This week’s story comes from my own struggle to maintain my weight and get fit. Everyone is wearing Fit Bits, Apple Watches or other devices that track their steps, heart rate, and give gentle reminders to move. Apple has announced a next generation device that can actually track blood sugar levels.
I started thinking, what if a device became available that took things one step further. That’s where I started this story. It’s going to be a two-parter, so please enjoy the first part of No Pain, No Gain
No Pain, No Gain
Joyce couldn’t wait to get her stylish new personal fitness device. She had saved up for the latest Buff Cuff. It was not cheap, but the girls in the office all had them. Most had received them as gifts from their boyfriends or husbands. Joyce didn’t have either of these, so she had to buy one for herself, but that was okay. If it worked as advertised, she would have a boyfriend or husband soon.
Joyce had tried everything to lose weight. Diets, exercise and pills had not worked. She looked into bariatric surgery and was not a candidate. She was about 35-40 pounds overweight which was below the threshold for which insurance would pay for the surgery. She even considered gaining enough weight to qualify for the surgery, but that seemed self-destructive, especially with her borderline hypertension and diabetes.
Her doctor had sent her to a nutritionist, but nothing seemed to help. Then she saw an infomercial for the Buff Cuff. Its technology was cutting edge and the spots featured numerous testimonials, some from women just like Joyce, touting the product and its life-changing benefits.
When Joyce saw the price, about what she made in a month, she hesitated. These infomercials could be biased and misleading and, when weighing the priority of rent, her POS car and utilities, the Buff Cuff seemed like a reckless purchase. Then her coworkers started raving about the ones they received and started showing results.
Marcy, who was pregnant more often than not, had received one as a present from her husband. After she started using hers, her baby weight began to drop off almost instantly. She was thinner and more fit than anyone in the office had ever seen her. Her energy level improved as did the quality of her work.
Then Jennifer, the leading office donut and cake consumer, started noticeably trimming down when her husband gave her a Buff Cuff for her birthday. Her eating habits changed and she started working out at the gym at the end of each day.
This was when Joyce realized that this fitness gadget was not an anomaly. There was something there. That was when she resolved to save up to purchase one. It was now six months later and she had scraped together the funds she needed. She sat in front of her computer looking at the latest models. She had enough for generation 4.0. This was the latest from the manufacturer, Kongo-Fit, a subsidiary of the giant retail mail order conglomerate, Kongo.
The device touted the usual fitness gadget technology. It could monitor the heart rate and count the number of steps for its wearer. Somehow, through patented technology that was rushed through government approval, this device could also monitor breathing, blood sugar and blood pressure all in one device. It was equipped with an array of sensors that used ‘super-secret’ technology (in the company’s words) to ‘help you with your fitness journey’.
Joyce counted down the minutes on Friday afternoon. Her package from Kongo was due to be delivered today and would likely be waiting for her when she got home. The office, an accounting and financial advisory firm, was quiet on this Friday afternoon at the end of summer and that made the time move by much more slowly. While she waited, Joyce reached into her desk and pulled out a dark chocolate bar that she had been saving for this day. She unwrapped it and savored it as she acknowledged to herself that this would be the last one she would have until she reached her weight and fitness goal.
Mercifully, she found some work to do that took her to five o’clock and she nearly sprinted from her desk, as close as she could get to sprinting, when the departing hour came. Joyce headed out to her ancient Chevy Cruze. It was nine years old with over 120,000 miles on it. She opened the door and could still smell the fast-food from lunch. In anticipation of receiving her Buff Cuff, she had done somewhat of a farewell tour this week to all of her guilty pleasure foods. She truly believed that this small piece of electronics was going to deliver her from her life of obesity and bad habits. She didn’t want to be delivered without saying goodbye to her old friends like tacos, French fries, milkshakes, and cupcakes. The debris in the back seat confirmed her venture into each of those food groups.
Joyce fought the traffic as she battled her way home. She pulled into a space near her apartment building and went out to the community mailbox. As she unlocked the mailbox for her unit, her hand was actually shaking. She internally scolded herself for being so excited about receiving this gadget, but she couldn’t help it. Finally, she wrestled the key into the lock and opened the small door to her mail slot. It was empty. Not only was the Buff Cuff absent, but there was no mail at all despite it being nearly 6 PM.
There was a precedent for this. Her mail delivery person was a woman who was in her late 60s or early 70s. She sometimes fell behind on her route if there were a number of medium to large packages to be delivered. Today must have been one of those days. Joyce wasn’t sure what to do. She guessed she would go up to her apartment and change and come back and check the mail later.
Just as she was about to do so, she saw the mail delivery woman’s battered white jeep pulling into the parking lot. There were three community boxes in this lot for each of the three buildings that surrounded the cars belonging to their occupants.
She watched as the woman moved at the pace of a three-toed sloth as she carefully put bundles of mail in the slots in box one. Next would be box two and then, finally, box three where Joyce’s mail was assigned. Joyce thought about returning in 15 minutes or so, but just knowing that her Buff Cuff was on the verge of being delivered and was in this civil servant’s hands, she wanted to supervise the process.
