Caterpillars

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Today it happened: the GP talk I’d been dreading for quite some time.

“Your cholesterol is a little high,” she said, looking at my blood test results. “You need to try and bring that down.”

I gulped. My cholesterol has always been fine before.

“You need to exercise more and eat less carbohydrates,” she said.

“I… exercise has been a problem,” I said. “I often have trouble just walking. As you can see,” I went on, gesturing at my medical notes on her computer. “My joint problems have prevented a lot of activity.”

Something tore open inside me, some last pocket of hope that I was OK, that I could still possibly be construed as attractive and worthwhile, and not entirely unwell. I wanted to believe I was still the same slim person I’d been most of my life, that I just had to shed the arthritis and I’d go back to normal.

I realised in that moment that the doctor (the slender, glamorous doctor) saw me as a fat person – a lazy, bad eater, who just needs to pull my socks up and try harder to lose weight. Her advice was based on assumptions, not on an assessment of why I’ve gained weight and my cholesterol levels have gone up.

She has no idea how much exercise I do or what I eat. She doesn’t know anything about me other than a few results on a screen. She’s not even my regular doctor. She doesn’t know I wear orthopaedic shoes or sometimes use a walking stick. She doesn’t know I spent months unable to stay up for longer than about four hours per day. She has no idea what it feels like to wake up feeling like someone’s beaten her joints with a baseball bat in her sleep.

Her entire assessment of my health – and my moral character – involved looking at me and my pathology results and deciding I was fat.

The proof of this was in her response.

“OK,” she said, accepting that I can’t exercise as much as I’d like. “In that case, you need to look even harder at your diet. Less carbohydrates and more greens.”

I blinked, possibly due to my brain short circuiting. I already eat very little, and I eat plenty of greens. I always have, because I actually like them. The only problem I’ve had in preparing vegetables has been my physical difficulty in chopping them up – not an insignificant problem, but I’ve done my best to push through.

“OK,” I said, and got ready to leave, but she wanted to talk about my mental health.

“Any bad thoughts?” she asked.

“No, I’m all right,” I said, because someone who assumes I don’t eat my broccoli, and who tells me my immune system is “perfectly fine”, is going to have to work a bit harder to win my trust.

She pressed harder and I tried not to confess that my only current bad thought was a sneaking suspicion that she’d glued her eyebrows on. They looked like a pair of dark caterpillars, peeling at the ends nearest her nose, and possibly neatened up with thick brown paint and a stencil.

For a split second I imagined them straining to escape and crawl away.

I could identify with that. I just wanted to get away from her and her lovely outfit and silky hair and faux-concerned, made-up face.

I couldn’t help seeing myself as I imagined she saw me: a fat, lazy hypochondriac who was probably about to drive my car 50 metres to get a family size portion of chips and a vat of Coke for morning tea.

Instead, I went home and, at lunch, had a tiny tub of quinoa, lentils and red peppers, and then a few almonds as a snack.

The doctor doesn’t need to tell me I’m fat. Every time I see my reflection I want to cry. And it feels like no matter what I do, I just get fatter.