Content note: COVID-19, weight discrimination in a healthcare setting
I had a COVID scare last weekend. On Saturday, I woke up with a sore throat, cough and deep fatigue. My COVID test was negative, but I spent three days isolating in our home as much as possible, resting and contemplating my own mortality. Would this time be my last days alive? Would I have to go to the hospital? What kind of weight stigma might I face if I did? Should I try to concentrate long enough to create drawdown plans for my business in case my love was left to figure out all the loose ends I’d left behind? What if he got sick, too?
I’m still not feeling 100%, but I’m lucky. It’s just a cold.
It’s been over a year now since I left my home for more than a few hours at a time. On Valentine’s weekend 2020, my love and I rented an Airbnb in tiny Forks, Washington, for a long weekend. I had a cold then, too, and it was raining anyway, so I spent the first two days either under a blanket on the couch or at the kitchen table, watching the birds at the half-dozen birdfeeders outside.
The third day, Sunday, the weather cleared, and I felt well enough for us to head out and explore some tide pools out at Clallam Bay.
We’d heard of the coronavirus by that time, of course, but it still felt remote, like something that really only affected people somewhere else and would be quickly controlled.
One year later: I’ve lost friends. I’ve had to accept that my family is invested in belief systems that cause them to deny the virus’ impact. I’ve been mostly stuck inside. It sucks, and there’s no end in sight. And yet I need to acknowledge that I’m in one of the most privileged positions possible during this time. My love still has his job. My business has grown. We have a roof over our heads, food, and relative financial security. We haven’t lost family members.
And now five hundred thousand people are dead, just here in the United States. I don’t have anything intelligent or wise or insightful to offer. Just numbness and grief. How can we possibly continue our daily lives in the face of such a loss? And yet the work needs to be done, the food needs to be acquired and eaten, the children need to be cared for. And the virus has eliminated so many of the rituals and ways to connect and collectively grief that we’ve developed over millennia.
Like many states, Washington state [PDF] has listed “obesity” as one of the risk factors that are a priority for vaccination, though you must have a second underlying condition as well to be in one of the earlier vaccination phases. Me, I’m off in “future phases” land with my one risk factor of o*, which is completely fair, since I’m able to mostly stay at home. I’d far rather see the populations being prioritized — critical workers, agriculture, education, prisons, public transit, fire and law enforcement, elderly folks — get their vaccines.
At the same time, it’s a bit discouraging to not even have a ballpark estimate for when I might be able to get the vaccine.
In fat activist and health at every size (HAES) circles, the question has been swirling around of whether fat folks should have any kind of vaccine priority. (And whether, by getting in line for the vaccine as soon as possible, we’re somehow taking a slot from someone else who deserves it more.)
We’re listed as high risk as if our bodies were the risk, but in reality, the weight stigma and discrimination we face in healthcare settings are the risk factor. (I’m reminded of the fat woman who wrote in to a Facebook group a few months ago from her hospital bed, COVID-positive, asking how to survive. She was having trouble breathing and the nurses were telling her it was because of her fatness, not the virus. I don’t know that woman personally, so I don’t know how her story continued, but I hope she survived and is doing okay.)
Would it be nice if the healthcare industry and/or the federal government admitted that the quality of care we’re likely to receive is the issue, not our bodies? Yes, of course. Does announcing o* as a risk factor without that clarification further medicalize fat bodies? It certainly does.
But there is very little that we as individual fat folks can do about that right now, other than continue to try to survive. I’ve seen the argument that by getting the vaccine based on that specific risk factor, we’re somehow legitimizing the medicalization of our bodies, which in turn makes the world a worse place for other people. I thoroughly disagree.
If you’re eligible for the vaccine and can get an appointment, please get the vaccine. You are not perpetuating a system of oppression by doing your best to continue to stay alive within it. Get that vaccine and don’t look back. I’ll be cheering for you.
Virginia Sole-Smith has an excellent article up on Medium about the complexities of the COVID vaccine, weight stigma and fat bodies as well.