The Real Complications of Obesity

Tragedy struck when Yolanda Reese-Brooks passed away.  Tragedy struck again when the story hit the press.  Officials claimed that she died of complications of obesity and health professionals at the scene estimated her weight at 500 pounds, and removed a sliding glass door to get her out of the house to the hospital.  I know that because every story mentioned those details before they mentioned her name.

Things that many of the stories forgot to mention or buried:  Her actual weight was 360 pounds.  She was bedridden because of a crushed pelvis and ruptured bladder from a traffic accident in 2011. Her name was Yolanda Reese-Brooks, she was a wife, mother, sister and daughter

There are complications from obesity involved here but it’s not about Yolanda Reese-Brooks’ weight. The complications are about how quickly medical professionals will blame body size for everything, how police and fire officials overestimated her weight by  140 pounds – almost 40%.  My girlfriend and others I know weigh more than 360 pounds and fit through a regular door so why did they need to remove a sliding door to get her out and how was it newsworthy if they did? How completely insensitive the news has been in reporting the end of a life.

A journalist with courage would report this at the tragedy it is and start asking questions –  Why didn’t this woman didn’t get the healthcare she needed? Could she not afford it?  Did a very justified fear of being mistreated by a healthcare provider keep her from getting healthcare?  Did the constant shame, stigma and bullying that is heaped on fat people in our society make her think that her body wasn’t worthy of care?  Did rampant ableism make her ashamed to get the mobility aids that she needed?  Was mental illness involved? Are the other reports about this de-humanizing it because that’s what people need to feel ok about flocking to stories about fat people dying to see if they had to cut out a wall or use a special ambulance? If a 400 pound man can run a marathon,  why are we so quick to assume that a 360 pound woman died from being fat?

Some people seem to forget that fat people are indeed human.  We deserve human respect.  When we die we deserve more than a headline that says “Obese, bed-ridden Warren woman’s death was accidental.” (I’m looking at you Detroit Free Press)

The fact that the news of someone’s death could be treated so poorly is the product of the confluence of a number of problems we have in our society – the conflation of weight and health; the acceptable and even encouraged stigmatizing, shaming, and bullying of fat people; the stubborn refusal of the medical establishment to treat fat people’s health issues using evidence-based medicine rather than treating their body size; rampant healthism and ableism; the media’s willingness to use fat people as objects to sensationalize; the government’s comfort waging a war against citizens (including children) for how they look, and encouraging others to do the same; and the ways that this constant treatment leads some fat people to believe that they deserve this treatment until and unless their body is a different size.

Society tries to demand that we solve social stigma through weight loss and says until we do that we deserve to be treated incredibly poorly by every facet of society.  We can reject that and  demand that society solves social stigma by ending social stigma. Yolanda Reese Brooks deserved better and so does every other fat person – we have every right to demand it and to fight for it.

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20 thoughts on “The Real Complications of Obesity

  1. This is such a horrible story. I just read a few articles, and apparently they’re charging her husband with neglect. Their house was unlivable, and he admits to leaving her for nine days, bedridden, to fester in her own waste. And yet many of the articles state that she died “from complications of obesity”. Some of them mention her injuries. But one article mentioned she had sepsis.

    I would guess that she died as a result of the sepsis, which is NOT “due to obesity”. Since she was bedridden *from a crushed pelvis* and her husband wasn’t caring for her properly, she wasn’t turned in bed often enough to prevent bedsores. This can happen to anyone who is bedridden regardless of weight.

    Yes, heavier people may be hard to may turn and clean. But I’m a nurse and I have cared for people who are weigh more than her, and for “normal weight” people with a crushed pelvis, and I’d say the latter is more difficult to deal with when providing care.

    I think it’s incredibly irresponsible for the officials and news media to focus on her obesity, rather than issues of access to health care. Given the condition of the house, the family (they have several kids) likely doesn’t have a lot of money. Do they have health insurance? Did they have access to Home Care services? Was he the sole caregiver, or did they have any other assistance they could have accessed? Respite care? It’s tough being a caregiver for a family member, and they need help and support.

    I guess the newspaper headline would be less “catchy” if it said “Disabled woman with no access to help dies after extreme neglect by husband”

    1. I guess the newspaper headline would be less “catchy” if it said “Disabled woman with no access to help dies after extreme neglect by husband”

      Agreed. And yes, it’s awful no matter what.

  2. So sad, and so very unnecessary. I too weighed more than Yolanda back in 2001 when I fell and injured my back. The (South Portland, Maine) paramedics who came to take me to the hospital were respectful, courteous, and professional, and no building structures were harmed in getting me to the ambulance. Sounds like the paramedics and firefighters (and journalists!) in Yolanda’s town need some serious additional training.

  3. I swear people think that your fat sneaks out in the middle of the night and strangles you if you die of ‘obesity’.

  4. “My girlfriend and others I know weigh more than 360 pounds and fit through a regular door so why did they need to remove a sliding door to get her out and how was it newsworthy if they did?”

    they probably had to do it to fit the bariatric gurney through, not the patient by themselves. Having the help of a person who can move well makes all the difference, too.

