do today. Today, I seem to have replaced eating issues with drinking issues. Again… not healthy, and I probably should see a doctor, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Even having these cards probably wouldn’t get me into the office, although I do think they would help, if I found a kind and understanding physician who was sensitive to these issues.
According to the Washington Post article, as well as my own anecdotal experience, there are a lot of physicians who have a bias against obesity. They seem to take obese patients less seriously, especially if they’re women. The article reports, “one piece published in the British Medical Journal found that weight stigma actually led to increased mortality and other chronic diseases and ‘most ironically, (weight stigma) actually begets heightened risk of obesity.'” There have been a number of articles about how the medical community tends to focus on weight, even when a medical issue is clearly not related to the patient’s weight. Like, for instance, someone comes in with a broken arm and gets told that weight loss would benefit them. There’s no doubt, weight loss would be beneficial, but that’s not why the person came in to see the doctor. In that sense, I can see how these cards could be useful. If you’re going to see the doctor for a specific issue that has nothing to do with obesity, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to skip the scale, at least for that visit.
Of course, some physicians will never be onboard with avoiding weigh-ins. In the WaPo article, a physician named “Umbereen S. Nehal, a former chief medical officer for Community Healthcare Network in New York and a board-certified pediatrician,” reported that she strongly believes patients must “be weighed every time, regardless of when they were last weighed or why they are in the doctor’s office.” The doctor claims to be have sympathy for patients like Donovan, but she’s not convinced that avoiding the scale will improve healthcare outcomes. She says, “Is the hypothesis that somebody who is obese, let’s say, if we don’t weigh them, fatphobia will go away? Those visual cues will not go away. So my beef with this is that it disrupts processes in the system for efficient data collection and that data are used for a variety of things.”
My answer to Dr. Nehal is that a lot of people avoid the doctor entirely because of this issue. She may be getting more data when she weighs patients at every visit, but a lot of people won’t even come see her because of the mortifying prospect of being weighed, the psychological stresses that come from that experience, as well as the potential humiliation that comes from a fat shaming doctor. Seriously… if you’re feeling fine, and you don’t want to deal with the discomfort of being weighed, how likely are you to schedule screenings? Is that the outcome Dr. Nehal wants? For people not to come in to see her at all? Then she won’t get ANY data, and the person will show up in the emergency room instead. And that will not only lead to poorer healthcare outcomes, but it will also lead to much higher medical bills.
Another doctor who was quoted in the article, Fatima Cody Stanford, an internist who specializes in obesity medicine, also insists that weight is an important measure. She notes that U.S. medical schools do a terrible job teaching students about weight, and that many people don’t visit their doctors very often. Stanford says she would tweak the card to something that says:
“I’m happy to get weighed but please do not provide any negative or derogatory comments associated with my weight.”
That way, the doctor gets their data, and the patient doesn’t have to deal with fat shaming. I would add, though, that in my case, it would not be true that I am “happy to get weighed”. I hate being weighed every time. It causes me a lot of distress, and that’s why I avoid doctors unless I’m about to croak. So I think Dr. Stanford might want to rethink that wording, although I appreciate that she recognizes how upsetting being weighed is for some patients.
I looked at Element Primary Care’s Web site, and it appears that their approach to care is different on many levels. For instance, I notice they offer telemedicine appointments, focus on keeping their practice small, and it appears that instead of using a traditional insurance model, they provide care for a monthly fee. This eliminates co-pays and insurance deductibles, and allows patients to access care when they need it. The direct primary care membership plan can be combined with a high deductible/less expensive insurance plan which would cover hospital care or other unforeseen care needs that still use the traditional insurance model. I have heard of a growing number physicians’ practices eschewing traditional insurance coverage, which allows them to be able to make medical decisions that don’t have to go through third parties at insurance companies. I think it’s a great idea, although it will probably take some time for it to catch on nationwide. Change can be slow, but I do think overhauling our health insurance model could be a game changer for a lot of people.
At Element Primary Care, about half of the patients decline to be weighed, but some will weigh themselves at home and report their weight that way. Or, if they have a condition that requires their weight to be monitored, the patient can turn backwards on the scale, which is how many eating disorder patients get treated. That way, they don’t have to know that number, and it won’t affect their psyche. The cards allow the patients to advocate for themselves and be more of team member in their healthcare. It may also make them feel “safer” from judgment and humiliation. Personally, I don’t weigh myself at all anymore, and when I have gone to see the doctor, I don’t let them tell me how much I weigh. I know from personal experience that knowing the number can lead to distress.
While it may not always be medically appropriate to skip stepping on the scale, I like the fact that some healthcare professionals are noticing and addressing this issue. And I think it’s amazing that some people are empowering themselves by presenting these cards, although I would not be surprised if some people get lectured by their doctors for not being weighed. I would like to see less lectures from doctors as a general rule. People need to take ownership for their own health, and physicians need to stop seeing patients as people who need to be given orders or lectures about taking care of themselves. Especially if they are competent adults.
Anyway… I probably won’t be going to see a doctor anytime soon, and in fact, I hope I don’t live to be super old. I think it’s overrated. But I definitely think the cards are kind of cool, even if I’m sure they don’t always go over too well with more traditional physicians. I know that if I had given one to my ex psychiatrist, for instance, he probably would have laughed me out of his office. And he never weighed me once– but he did fat shame me quite a few times before I told him to stop. He also gave me a prescription for Topamax off label, hoping it would slim me down. Is it any wonder why I hate seeing doctors?
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