Tuesday, March 6, 2012

To Slay the Mighty Giant

People die in strange ways sometimes, if anyone has ever seen an episode of 1000 Ways to Die or read the Darwin award entries then I’m sure you understand. Now, this post isn’t another one of those about death in general, or even my death in particular, but instead is about how weird the real world is in comparison to a fictional one.

Imagine if Saruman was brought down by a hangnail instead of a surprisingly bitter Wormtongue (It was him, right? I haven’t read LOTR since 2000 or so), that just wouldn’t have the same emotional impact. It wouldn’t feel that satisfying, which of course, is why people enjoy fiction: Justice is served. No one is a slave to happenstance. Nope, people are squelched due to their ambitions blinding them to consequences of their actions. There is the occasional ironic cumuppins, but even those had their seeds sown earlier.

Guess which one is Robert.
Which is why I hate hearing the story of Robert Wadlow. As a kid I was quite fearful of being short. I was relatively undersized and that was made worse by being a tad young when compared to my classmates (I started college at 17 – work backwards from there and you should see I was usually the youngest kid in every class I was ever in growing up.)

I was never bullied as a kid, not at all, but I was certainly afraid of it. My favorite heroes were The Hulk, Superman, Thor… big time badasses that couldn’t be bullied. I was obsessed with big people in real life too. - body builders and giants.

Robert Wadlow was chief among the giants. Of course, I was unaware when I was really young that his untreated medical condition that caused him to grow so large didn’t make him any stronger. Many giants in fact suffer from profound weakness that makes doing much of anything physically difficult.

In my head, big meant strong. Big meant mighty. Big meant that you were unstoppable. Turns out being that big meant being unable to stand unassisted. It meant wearing leg braces. It also meant that the brace rubbing against his skin would lead to an infection… and he would die at the age of 22 from it.

I often wondered just how big he would have been if he hadn’t died when he did. He was still growing when he finally passed away. So tall that despite being skinny as a rail he still weighed nearly 500 pounds.

Don't you have a big boy elevator?
Nothing about that death meant much of anything. Except that you can still see wax figures of him in Ripley’s museums and the occasional TLC documentary where his incredible size come up.

Oh, how tall was he? When he finally died, he was within a Jersey Shore spiked hairdo of being nine feet tall. Nine feet. The human form, when scaled up that way, doesn’t work so well. Movies and comics might make it seem like it’s nothing but awesome, but once someone gets over six and a half feet tall, the heart has to do a lot of work, the muscles give diminishing returns, and a person has to struggle to overcome their own weight. It isn’t pretty.

Then again, he ain't tiny
That means folks like Shaquille O’Neal are rare, or, truth be told, unheard of. This was a man of enormous size, that had the mobility and musculature of a much smaller man. He outweighed most of his competition by 50 to 70 pounds when he was young, and by even more as he aged – people his height just aren't built like him - it wasn't that he was so tall, it was that he was so damned strong. He didn't suffer from a malady like Robert Wadlow did, he was just a normal person grown too big. That being said, Shaq was still 2 feet shorter than Robert Wadlow. It makes me wonder how big a human can really get and still be as physically imposing as Shaquille.
More typical 7 foot plus man

Regardless, the largest man in recorded history died from something as simple as a staph infection.  Awful.

Well, like all good stories, it eventually comes back around to something about me. Mondays are days that the gods have cursed, if there really is a hell, I’m pretty sure it feels a lot like Monday morning just after my alarm goes off.

Yesterday, I awoke, cursed the fates that have forced me to actually have to work for a living - well, not work work, just have a job – and began getting ready. I washed clothes this weekend and had freshly folded and neatly stacked t-shirts to wear. I pulled the collar over my head and put my right hand through the sleeve… and right into the gaping maw of hell itself!

Er, or I might have banged my hand against the door frame to the closet, whatever, the effect was the same: Blinding pain and a newly crippled hand.

Even now, the evening after the incident, it hurts. Blood has pooled and clotted in a massive way under the nail of my pinky to the point that typing is a struggle, holding a cup is hard, and cleaning the inside of my ear canal is now impossible (the pinky's most important function). I’m not sure my personal story is over just yet. But it feels like it might be. Done in by a pinky. How sad.


