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“Wouldn’t you rather more with more deserving people?”

I have been working with people living with obesity for 19 years. I moved back to nursing from midwifery because I felt passionate about supporting support people often forgotten by the mainstream health service. People made to feel grateful for care delivered in a grudging manner. People made to feel guilty and irresponsible-a burden on the taxpayer. Why did I care? I was one of them.

In 1999, my mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I was worried my weight had continued to increase, and I knew that it was going to happen to me sooner or later.

A friend mentioned a new operation that could help me, so I asked my GP to refer me. My appointment was fairly quick. I was given information and asked to return in 3 months. I was so excited, I expected to find out when my operation would take place. I was mistaken, I was told there was no funding and a private operation would be around £10000. This was not an option, so I found an expert surgeon in France, got a bank loan for FF30000 and booked a flight to, ironically, the gastronomic heart of France.

It was amazing. I lost 10lb a month for 10 months. My life was transformed. It did, however, teach me some uncomfortable lessons about society as a whole and some healthcare providers.

  • Crossing the road. People slowed down and sometimes stopped! I was used to people accelerating and often gesticulating or shouting through the window at me!
  • Shopping. Assistants were helpful. They approached without a smirk and didn’t just advise that I was too big for their clothes.
  • Transport. Travellers didn’t look in terror as I approached the empty seat next to them. They didn’t squirm away as if my fat would somehow infect them.
  • The public. Complete strangers would make remarks if I was in a restaurant. One shouted across a restaurant when I added mayonnaise. I was mortified.
  • Health professionals. Every single condition was assumed to be because of my overweight status and the solution was always “eat less, move more” It got to the stage when I avoided visiting the GP so my asthma deteriorated and I needed a trip to A&E.

My friends believed I was being hypersensitive and probably seeing things that was not there. Unfortunately I heard remarks from colleagues about patients and knew that this group of people needed an advocate.  By a stroke of fate, my French surgeon offered to train me to be a back-up for his UK patients. I packed my bags and headed to France.

Written By Toni Jenkins (ECG Obesity Specialist Nurse), Tuesday 6th October 2020