In the stagnant country of his little bedroom, on the island of his gigantic bed, with two curtains sewn together to clothe his body, Paul Mason decided that he didn’t want to die. Three years had seeped in and out of the room, with his head at the same angles, the mass of him pooling outward, the banal sensation of the air-conditioning breathing onto his urine sores. By then Mason had been dubbed the world’s fattest man, perhaps the most ridiculed person in the United Kingdom, trapped on a 10-foot mattress, everything he’d ever collected on shelves within arm’s reach. He was also weary of his appetites; he no longer wanted to consume his daily intake of nearly 20,000 calories. He was exhausted of wondering what it might be like outside his house.
He wanted out of his skin, and skin was all that he’d become. He had given up on losing weight naturally. His breakfast was the meal of ten people—a pack of bacon and a pack of sausages and countless eggs, and his snacks were 40 bags of potato chips and 20 chocolate bars a day. An intercom system on his front door allowed restaurants to deliver food to his bedside, entering his little flat through the doors and hallways specially widened by England’s National Health Service. He wore a little white towel draped over his privates. At his heaviest he’d weighed 20 pounds shy of 1,000.
He knew that bariatric surgery had a good chance of killing him, just as it could save him. The procedure, he understood, would shrink his stomach from the size of a melon to the size of an egg, bypass much of his small intestine, and give him a 50 percent chance at a new life. The other 50 percent meant a possible heart attack or blood clot, a burst vessel, catastrophic organ failure—a complication that would snuff him out before he even awoke from the operation. But without the surgery he was dead anyway.
And so on a freezing day in the winter of 2010, five paramedics in yellow suits wheeled Mason out of his home on the bed where he lived. Using a motorized winch, they hoisted his extra-wide reinforced stretcher into the back of the supersized ambulance that the Suffolk branch of the NHS had scoured all of Great Britain to find. (A helicopter, which had been considered, didn’t have a door wide enough.)
The ambulance drove south, followed by photographers trying to snap pictures of the human being the tabloids had dubbed “Man Mountain.” He watched the traffic out the back windows. How bizarre, he thought—he hadn’t remembered that cars could go so fast.
The logistics of getting him into surgery were unprecedented. Engineers had realized before he arrived that the operating room probably wouldn’t be sturdy enough to hold him. After consulting blueprints, they ultimately installed metal supports beneath the floor. Then doctors had to make a scary guess about how much anesthetic to pump into their patient. He needed much more than a normal person; the customary amount would merely dissolve in his body. But too much could mean death.
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