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2014, Aaron Elson



By Hansje de Zwaan Johnson

    From "Vignettes from a teenager during the German occupation of the Netherlands, 1940-45)

2001, 2008 Hansje de Zwaan Johnson

(A small town in the Netherlands. Winter 1944)

    "What am I going to do, Doc? I=m going crazy. Can=t you do anything to help me?" Mies Lowen cried out.

    Dr. Groen scratched behind his ear and walked around the large young woman, feeling very sorry for her. He walked around her again and observed her big body. She weighed almost 400 pounds.


  "You=re one for the records all right," he said, "especially these days, when hardly anyone has more than one sugar beet a day to eat. You also mentioned that you don't have other food supplies. I'm sorry. After weighing you once a month I even checked to see if my scales were in order. You're constantly gaining weight."

    "I know! I know! You don=t have to tell me," she said, sobbing. "You don't know what it's like. First my neighbors called me Fatso and now they call me Pack-rat. Even my best friends say I must be a hamster. They traipsed all through our house to find where I hide food. They don=t even talk to me any more. One of my neighbors told me that they think I must be fooling around with a German officer or soldier, and get food from one of those. Can you imagine? As if I would associate with the enemy! And it's driving Ed nuts as well. I think I'll let one of those German tanks roll over me so that I'll die!"

    "Come now, Mies." Dr. Groen knew she had a good sense of humor, so he added: "That might only flatten you temporarily!"

    She sniffled, wiped her watery blue eyes and grinned, then gave a big belly laugh.

    "You=re the only one with whom I can have fun anymore, you know that, Doc?"

    "Fine," he said. "Perhaps I may be able to help you, Mies. But first, since I ruled out that your obesity might be due to some hormonal imbalance, tell me who else in your family has, or had, this problem."

    "Oh, well Y my Moeder was heavy and also my Grootmoeder, but they weren't as big as me."

    "How about the men in your family?"

    "No, they're almost skinny."

    "Tell you what, dear girl. I'll consult surgeon Post, a friend of mine, about your case. I'll let you know what he thinks. Why don't you come to my office at the hospital Friday morning at 10:30, and we'll see. Now don=t give up hope. Trust me. We'll work things out." He patted her shoulder and led her to the door.

    Upon reentering his office he immediately phoned his colleague Erik Post.

    "Hi, Erik? This is Groen. Haven=t seen you for a while. Sorry to bother you so late in the afternoon. Couldn't help myself; have an interesting case I think you might help me with. What? Who? Yes, Emma is fine, and how=s your wife?" He fiddled with the phone cord, wishing Erik wouldn't be so long-winded.

    "Say, Erik, I have a patient waiting. Mind if I keep this short? Y Good. Listen. This female, 30 years old, weighs about 400 pounds. Not hormonal; not inherited." He heard Erik chuckle at the other end.

    "Yes, funny thing eh, right now with such a shortage of food. Anyway, she's not obese all over. She carries a layer of what seems to be fat, mostly on her back. Also some in the front. She can hardly sit or lie down. I'd like you to see her. Could you be at the hospital; my office, Friday morning around 9 or 10 o=clock? She'll be there at 10:30, so that'll give us some time to discuss this case beforehand. And no, she's not diabetic either."

    Surgeon Post grumbled a bit, but said curiosity killed the cat. He asked, "Why do you want my opinion? What do you think I could do about this?"

    "I've been turning this case over and over in my mind, Erik. I'd like you to help me with a small, trial-sized biopsy. If we could make an incision in the hip area, say about 2 by 2 inches, we could observe what lies underneath. When I felt around I noticed what seemed to be something like egg-sized fat globules. No, no, nothing cancerous. That's the one thing I checked out right away."

    "Better not incise at the abdomen, Groen."

    "You=re right. Just at the hip. The stomach might be too risky, too close to the spleen and intestines. It's exactly why I need your advice. Let's check over the possible procedure Friday morning. You'll be there? Great! I knew I could count on you!"

    "Don't count on me too often," Dr. Post said. "I'll be there just to check what you=re up to this time!"

    Friday morning had come and gone. The doctors had finished the biopsy on Mies in one of the small emergency operating rooms. They had been startled when, after the incision on the back of her right hip had been made, a round yellow blob popped out like a gum ball from a machine! After enlarging the incision, they observed several similar golf-ball sized globules piled up deeply underneath the epidermis in asymmetrical rows.

    They stared across their masks at each other. Dr. Groen exclaimed, "Let's close her up fast, before we have an explosion on our hands!" They thought it was funny; yet also not-so-funny. Further exploration could be harmful for Mies.

    She was sent home, apparently not suffering in any way, but still hoping a solution to her problem could be found.

    A week later the hospital staff met, and "The Fat Case" was thoroughly discussed. The end result was that an operation would be performed the following Monday in the large operating room, with two more surgeons attending, and a number of interns observing.

    Monday morning, after Mies had been prepped and sedated, the operating room buzzed with excitement about this peculiar case. This time the incision was made slowly across the back, inch by inch, from one hip to the other. Ooohs and Aaahs were heard each time when three or four fat globules popped out.

    When it looked like all of them had been removed, Mies was neatly stitched up. One of the nurses commented, "It doesn't surprise me that the poor girl never could lie on her back. No wonder she said she could only sleep when sitting on the floor."

    Mies stayed overnight for observation. She did so well that she could go home with Nursing Home Care service. A week later she phoned Dr. Groen.

    "Oh, Dr. Groen. This is Mies. I'm so happy! I could even lie down last night, with hardly any pain, for the first time in two years! Thank you so much!"

    Drs. Groen and Post were extremely pleased, even though they didn't know the cause of this strange disorder. Everyone in the hospital walked about smiling.

    The head nurse, Sister Amelda, had an idea. She went to the doctor's office and asked him, "Now, what are you planning to do with all that blubber you removed, Dr. Groen?"

    "I don't know. Throw it out I guess."

    "Oh no," she said, "Such a waste. Can I have the stuff?"

    "What in heaven's name for?"

    "I have two things in mind," she said, smiling. "First, of course, we have to boil it down some, and once we remove the oil on top, we can use it for oil floaters under our statues of Mother Mary. They haven't been lit for a year."

    "Good idea." The doctor approved.

    "And, as you may have noticed, we have a great shortage of vaseline. All the sisters suffer from calloused and chapped hands. We could give the more solid substance to them as a replacement for the vaseline."

    "I always knew you were a clever woman, Sister Amelda, but I never knew how clever! Go ahead, and while you=re at it give the stuff a name. What do you think of: Humanoil?" Both of them burst out laughing. Then they went back to work.

    The humanoil was a great success. After a while it was called humanol, which was easier to say.

    By the way, three months later, Ed, Mies' husband, came to see Dr. Groen. Not only did he profusely thank him; he also beamed when he left, saying, "We just found out Mies is pregnant. Before you did those operations, I never could get close enough to her!"

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