Can We Talk About the Fatwagons?

Can we talk about the fatwagons?  Can we?  You know what I mean; they go by various helpful-sounding names like “mobility chair,” “power chair,” or the ubiquitously advertised “Hoveround”(tm).  They are present-day versions of those flying couches that the morbidly obese earthlings of the future were eventually convinced to dispense with in the endearing Pixar movie, WALL-E.

I call them fatwagons because, as in the movie, the people you mainly see in them are (deep breath) fat.  (Sorry about that word, “fat,” but it’s succinct and to the point.) Not just a little fat.  Not just “overweight.” Really fat.  Morbidly obese, like those folks in the future.  But this is now.

And they are suddenly everywhere.  Recently, in the local supermarket, a veritable squadron of these chairs and their riders arrived and began hungrily cruising the aisles. I wondered if the chairs were street-legal or if they’d been offloaded from some humongous, specially-designed van with the carbon footprint of a locomotive.

Am I alone in seeing deep irony in a really fat person riding in a motorized chair?  How about a really fat person in a motorized chair making selections in the pastry section of Whole Foods?  Yes, she may have been buying that German chocolate cake for her niece’s birthday party, but from the lustful look on her face I somehow doubt it.  Does the phrase “downward spiral” have any relevance here?  What is the thinking behind this?  I’m trying to imagine the dialogue:

“Doctor, I’m really having trouble walking.”

“Hmm. That could be because you’re morbidly obese.”

“Is there anything you can do, Doctor?”

“Well, let’s see. I can prescribe a motorized chair so you don’t have to walk at all.”

Hopefully this conversation never actually occurs, as it’s just a tiny bit like recommending that an alcoholic live directly next to a bar to avoid the pain of getting even slightly sober, or that we deal with poverty by eliminating welfare programs.

But maybe that conversation does occur, because it’s the product of a sick symbiosis between the patient’s inability to stop eating and get some exercise, and a medical system that throws machinery at every problem at the expense of the general public.  What do you think a Hoveround(tm) costs?  When you look on their website to find out, you’ll see that you shouldn’t worry your fat head about it, because Medicare will pay for it.

I know, I know.  I’m a naturally thin person with no idea of the struggles that overweight people go through, a bigot pure and simple – I’m a fatist.  I’m sure I need to work on this.  Some fat people are fat because they have glandular disorders, not because they can’t imagine passing a day without washing down a few Whoppers with a supersized Coke while lolling about watching Oprah.   Some fat people just can’t help being fat, and the resulting unavoidable fatness has given them joint issues, making it hard or even dangerous for them to walk and requiring the motorized chair.

Let’s stipulate that there is a population of motorized chair users out there who simply have no alternative.  I am willing to have my taxes help pay for their mobility. But I have the strong suspicion – perhaps based on my fatist bias, I’ll admit – that there is another population for whom the motorized chair is just another step in a long journey that began when they were in high school and looked down one day and said “hey, I’m getting a little chubby,” but rather than put down the supersized Coke and head for the gym, instead finished it off, ordered another, and found in a few more years that they couldn’t see their feet, and began rationalizing that a lot of their friends were putting on weight, too, and that in some cultures having a large belly is a sign of prosperity and wisdom, and that Oprah has weight issues too, and that food addiction is an addiction, and that if worst came to worst there was always stomach stapling rather than deny oneself the caloric bounty and sedentary lifestyle that is our right as Americans, and so on up to that moment when the idea of walking began to seem a bit tiresome and a motorized chair a merely rational medical alternative that someone else would pay for.

And it is to that latter population that I say: of course your joints are shot; they were designed to bear the weight of a single person, not an entire family.  Get off your fatwagon and do something about it.

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