WCF Courier - Cedar Falls Iowa
California man struggling to live at 800 pounds
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
By Theresa Walker, The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA, Calif. --- A lens from Patrick Dropp's taped-up eyeglasses fell out one day.
He figured it landed on the floor, maybe bounced under his bed. He had to wait for someone to look for him.
It turned up the next day. Not under his bed, but in it. Beneath the rolls of his stomach. He found it when an aide turned him over.
He never felt it pressing into his skin, for the same reason he couldn't get on the floor and look for it himself.
He weighs nearly 800 pounds.
His size is the first thing --- often the only thing --- people see. Few take the time to look beyond his weight, to understand what life is like and how it got that way, for Patrick.
He doesn't want to be the way he is. Who would?
People gawking, judging.
He's heard it all: Why don't you push away from the table? Why don't you have any willpower? Why not have that surgery?
The year he spent in an acute-care hospital, he got so fed up with the lingering looks that he taped a self-written flier, "Answers to Frequently Asked Questions," to his bed.
"It's not what you are eating," the flier says, "it's what's eating you."
What's eating Patrick are the things he says happened in his childhood.
"It frustrates me because they want simple answers and I only have hard answers. Nobody wants to hear the hard answers."
Whether or not anyone listens, it doesn't change his complicated situation: His mind has trapped him in a body that is wearing down under the weight of emotional and physical burdens.
Back when he was 500 pounds, he could navigate the senior housing apartment where he lives. Now, he can't make it to the bathroom. A sanitary pitcher, a lidded bucket and stacks of bed pads stay handy.
His hips and knees are so degenerated he hasn't stood on his own for five years. Just sitting up in bed takes his breath away, makes him sprawl backward, moaning. Patrick suffers from heart and lung problems, arthritis, pressure sores, sleep apnea, high blood pressure. He retains water like a sponge. Poor blood circulation makes him drowsy and turns the skin on his legs scaly gray-green where the blood pools.
He spends most days in bed, naked beneath a light sheet. He sweats easily and often, and sprays himself with diluted Johnson & Johnson Head to Toe baby wash to guard against yeast infections in the folds of his skin.
Patrick can't use public transportation anymore, not even the special buses for the disabled. With his wheelchair, the load is 1,000 pounds. Too heavy for the lifts, too wide for the doors.
Mostly, people come to him: his physician, his psychologist, the aides who wash him, cook for him, shop for him.
The phone is his contact with health and social service agencies. Besides his aides, who don't last long at $8 an hour, these are the people he talks to the most.
Patrick is the oldest of Richard and Dolores Dropp's four boys. At 18, Patrick was 6 feet tall and a buff 200 pounds from weightlifting. In a smiling photo taken with brothers Dave, Ken and Doug, his Clark Kent glasses look nerdy, his thick wrists powerful.
Patrick didn't bulk up to beat a weight problem. He did it to fight off his mother.
Allegations of abuse
Her sons describe Dolores Dropp as an abusive drunk who'd smack her boys around, whack them with a wet washcloth, chase them under the bed with a broom.
Their father often worked two jobs, trying his hand at a number of occupations. He'd be gone long hours, if not for days.
Patrick and Dave, the second-oldest, got the worst of their mother's wrath, the brothers say.
"I can remember being beaten a lot," Patrick says. "I was there when she broke my nose. I was there when she almost beat Dave to death. He was black and blue."
It stopped the day Patrick got big enough to threaten her. He thinks he was 12 or 13.
"It was the first time I felt like I could take her. So I grabbed her and I knocked her to the floor and jumped on top of her. I had my hands on her throat. The minute she went limp, I let go. It scared the hell out of me because I didn't want to become like her."
While his brothers confirm the physical abuse from their mother, they dispute the rest of what Patrick believes is at the heart of his eating disorder.
Patrick says his mother molested him, and that his father, as a member of the Freemasons, subjected him to ritual abuse --- repeated beatings and molestation by chanting figures dressed in robes.
As an adult, he turned to food to "stuff the anger down," he says.
He first started eating compulsively and gained 100 pounds when he was 19. His first and only marriage lasted one year, after he caught his wife with another man.
Over the next 10 years, he drank, did drugs and ate too much, topping out at about 550 pounds. He always held a job, though, a workaholic in various occupations: machinist, mechanic, auto-parts salesman, security guard.
When he joined a 12-step group in the late 1980s, he lost about 260 pounds in one year.
Patrick was doing so well, his family threw him a party.
"He had lost a ton of weight," youngest brother Doug Dropp says. "He was looking terrific."
He also earned certificates and associate of arts degrees in marketing, real estate, management, and management development.
"He had exceptional grades in high school," Doug Dropp says. "Anything he put his mind to, he was really good or better than good at. If there was any of us four boys who ought to have been a millionaire or would have succeeded in life, it was Pat Dropp."
He just couldn't beat his eating disorder.
Patrick hit a wall around 300 pounds and couldn't drop any more weight no matter what he tried. He went through five private therapists before finding one he trusted.
A psychiatrist treating Patrick referred him to clinical psychologist Everett Jacobson in 1991. The ritual abuse memories did not surface until three or four years later, Jacobson says.
"He knew that he suffered abuse as a child, but it took a long time to uncover the depth and extent of it," says Jacobson.
Patrick's brothers Ken and Doug, who both live in Massachusetts, do not believe the stories of ritual abuse. Their father was not that kind of man, they say.
Ken Dropp blames Patrick's therapist for his brother's drastic weight gain since the early '90s.
"He stuck weird things in his mind that weren't there in the first place and I lost my brother."
Patrick has nearly tripled in size from the time he began seeing Jacobson 14 years ago.
Running out of time
He orders pizzas and whatever else he can have delivered when he's alone, scared and anxious. Other times, he follows a low-calorie diet heavy on high-protein drinks and lean meats.
Diet alone is not going to save Patrick, says his physician of the past two years, Dr. Norman Vinn, medical director of Housecall Doctors Medical Group, whose patients are homebound.
Extreme obesity is not just an eating or a glandular problem; it's a complicated psychosocial problem, says Vinn.,
Vinn doesn't believe gastric bypass surgery is the solution for Patrick: "The compulsion to eat is so strong, he would just blow those bands out."
Exercise is his best chance at regaining some mobility, but there's not much he can do in bed.
"He can't exercise because he's obese and he can't lose weight because he's inactive," Vinn says.
Exercise in a pool would be ideal for Patrick because he could focus on muscle strength without burdening his joints.
"He gets into water, he's set free as a bird," Vinn says. "His obesity goes away in effect. In his mind, he's like you and me --- he can touch his legs, he can flail his arms around."
There are therapeutic facilities with mechanisms that could lower Patrick into the water in a special chair. But how does he get there? And how long does he have left to figure that out?
He's been hospitalized four times in the past 10 months, the last time in late May. His brothers think their visits last year will be the last time seeing him alive.
"How long can the human body take that and survive?" Ken Dropp wonders.
Patrick doesn't want to just lay down and die.
"I don't want to be another fat guy you read about in the paper who croaked, and they go, 'Poor fat guy."'