April 23, 1949, Walter and Rebecca gave birth to a son in Syracuse General Hospital. Thomas Eamoe’s birth weight was 3 pounds 8 ounces. Both mother and son’s condition was critical.
My father told the story that the first time he saw me a nurse held me up in the palm of one hand. Coupled with the reality that that he was told to prepare to lose his son, or his wife, or both, his first week of fatherhood was anxious and bitter sweet. The first two months of my life were due to a medical innovation, an incubator. 1949 medical science had not learned the optimal oxygen level for infants in neonatal incubators. Half of infants in incubators in 1949 went blind from too oxygen rich an atmosphere. I can see.
Thus began my relationship to my body. My life here is, has been, and will always be in this body. Analyzing the effects of my physicality on my life is like analyzing the effects of water on the sea. There is no other existence, soul, essence, or non-physical aspect of me that I know. I am persuaded by recent science that the parts of ourselves we think of as mental, whether cognitive or affective, are, in fact, physiologically based. Will I end when my body does? I am arrogant enough to hope not; to want to feel I pre-existed this life and will continue after death, but I have no scientific way to know that. There may be ways of directly knowing reality that science has yet to penetrate or understand. If that is so, religion seems to me an inept reflection of that knowing.
I was ill much of my childhood. Thankfully I had no serious chronic illnesses. I was in the third grade before my parents ever went more than 2 weeks without taking me to a doctor. I likely owe my life to the efforts of an old time family Doc, Dr. Vernon T, Rear, who cared for me endlessly. He once found me in serious enough medical crisis when my parents brought me to him, that he left his office with a waiting room full of patients to carry me, in my footy pajamas, to his Cadillac and drove me to the hospital himself with my parents close behind. He sat up at my bedside all night that night. His care was effective. I just turned 66 last Thursday.
Dr. Rear was removed from medical practice in 1965. He’d undertaken to treat heroin addicts by titrateing them off heroin rather than the “cold turkey” mandated total abstinence approach that was the “correct” way to treat addicts of that time (after all, if they died, they died, they were immoral criminals anyway). Thank goodness his medical heresy was still in sway when I came into his care. I am confident my life might have ended in the 1950’s without it..
Early, I failed to thrive. Despite the best efforts of my parents, I did not gain weight. I had continuous respiratory, ENT, and gastrointestinal issues. Some years of elementary school I was absent from school more days than I attended. To make matters worse I was just not a normal sick kid. I was headstrong and oppositional. I was very bright yet failed to keep up well in school. It turns out I was dyslexic and ADHD but in the 1950’s those explanations for bad behavior and laziness did not exist. Some kids were just bad, and this one was ill all the time besides.
Eventually I gained weight, and gained weight, and gained weight. I still have a note from Dr. Rear when I was in 7th grade that includes a diet for me and a message scrawled to my parents. It says, “Don’t force Tom to eat.” I had become obese. Dr. Rear was convinced that my parents had been so afraid I would not survive due to low weight, that they were over feeding me, mistaking obesity for health. We didn’t know as we do today that this physiological swing is common in “preemies,” and often part of the etiology of chronic obesity.
The list of health issues and medical experiences of my life would fill two pages. Let me see, there was a failed tonsillectomy, early onset degenerative osteo arthritis, chronic obesity, Type 2 diabetes, meralgia paresthetica, depression, PTSD, a few really good fights, industrial injuries, 2 total knee replacements, 1 total shoulder replacement (the other shoulder is planned for summer 2015), bilateral carpal tunnel surgeries, lasik eye surgeries, an emergency bowel resection due to bowel obstruction, severe sleep apnea, a special one: methyl tetra hydro folate reductase, and oh yeah, my latest: congestive heart failure. It really is sort of an impressive list and this is hardly exhaustive.
The most profound impact though was obesity and my Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. My weight continued to roller coaster up and down throughout my life. I came to believe I was weak, undisciplined, and food addicted, because I could not manage my weight. I know now from recent work in bariatrics, that obesity is typical in the lives of premature children and is physiological. Most of my life though doctors provided me endless diets and exercise programs that didn’t work. In my 50’s, I was seriously obese. I kept finding doctors who “knew” I was lying and deluded. I would take them logs of what I had eaten and my physical activity and exercise and they would tell me that it was simply not possible for me to weigh what I did, and for those logs to be accurate. I faced increasingly serious health issues. Finally one Dr., in exasperation, and with an inference of disgust, suggested there was nothing left for me but to explore weight loss surgery. He seemed to throw that off as a final condemnation of incompetence to manage my own body. Thankfully I took his suggestion literally.
March 23, 2009, I underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. I weighed 330 pounds, had a 54 inch waist and was gaining weight. I had hypertension, type 2 diabetes, meralgia paresthetica. severe arthritis (knees, hips, spine, and shoulders), severe sleep apnea, hyperlipidemia: the whole panoply of related conditions. I was on 28 different prescription medications. Today I weighed 158 pounds. I am wearing 32 inch waist Levis. I no longer have those diagnoses (other than my shoulder that still needs to be replaced). My type 2 diabetes is in remission, now evolved into nesidioblastosis. My life change is profound and wonderful.
I had a difficult weight loss surgery. I developed a postoperative infection and was hospitalized a month. I was home recovering for most of two months after that. I was told I could return to drinking alcohol 8 months after the surgery so long as I was “careful.” I was. I never spilled a drop. I was not told Gastric bypass surgery eliminates hormones in one’s stomach that begin the process of metabolizing alcohol. Without these hormones, alcohol enters one’s blood and goes directly to the brain in raw form. Estimates vary about the effects of alcohol as an intoxicant after gastric bypass surgery but, in general, they are estimated to be 6 to 8 times greater than normal. Drinking made me violent and psychotic. I went to jail. I went to treatment. I am sober four years and three months. My family is intact, and I am much healthier. Fortunately economic forces led me into retirement six months earlier. Because of legal consequences, I can never work again.
I am officially an elder. I am much more healthy and athletically active than many peers and I hope that will continue. I’m going to ride this body as long as I’m able..