Tipping the Scales
By Stephen Hill
As long as I’ve worked in liposuction, I’d never seen someone so outrageously obese. Whether he was bouncing into his first interview, or trudging into the surgery room for the last time, he looked exactly the same: a baby-faced man who could have been anywhere from 45 to 65, a person with buoyant cheer and a chuckle that had devolved into great sobs of shame that shook his blubbering body. At just under six feet tall, a weight problem run amok had him tipping the scales at 325 pounds.
In the business of body betterment, the guilt-ridden are indispensable. From the desperate middle-aged housewives with the curves of Hollywood starlets smeared across their psyches, to the corporate hotshots sporting the best hair plugs money can buy, these are people utterly and incurably ashamed of themselves.
Whether its five pounds or 100, our patients can’t deal with the mounting imperfections of their bodies. They turn away from the chiselled abs on billboards, the sculpted legs on T.V., and the toned hips in magazines–eventually waddling as fast as their chubby legs can carry them to the gyms, the fat farms, and places like this: a decidedly unscrupulous cosmetic surgery clinic. And while our reputation is questionable–and we are situated in small northern town that doesn’t hold many candidates to cull from, we are also the only one of our kind within 750 km.
Visiting the closest clinic available, the guilt of the patient in question was first apparent in dozens of furtive glances he cast at the office door he demanded be locked behind him. An initial sparkle in his eyes was quickly deadened by admissions of Christmas excess, and the same shame that pulled tears over his grapefruit-sized cheeks also hoisted his body up onto the operating table a few weeks later.
I have seen a lot of overweight patients in my time, but this man made my gorge rise, even as I desperately averted my gaze to check my instruments and hoses. As he wiped the beads of sweat from his brow, pale white blubber rolled out between the gaps in his flimsy hospital gown. And as I pulled the gas mask over his mouth, pressing down on the bush of his unkempt beard, I could not avoid pressing my hip against the vast expanse of his stomach. Several pounds of lard immediately moulded themselves slowly and sickeningly around my body in a bulbous and greasy embrace.
Ultimately however, the operation went as expected. The scalpel cut through his flesh smoothly and easily, puncturing the flab around his monstrous gut before hoses were inserted and pulsing, sucking fat from his body in great gulps that have left heaps of bloodied lard bulging at the seams of plastic bags now sitting in our garbage bins.
By the time it was over, the patient’s body was bruised and swollen, but over 150 pounds lighter than it had been. Sure, removing this much fat in one session is potentially catastrophic, but at the same time he was exactly the way he wanted to be–slim and inoffensive, carrying no more than a few stray pounds of fat on his slender frame.
I have never regretted what I’ve done for a living. I’d always believed that if people weren’t going to take care of things my way, they’d take of them another way. Besides, at most, they could only harm themselves…or so I’d thought until today, frozen in front of this morning’s edition of the Times. It’s funny, I don’t ever remember receiving this paper on Christmas before, but then again, there’s never been anything to report on quite like this.
On the front page are several pictures, but the one that stands out most features a man splayed out across a living room floor. His beard is white, suit is red, boots are black, and a fallen bag has vomited up an abundance of toys across the carpet.
The Headline “Santa Claus Shot Dead, Mistaken for Burglar,” glares up at me from the top of the page, and my eyes randomly pick out quotes from the article beneath it.
“Impossible to tell.”
“He looked so different.”
“I thought he was too skinny to be him.”
“I can’t believe that was Santa.”
My mind flashes back to the man at the interviews and on the table. The bushy white beard, the luminous eyes and ruddy cheeks, the good natured “ho-ho-ho” when I cracked an awkward joke.
The last quote bellows at my bloodshot eyes:
Christmas is no more.
The shame of the obese is nothing compared to my humiliation and the accompanying stabs of pain that double me over in anguish; an agony that can only be felt I suppose, by the person responsible for killing Christmas.
Stephen Hill is a writer who lives and works in Toronto, but often travels elsewhere. You can contact him at email@example.com.