Gail said...


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm sorry! Wondered why you didn't post yesterday.
People are growing taller and stronger. Makes you wonder what chemicals they put in our food. And at what point that will catch up to us.

Melissa Bradley said...

Sorry to hear about your poor pinky and hand. I've done myself in with strange injuries like that before. I hve a scar on my pinky from when I inexplicably tripped going to the car. I felt nothing until I looked at my hand and it was covered in blood. Then it hurt like, well, insert foul curse word here.

Bigger isn't better and I'm a little awed at the size of people like Shaq.

Nancy said...

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to laugh at your pain. I remember being a kid and going over to a friend's house to watch Faces of Death. There are indeed many ways to die and I remember most of those images quite vividly. I read at some point that larger men are more prone to heart attacks which makes me worry a bit about my hubby at 6'7" but then there is the Shaq.

Chris Fries said...

Great post -- fascinating but tragic story about Robert Wadlow (although seems like it should have been "Wadhigh").

Also liked the personal history you threw in -- I think every kid wants to be 'normal' when they're growing up, and it'd frequently the opposite of what they perceive themselves as. I was tall for my age, scrawny, and elbow-flailing klutzy. I wanted to be muscular and athletic (the "six-million dollar man" and the 'Thing' from "Fantastic Four" were favorites).

I also hope your finger heals soon, without needing a radical pinkiectomy!

Deborah Walker said...

Yes. Fiction isn't like real life most of the time. There's more meaning in fiction. (Although not in my novel, but I'm getting there.)

Grumpy Bulldog, March Madman said...

Maybe you should go to the hospital and ask them to amputate. I mean it's just the pinky, right? Not much you need to do with that.

What you see with larger players in the NBA is that most struggle with injuries. You look at Yao Ming or Greg Oden for recent examples of guys who were big but their legs especially can't handle all that jumping and running.

BTW, a good book about a giant like this is "The Giant's House" by Elizabeth McCracken.

Get better soon!

Tonja said...

Great post. Not sure how you typed it. Hope your hand gets better quickly.

I had a karate accident eight years ago. A really huge eleven year old (6 foot tall, seriously) kicked me in the thumb - it was my fault but I thought he was going to cry, he was such a sweet kid. It still hurts and doesn't move like the other. Didn't die from it though, so that's something.

Matthew MacNish said...

Here's hoping that you don't die of your injury.

And I could be wrong, but is the human race not growing larger and larger as we evolve over the centuries? Or is that just a theory?

Andrew Leon said...

It makes me wonder how much of his lack of strength was actually due to the fact that he was still growing. Basically, all of the food he was eating was going to fuel his growth, and he couldn't build any muscle mass. Maybe, if he had lived long enough to actually stop gaining height, he would have been able to put on some muscle and not have had so many issues.

Sorry about your finger. :(

Jay Noel said...

Studies show that people (particularly men) taller than 6'2" live shorter because their hearts give out sooner. Have to work harder to circulate all that blood.

Dude, that sucks about your finger. I had my pinkie shut in a door, and it remained various shades of black/brown for months.

Just be thankful you're not a bass guitarist.

julie fedderson said...

What's a shame is now there are medications that can be used to treat that condition (I believe he had acromegaly). Staph is a terrible beast, would have kicked Saruman's ass in a heartbeat.

Unsolicited medical advice that may make your pinky better if you dare--if there is blood under the nail, take a paper clip, super heat the end over a lighter and then push it against the nail into the center of the blood just until it breaks through--will relieve the pressure and let the hematoma out. Do at your own risk ;)

M Pax said...

I was 17 when I started college, too. I'm sure I'm much smaller than you. I'm the shortest person in my family.

Ouch, that sounds painful. Hope you heal up quick.

Cindy said...

First the cold and now this...I hope nothing else happens.

This post reminds me of Andre the Giant, I just looked up and he lived to be 46. They consider that long for someone with this disorder.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Sad. I guess I've always wanted to be taller. But I wouldn't have wanted it to be like this guy. He died too young. Poor guy.