The contrast was almost unbearable that fall. I was medical director at an eating disorders program. Dr. LeGrange’s superb program helped so many young women suffering from anorexia nervosa. However, some were hard to help. Some loved the skinniness. Some found it beautiful. And, no amount of skinniness was ever enough. First baby fat was lost. Next the rest of the fat was lost. Later menses were lost. Eventually, health was lost. I never saw a life lost, but of course sadly many are.
After those clinics, I drove an hour north to a different kind of starvation. I was watching the eyes sink deeper and deeper into my beloved grandmother who could barely eat. She was 105 years old and had requested no extraordinary measures — including no feeding tube or TPN.
Somehow as my grandmother’s brain gradually shut down, she could no longer eat. We snuck some calories in. She would take a few bites of strawberry Haagen Dazs ice-cream. But clearly not enough, as her body grayed and became unfamiliar. She had glowed. She had worn perfect make up, coiffed hair and endless warmth.
Of course personal stories have little place in treatment. Treatment is about the patient’s story. I kept silent. But I longed for my grandmother’s story to show the struggling girls that starvation is not pretty. Beauty is canning in Iowan August heat. A garage decorated into a summer porch. Pressing flowers. Making the dough rise. Playing cards. Home made chicken and noodles. Love. Life. Beauty was my grandmother’s life. It shone through 105 years, only ebbing as she did.