Poor, uneducated, obese, and religious

What a horrible, sad waste of a life: Tillmon Webb injured his knee, couldn’t afford to get it treated, and sat in a recliner for 8 months, praying for healing. His saintly (and I don’t mean that in a complimentary sense) wife tended to him as he rotted to death in the chair.

“He read his Bible daily, he spent his full focus on God,” said Webb. “And he was literally waiting and praying for a Job miracle. If anybody knows the Bible and knows Job, he really and fully believed that God was going to heal him just like he did Job, because he said he couldn’t think of a better testimony to go out and to tell people.”

I think two lives were wasted here. His wife took care of this suffering lump for 8 months — he didn’t even get up to use the bathroom, and the neighbors didn’t know she even had a husband — and this is her response after his death:

“If I feel anything right now, it’s envy for him because I wish he had taken me with him,” said Webb.

Popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions.” Their piety didn’t save them and didn’t alleviate their pain or their desperate conditions — it made them worse.


  1. Diane G. says

    For a group of atheists, there sure are a lot of Puritans chiming in. This couple’s problems started long before the knee injury, no doubt long before they met & married. For cripes sake, the husband had a mother who knew what was going on and also wouldn’t/couldn’t act for some reason the whole 8 months…What is her life like?…was her childhood like? How entrenched is the poverty, ignorance, obesity, etc., on both sides of the couple’s extended family? In the general “neighborhood?”

    As uneducated as they are, we can still be pretty sure they were well aware of how society regarded them, well aware that their appearance registered negatively with just about everyone not so beset with problems. (Wrong as I think it is, I’m the first to think ‘wow, how huge’ when I see the morbidly obese…)

    It probably took extreme effort to visit & sit through the first encounter with the medical system; only to be sent home unhelped for lack of money. How easy can it be to know that everyone around you is looking down on you & judging you?

    IMO their problems are way beyond fixing by the idea that they should have bought more vegetables…

    Religion was probably the only thing telling them they were worthwhile people, that someone loved them, that there was hope for the future, however unlikely those platitudes really were. It’s ironic that despite their professed belief, they didn’t seem to be deeply enough involved to have any relationship with a caring congregation that might have stepped in and helped them. Their social isolation seems to have been profound. One wonders just what kind of a job, what co-workers the wife had that they did not know of what was going on & take steps to help.

    I agree with those who’ve said the egregious state of health so-called care in the US was the main proximal cause of this appalling story. Ultimately it was a failure of humanity.

  2. Sven DiMilo says

    the guy got kicked out of the hospital for not having health insurance and was literally left to rot

    yeah, he fell through the cracks gaping chasms of the system.

  3. Pygmy Loris says


    Spoken like someone without asthma or cigarette smoke allergies. I don’t have asthma (I can only imagine) but I do have allergies, and I can tell you from great experience that even being buck naked with an obese person does not induce wicked, 48-hr, vomit-inducing, head-splitting migraines, but a cigarette, 25 ft away, most certainly can. Especially when you’re outside my window and that nasty ashcan fodder is being swept right inside.

    If being 25 ft away from a smoker, outside, is enough to trigger a two day reaction from your allergies, how in the world do you walk down the street or through a parking lot filled with cars emitting toxic exhaust? Also, why in the world would I be smoking outside an open window?

    And to think, I was actually sympathetic to your argument (GPP was being harsh on smokers, as if it’s easy to quit, which it certainly isn’t) for about two seconds there. Then you had to open your big mouth and ruin it.

    About that vilification of smokers, I rest my case.

    You’re a jackass. The law around here says I can’t smoke indoors except in a private residence. I supported the laws to ban indoor smoking because of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. I will, however, smoke outside away from doors and windows. You will not suffer heart disease from inhaling cigarette smoke for the time it takes you to walk past a smoker.

  4. Richard Eis says

    It’s not a distribution issue; it’s a buying power issue. A poor person cannot buy a 50lb sack of flour, nor can they buy entire crops of produce, herds of cattle, etc., and the processed food industry has no investment in anyone’s health.

    Your cities have distribution issues then. Seems being constantly motivated by profit has made the system seriously lopsided.

  5. Carlie says

    Becca – the gut flora issue comes up in the article I linked to upthread; it was a NYTimes Magazine article called “fat factors”.

  6. Walton says

    SerenAur @273: Yes, I think this illustrates clearly that the UK’s health system does not make these problems disappear, contrary to what many on the American left seem to believe.

  7. Bill Dauphin, OM says

    Walton (@275):

    From the article cited at #273…

    …has not left his home in Dorset for eight years, apart from a hospital visit in an ambulance….

    The NHS have agreed to pay for the [gastric bypass] procedure, but he has been told that his health is not up to it. [emphasis added]

    …whereas Tillmon Webb was turned away from medical care for the lack of a measely $300!

    Nobody on the American left or anywhere else imagines that universal healthcare is some sort of magic incantation that will banish all bad outcomes. Perhaps this fellow will die in his bed despite the NHS, because not all the barriers to good outcomes are economic (e.g., Tillmon Webb’s reliance on prayer might have killed him even if he’d had all the money in the world)… but that doesn’t mean removing the barriers that are economic is a bad idea.

    I get so tired this sort of anecdotal argument… as if a single case that NHS hasn’t solved means it’s a system without merit. There’s a superficial resemblance between these two cases — they both involve rather stunning levels of obesity — but they are otherwise fairly different, and comparing them tells us nothing that argues against healthcare reform in the U.S.

  8. bibliophilebullpen says

    If you are 550 pounds you are obese in the bad and unflattering way. so stop trying to pretend obese doesn’t enter into it.

    obviously these people were and are completely crazy and certainly should have qualified for some sort of medicaid. Their lack of self preservation skills is sad but not sympathetic.

  9. Forbidden Snowflake says

    @Endor, #210:
    thanks for the link to Kate Harding. It was an interesting read.
    Also, reading it gave me an idea for a T-shirt slogan: “I’M NOT FAT, I’M THICK-SKINNED”.
    Now, how would I go about marketing it?

  10. Dianne says

    the gut flora issue

    If altered gut flora is a contributor to obesity, then I can think of a method of treatment that might work: give enough antibiotics to sterilize the gut then give a stool transplant (yep, they do exist and are used on rare occasions like intractible C diff infection) from a non-obese person. Then start dietary maneuvers to help lose weight and improve fitness (which might also incidentally keep the gut flora normal: maybe gut flora alters depending on what sort of food is eaten.)Anyone know any gastroenterologists or primary care physicians looking for a study?