Searching for my Weight and Medical History

As I began to write about my life as a fat person, I realized that my weight at various times in my life as well as other health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose were important markers. So, I set out to create a medical history of myself.

It turned out to quite a journey. But I believe that as part of my effort to deal with the disease of my fatness, it was worth the effort. (For many years I have requested and filed copies of every test that I took.)

I had ready access to records from most of the years from 1967 on except for a period from 1972 - 1976, years in which I was back in Minnesota. For the years that I have lived in Washington I have had only three primary care physicians. The first moved his records to the second when he retired and I still see the second for weight management assistance.

My doctor during those four years in Minnesota was a good friend but he had left Minneapolis. I tracked him down where he is practicing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He had no idea whether the records still existed. But the other doctors in the practice continued on after he left and he gave me the name of a woman who would know where the records were, if they still existed.

I called her. My luck had run out. She claimed to remember me but the records for that period had been destroyed a year earlier.

Then I recalled that I had been hospitalized three times during that period in the same hospital. Was it possible that the hospital would still have the records from those visits?

I learned that the hospital had gone out of business and been taken over by another hospital in the same city. Perhaps that second hospital would have the records. Not so quick. That hospital had also gone out of business had been taken over by a third hospital, the largest facility in the city. I contacted the records department of that hospital but drew a blank. I subsequently learned that the second takeover involved only the hospital's building, not its records. I was at a loss.

I shared my dilemma with a close friend in Minneapolis, who is a medical malpractice lawyer. He suggested that I call the lawyer responsible for medical litigation in the County Attorney's office. It seemed like a long shot.

When I reached the appropriate lawyer in the county attorney's office he had no idea whether the records existed. He was considerably younger than me but he had read stories about a Mike Berman who was involved in Minnesota politics. When we had established that I was that Mike Berman, he said he would have someone check around.

A few days later he called back and left a message. He had found that if the records from the hospital in question still existed they would be found at a fourth hospital in a neighboring city. The chances of my stumbling on that arrangement on my own was something south of zero.

It was now a few days before Christmas. I called the Records Retrieval section of that hospital. The phone was answered by a person who noted the location and said "this is Sue." I told her what I was doing and asked whether she would check to see whether the records still existed. Her response was pure Minnesota "you betcha."

She thought the records probably existed and faxed me a release form which I quickly filled out and returned. A few weeks and another phone call later and copies of the summary records of all three hospital stays were in my hands.

I spent hour after hour reading notes and looking at various test results going back 30 years as well as doctor's notes about our conversations. There were moments as I reviewed these records that great sadness overcame me. I'll share some of those circumstances and feelings later.

Then I began the compilation of my weight history , a summary of which can be found under "Weight" on this website.

Certain weights I simply remembered, like how much I weighed when I got engaged and how much I subsequently weighed when I got married.

Added all together I had pretty decent records going back to 1961 when I was 22 years old. I also knew exactly how much I weighed when I was born, at age one year and I had a pretty good sense of how much I weighed when I was 12.

I was left with two periods about which I had little information. First, was the 11 year period between ages 1 and 12 and more significantly the 10 year period from 12 to 22. The latter was particularly important because I experienced a considerable weight gain during those years.

As to the period from age 1 through 12 I essentially struck out. The doctors who treated me as a child and as a teen- ager has long since passed away. A call to the medical society in my home town about a possible, repository of records produced the information that a doctor's records are treated as part of his personal estate and are generally destroyed when he is no longer in practice. My parents weren't much help because they didn't remember.

When it came to the 10 years between ages 12 and 22 I was much luckier.

Driving down the street one day at 5:30 a.m. I suddenly realized that I was probably the last person in American of my age still carrying his original draft registration card in his wallet. Did it include my weight?

I pulled to the side of the road and fished it out. There it was. Two days after my 18th birthday when I registered for the draft I weighed 235 pounds.

Then I remembered that my father had started me on a life insurance program, buying the first policy, when I was 15 years old.

When I finished school I took over the policies but they had long since been paid up. Was it possible that the company would still have in its files the original policy applications because the policy had happily not yet been paid out.

I had the most recent reports from the insurance company in my files, so with policy numbers in hand I called the insurance agent who was now assigned to me, a person I had never met.

I asked whether the original insurance policies were likely to exist in some form. He wasn't sure whether the original records still existed but he was willing to give it a try. Several weeks later he called with the answer. At age 15 I weighed 200 pounds and at age 20 I tipped the scales at 268.

I had kept some records from a couple of the residential programs in which I had participated. I tried to get further records but they are destroyed after seven years.

Toward the end of my search for written records, I set out to find the records of my participation in a weight management program at a local university hospital in the early 1980s. My first telephone call to the hospital looking for the program met with a "we have no such program listed."

I then wrote to the records department with a request for access to records of my participation. I included the name of the Dr. who headed the program and the therapist who had worked with me. A followup telephone call to that department resulted in my secretary being told that the records department had no such records but to try the Department of Medicine which she did. That call did not produce any information either.

The people contacted had never heard of the program, the people who ran it and certainly not me in particular.

I had learned that persistence paid off so I made one more attempt with a letter to the office of the hospital administrator. Again I included the name of the medical doctor who was in charge of the program and the clinician who had worked with me. I also sent along copies of a report that I had kept and some other materials.

Just about the time I was giving up hope of ever finding the records, I received a phone call from a woman in the administrator's office who said she had my letter and was going to try to help me. She asked whether I had any further information about the department to which the program was attached. I did not. So she said she would forge ahead and see what she could turn up.

A couple of days later in telling yet another person how odd it was that I couldn't find any records from that program I learned that a person who had been affiliated with the program was now working with my current doctor at his clinic.

I faxed a request for information to her and within hours received a telephone call. She had been the director of the program and told me that it had been terminated a couple of years earlier for lack of funds.

However, she was able to tell me the department with which the program had been affiliated, the name of the person who had been responsible for packing up the records and where they were stored.
She also was able to give me the telephone number of the therapist who had treated me.

Armed with that information I called my new friend in the administrator's office and passed it along to her. A few days later she called with the name of a person who would call me and would be able to help me get to the records. She ended by saying if I didn't hear from him to call her back.

About a week later, he did call me. He said he had good news and bad news. I was right about the location of the records. He had gone through the records which dated back to the 1970s. It had taken a while because of the coding that had been used to protect patient identification.

Then he got to the bad news. He had found records for the approximate period that I was in the program but he couldn't find any record of my participation.

In one last desperate reach I called the therapist to see whether she had taken any records with her. She quickly returned my call. She remembered me but said she did not have any records of my visits and that the only records that had been taken out of the general files were those specifically requested by the patients.

Finally, it took me a number of requests to my parents for information about their weight at various times in their lives. They were perfectly happy to give me information about their size at the time they were married. They were more reticent about their weights in recent years. But when they realized that I was very serious about wanting the information they had their doctors provide me with much of what I was looking for.

My sisters were easy. They quickly responded to all of my questions.

I also had the opportunity to view photographs of my great grandparents. It is safe to say that no one in my family going back to my great grand parents, came or comes close to being described as fat.

Not everyone needs to undertake a thorough search of medical records. I did it because I was writing this book. Since the exercise itself was interesting I have share it but the lesson in it for those who are monitoring their health is that keeping records does pay off, showing treads and helping you to learn about yourself.