Thursday, May 23, 2013

The man who ate himself to death

TLC followed Ricky Naputi for years for their special, “900 Pound Man: The Race Against Time.” Naputi lived in Guam and had not been out of his apartment in years because of his weight. It was estimated he consumed about 10,000 calories a day and had grown in size to 900 pounds at one point.

He was cared for by his wife, Cheryl, who was loyally by his side through everything. She dealt with struggles, like not being able to consummate their marriage, but loved her husband.

He’d been told to lose weight before he could undergo a surgery that could potentially save his life. Unfortunately, Naputi didn’t make it to that. His wife was by his side and she was the one who found him and made the 9-1-1 call, which was played on the special.

“He was OK. I don’t know what happened,” she told the operator. “I was just laying here.”

Paramedics quickly arrived and tried to revive Naputi, working for an hour, but it was too late. The official cause of death was morbid obesity. Ricky Naputi was 39 years old when he died.

I have to confess I am hooked on "fat shows", even though I watch them through my fingers. What absolutely amazes me is how similar they are. This one was more disturbing than most, not just for the fact that this enormous naked man lay on a huge bed in the same room for years and years, but because SOMEONE helped him get that way, or even - it could be argued - actually made him that way.

There's always a wife, usually submissive, usually so codependent she seems to have no emotional boundaries at all. Since thousands of calories don't drift through the air and magically land in his mouth, "guess who" must carry them to his bedside year after year. And yet, this crucial issue is never addressed the way it needs to be. There is never a direct confrontation, just gentle reminders that maybe she should go out and buy some vegetables.

I watched this show, and I wanted to throw something at the screen. Ricky's wonderful, loyal, devoted wife who said she loved him more than anything in the world was murdering him, plate by greasy plate. She would cook and serve him literally anything he wanted, in any quantity, at any time. Her explanation was, "My husband wears the pants in the family" (ironic considering he was naked all the time, clothes that size being out of the question).

As usual, the wife cared for her husband's every need (except sex - he wasn't capable of that and the marriage had never been consummated), wiping his creases and washing his hair as if he were an enormous half-ton baby. After a while it became obvious that her need to do this was far greater than his need to receive it.

But I was even more furious at the way they pleaded for help, often in a whiny, weepy way, then refused help when it came, blew it off as soon as they were given an ultimatum or even mere instructions about the absolute necessity of losing some serious weight before having gastric bypass surgery.

Maybe because of all these TV shows, gastric bypass surgery is now considered the Answer to Everything in morbid obesity circles. There have been whole shows dedicated to it, and all the recipients seem to be success stories. But just lately, I've seen three shows where the results were not so positive. In each case, the "half-ton" subject (and TLC does like to use that term) died in their 30s before they could be helped.

Former pop singer and general professional whiner Carnie Wilson has made a side show of her own weight battles, having her bypass surgery broadcast live on the internet (and what if she had died on the table?), going blatantly public with her dramatic weight loss which she was apparently thrilled with (but I wasn't buying it: she did not look happy at all). Then came news the weight had started to creep back on. Then gallop. Next she was on Oprah, weeping histrionically to everyone that she was an alcoholic because of her "issues" (the main one being having Brian Wilson for a father). Then she was scheduling another bypass. Then. . . 

The bizarre world of "reality" TV has either spawned or showcased a new kind of narcissistic personality disorder characterized by a sense of entitlement. Fix me, or else. Ricky Naputi managed to attract the attention of one obesity specialist after another, some of whom flew halfway around the world to counsel him at his bedside. He sort of went blank during these sessions, not really looking at the doctor or responding, and at one point his wife grunted, began to text someone (a complaint to somebody, no doubt) and walked out of the room. 

And this after an Australian surgeon laid it on the line for them in a way which they might have seen as direct, respectful and a huge relief. I like directness, and hard as it is, I believe in taking responsibility for your problems, no matter how overwhelming or complex. This fellow was giving the Naputis a way out - you could be walking in a year, Ricky was told - and over and over again they sloughed it off and went back to their termite queen syndrome (which in this case, given the lack of sex, felt squirmingly like a feeder/gainer scenario in which one partner stuffs the other into complete immobility).

They wanted the problem fixed, but they didn't want to do anything. She in particular offended me with her vagueness, her claims to love him, and her bizarre 9-1-1 call at the end in which she seemed vague, slurry and stoned.

That may have been an underlying issue here. The fact that she did not even attend her husband's memorial service, not to mention her cliched statement that Ricky was in a better place where he could finally walk around, did not bespeak any genuine grief. There were no tears, there was no visible pain, only a sort of blandness. The fact is, one way or another, she killed her husband, maybe to lift an awful burden off her back. A burden she had aided and abetted for sick reasons of her own.

If someone is an accessory to murder, shouldn't there be some sort of penality? If you overfed a dog to the point where it couldn't walk, wouldn't the SPCA likely intervene?.

When I was a kid, we had a neighbor named Ruth who didn't have too many friends. Since my mother had caseloads instead of friendships, she took her into the fold in the most condescending way possible, but since Ruth was desperate, she took the bait. 

The reason Ruth didn't have too many friends is that she was fat. She must have weighed somewhere between 250 and 280 pounds, enormous by the standards of the day. 

The truth is, until the last decade or so I never even HEARD of anyone weighing more than 500 pounds, or cases of people being stuck to chairs or sofas, having to be cut out of their houses only to die in hospital, bloating up to termite-queen size as "someone", usually a wife and sometimes a mother, dutifully trotted to their side every day with heaping plates of fatal toxins. 

It wouldn't look so "loving" or "loyal" or "devoted" if a wife brought syringes of heroin to her incapacitated junkie husband, or bottles of scotch to fuel her alcoholic husband's oblivion and despair. Food is different, I guess. It's "love", apparently, or what passes for love in a culture that seems to be bent on self-destruction. Food is an obsession now, with bizarre competitive cooking shows proliferating, and - in spite of all the pressure to be thin and all the dire warnings about obesity - restaurants serving a whole cow on a bun or desserts with thousands of grams of fat in them towering to the ceiling.

Another curious thing - if this can be called curious, and not totally disgusting - it's been years and years since I heard a certain term which used to be universally applied to describe the greedy, excessive consumption of food. Hint: it used to be considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Can you guess what it is?

It isn't used any more because the super-morbidly-obese now have "issues" and can't be stigmatized by such awful labels. But why was gluttony, the constant, excessive cramming of food into the mouth, considered a deadly sin in the first place? Could it have something to do with the destruction of human life?

The Naputis may have asked for help, but when that help was offered, they pushed it away and went back to what they had always done. They are part of  a new phenomenon (for I truly believe this is new and not just "being reported more") that reflects a certain philosophy which is even more morbid than obesity. It is as if our main purpose in the 21st century is not to be productive or even to explore life's deepest mysteries, but to consume, consume, consume. 

The sickest, most destructive and unhealthy habits are increasingly becoming normalized. Kids are getting fat because they sit around eating and don't move. And food, the excessive consumption of the wrong kind of food, is evolving into a kind of sport.

If you can eat it all at once, you see, you can have it for free. How great is that?

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