    I wish people would think of the family of the patient before writing stories like that. It must be heart breaking to see that on the news and know what kinds of wise ass comments various jerks are making about the deceased.

    1. You know when Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas died, it was reported that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich. It was completely false, but it’s just disgusting how people think it is okay to make fun of fat people.

  5. This is sort of unrelated, but sort of on topic….

    Your talk a lot about access to healthcare as a serious issue, and I think that there is obviously a lot of evidence that fat people don’t have the access they need (this may be true of other groups; I’m not claiming that everyone but fat people has access, but that they are among people without decent access).

    But there is something else buried in this story, too — namely, the failure of leaders in the United States, generally, to take people’s lives and well-being seriously enough to SERIOUSLY regulate driving and think about what is really necessary to prevent accidents of the sort experienced by this one.

    How many people have to experience pain, suffering, and death before our society wakes up and realizes that while having cars and driving is all lovely and such, we are doing it really, really badly, and its hurting people?

    This poor lady is a victim in more than one way. While I’m sure she was a victim of anti-fat bigotry, lack of access to medical care, and stigma even in her death, she is also the victim of a systematic pretense that motor vehicle safety is fine, and that these kinds of events — events which resulted in this woman’s PELVIS being crushed — are just occasional occurrences that are not really preventable.

    I’m a driver and I love to drive. But I recognize that SOMETHING has to change at the level of regulation when it comes to traffic safety. As you rightly point out, “being fat” doesn’t kill people — but driving actually does. I think its completely reasonable to say that the injuries this woman experienced, in virtue of a traffic accident, lead to her death. But, of course, that gets ignored — she didn’t die because of a car accident that was caused by seriously inadequate traffic management, systematically ignored by everyone ever. She just died of “fat” — a serious problem that needs to be solved, obvs!*

    *Sarcasm, just in case anyone was worried.

  6. I followed the link to the story about the guy finishing the marathon and my jaw dropped to the floor at some of the comments that were shared. WTH? I run/walk 5ks with my oldest son. We do all the wacky themed fun ones. It is our thing. At the most recent one I saw people motioning toward and laughing at some of the heavier participants. I was so frustrated and wanted to scream at them. We are damned if we do, damned if we don’t. If we don’t exercise we’re told we’re lazy and our fat is all our own fault but when we do exercise we’re laughed at, “look at the fatty trying to run.” Ugh!! I’m super ticked right now.

    1. The article you linked wasn’t as bad as the original, however it also linked to this one which is worse…

      They decided to estimate her weight as between 500 and 700 pounds and said she broke her hip a couple of years ago – looks like they tried the horse shoes version of facts >.<

      These 'reporters' need to be held accountable for the crap they write and possibly for inciting hate as they write these stories specifically to make people blame fat people for what happens.

  7. My heart aches for Ms. Reese-Brooks. I wish she had gotten more from this world than a nasty headline after she passed away. I hope that she is happy in whatever after-life she believed in. At the very least she is out of pain now and out of the reach of such cruel people.

  8. 😦 This is what happens when you combine sensationalism with anti-fat bias. The journalists had an opportunity to investigate this death and possibly highlight the injustices of our medical system (Why wasn’t this woman mobile yet? Did she get the surgeries that she needed? Did she have access to physical therapy? Would a mobility device have helped her? Was her husband’s neglect ongoing, or did he become overwhelmed and “break”?), but instead they went for the cheap headline.

  9. I feel as if fat people are the last group that people feel that they have the freedom to make fun of. People can’t make fun of African Americans, Asians, or other ethnic groups without consequences. Now they can no longer take free shots at homosexuals, so the ignorant look at fat people as the last free target. It’s bullshit.

  10. I just read another article about this story; specifically, how her husband is being charged with neglect/abuse of a vulnerable adult. And yet still, the article identifies her first as “a 400-pound Detroit-area woman,” and there is a slideshow at the bottom of “obesity rates state-by-state.” I really fail to see how that’s relevant to a story about how a severely injured, bedridden woman was inadequately cared for and died in awful conditions. It reminds me of the semi-recent news story about the little boy who got shot in a drive-by while he was in (or outside of? I don’t remember) a bodega with his mother buying candy, and many of the comments alluded to how “chubby” he was, and how if he wasn’t out buying candy, he wouldn’t have been shot. Seriously heartless and disgusting.

  11. I am so glad to see you are drawing attention to this story. I work in Detroit, and have seen all of these articles, every one of which starts with some reference to “obesity” and “[insert whatever # they want] pounds”. It is heartbreaking and grossly insulting, considering the abuse, not the weight, was what caused her death. I pray that she died without seeing that her legacy was being known as the obese neglected lady. This was pure sensationalism, not journalism. Disgusting.

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