In the week leading up to the hurricane making landfall, I was a busy busy bee. I'm what I call a practical prepper -not end of the world zombie apocalypse prepper, but i know shit goes bad prepper. So I already had bug-out bags ready, a comprehensive first aid kit, two weeks worth of meds packed, and lots of water. That didn't stop me from running myself sick trying to prepare for loss of power, loss of water, and possible evacuation for myself, my family, and my companion animals.
But the reason I'm such an anxiety ridden prepper who needs to know exactly what could happen in every possible situation? Because I'm fat. Being trapped and unable to be rescued is one of my greatest fears. It's the core of my agoraphobia as well as claustrophobia. Getting stuck. Rescuers being unable to lift me. It's horrifying.
I think back to Hurricane Katrina and stories of fat patients being left to die in hospitals because they were "too much trouble" to move safely. As someone who's also disabled, I'm convinced that I will die in any major cataclysmic event. So, despite being really well prepared for anything that could happen, I was terrified. I was having daily panic attacks, the anxiety triggered a mast cell disease flare as well as a fibromyalgia flare, both of which added to my panic (how could I be rescued when I was having anaphylactic reactions to everything?!)
This goes beyond the fear of not fitting in a movie theater seat or airplane seat (very real fears!). I'm afraid of dying. Not because fat is an illness or because fat causes medical problems that will kill me.. it's not and it won't. I'm afraid for my life because of the negligence of people in a society who demonize fat to such a degree that our lives are forfeit , unimportant. Worse, I'm afraid that my family's lives are in danger because of fatphobia. Is my son less likely to be rescued because they don't want to bother with a family that includes a fat woman? Will he have to watch them leave me behind?
At this point, eight years into fat activism, I feel like most of the things we think about are obvious (to me at least), but when you're forced to really confront how deep it goes, how far reaching the danger, and how horrific the potential deaths, it's easy for someone with a panic disorder to really freak the fuck out.
During Katrina, there were three specific patients who were killed rather than evacuated, due to weight. One, Janine Burgess, was suffering from end stage cancer and nurses justified giving her a lethal dosage of morphine because she may otherwise become conscious (she was sedated to the point of unconsciousness) and, without proper medical care, would suffer greatly. Did they evacuate other end stage cancer patients?
Also, there was Rodney Scott, He was chosen to be the last to be evacuated due to his weight, combined with being paralyzed and unable to walk . While he was successfully evacuated, his life was prioritized as the least important of patients needing evacuation.
Lastly was Emmett Everett, a man who begged medical staff , multiple times, to not leave him behind. He knew what was going on. His roommate had already been evacuated. a man who was awake, aware, ready to evacuate, and in good spirits. He even graciously told the doctors to evacuate others ahead of him. In the end, he was deemed too heavy to be moved at 380lbs. Emergency personnel have said they could have evacuated Everett, but were never even told he was there. Nurses told Everett that they'd give him something to help with dizziness he was experiencing. Instead they gave him a deadly dose of morphine and midazolam (a sedative).
Emmett Everett was murdered- straight up murdered- because staff didn't want to deal with him. They didn't even try. And no one was prosecuted for his death or the death of Janine Burgess. The limit for who they deemed unworthy of saving seemed to be "300lbs". I am 305lbs.
Is it any wonder that I worry? I should. Sometimes anxiety is unfounded and creates a mountain out of a mole hill. This is not a mole hill, it is a monstrous mountain that we keep being too afraid to look at or acknowledge.
The obvious answer to this is to actually think of fat people as people. To prepare for evacuating us and having life saving policies in place for us. It's not impossible, it's not even all that difficult. The issue is simply that no one cares enough to put in the small amount of effort it would take.
I made it through Florence without being hurt or stranded at all, but the future is always uncertain. My life will always be uncertain.