After what seemed like days, the woman navigated the jeep toward box three. She gathered her bundles of mail and opened the rear of the box to place them in the individual slots. In anticipation, Joyce opened her slot. Immediately, the woman stopped her task and looked at Joyce over the top of her thick bifocals.
“Miss, I can’t deliver the mail with a slot open. That’s against regulations.”
“It’s my slot.”
“That doesn’t matter. Please close it so I can continue.”
Joyce let out a frustrated sigh and closed the small door to the slot. Finally, the woman finished placing mail and Joyce reopened it. There were a couple of envelopes and a small parcel in a bubble wrapped sleeve. The return address had the Kongo-Fit logo. As she pulled it out of the slot, she was a bit underwhelmed at the packaging and the size and weight. She held in her hands nearly a month of her salary. It seemed like it should be bigger or at least weightier.
She was out of breath as she climbed the stairs of building 23 to her second floor 1-bedroom apartment. She had that same shakiness in her hands when she opened the door. She wondered to herself, was she putting too much faith in this small package? Would it change her life? Then she thought of Marcy and Jennifer. It had certainly worked for them.
Joyce carefully opened the package. There it was. Her very own Buff Cuff it had the standard black band. She would have to save up to buy other colors. Joyce opened the molded plastic packaging and carefully set her new purchase on the table. The instruction booklet was amazingly small, but there was a comprehensive web site and social media community around the device. She had already feverishly read the areas that were accessible to the public.
Joyce opened the plastic shell that held the device. The instruction booklet was essentially a quick start guide. It had three steps to complete before she could put it on her wrist. She pulled the plastic tab from the back of the unit that covered the sensor array and separated the battery from the device. As she did this, the face of the Buff Cuff came to life. It read, “Hello Joyce. Have a great day!”. She was a bit surprised by this, but she had used her name when she purchased the device on line and remembered checking the box that said it was for her own personal use. The next step was to put the device on her wrist. It instructed her to put it on the wrist of her dominant hand, which in Joyce’s case was her left. She felt a slight vibration as the device seemed to mold to her wrist as she fastened it.
The next step was to register the device. She brought up the Buff Cuff site and entered the serial number as instructed. As she did this, it brought up her name and address. There were several fields that it asked her to enter to complete the configuration of the device. As she entered height, weight, desired goal weight and blood type, she felt the device vibrate a few more times. As she saved the final configuration, she felt a slight pinch under the face of the Buff Cuff. She supposed that was normal. It vibrated again and showed readings on the face. Her respiration was 20 breaths per minute – high end of normal. Here blood pressure – 130 over 85, a bit high. Her blood glucose level – 150 – too high for someone who hadn’t eaten since lunch, but she did have the chocolate bar. The reading made sense.
Now that her Buff Cuff was on her wrist, the sensation was a bit anti-climactic. She didn’t feel different and she still had laundry to do. She would get on the web after she started her clothes in the wash. Joyce gathered up her dark clothes and walked down the stairs and to the apartment complex’s laundry room. She put her clothes and detergent in the washing machine and pulled some quarters out of the little canvas bag where she collected them for this purpose, put them in the slot and started the machine.
Joyce walked back to her apartment feeling much the same as she did before she received her Buff Cuff. She was a bit depressed. She was out a month’s salary and didn’t feel inspired to do anything. She got back to her apartment and went directly to the freezer for a carton of Ben and Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice cream. She took it over to her computer with the intention of looking up more information on her new acquisition and, possibly, investigating how to return it for a refund.
When she sat down, she saw a message on the screen that had appeared while she was putting in her laundry in. It said, ‘ACTIVATE FINAL CONFIGURATION (Y/N)’. Joyce looked at the message and felt a sudden feeling of relief. She eagerly keyed in a ‘Y’ and checked the box saying she accepted the terms and conditions. She then clicked continue. The browser refreshed with a congratulatory message and she felt a slightly sharper pinch under the face of the Buff Cuff. It was very brief, but she felt a slight electrical current emanating from the device, down her left arm and into her body. It was gone as quickly as it happened.
Joyce clicked on the home page and started to read about her device’s capabilities as she took a generous spoonful of ice cream from the carton. She absently spooned the frozen treat into her mouth and began to savor the flavor. Suddenly, she began to gag and spit the ice cream out. It tasted horrible. It was a mixture of a creamy and vinegary taste that was rancid in her mouth. She dropped her spoon on the floor and looked at the carton. The ice cream looked fine. She checked the expiration date and it was still months away. She had already eaten a third of this carton last night and it tasted fine then. She looked at it again and then sniffed it. It smelled as bad as it had tasted.
Joyce dumped the ice cream in the sink, rinsed out the carton and threw it in the trash. She still had the horrible taste in her mouth. She grabbed her last 20-ounce bottle of cola from the fridge. She was going to switch to diet or some other low-calorie drink, but had this one bottle of regular soda left. She quickly twisted off the top and took a large mouthful from the bottle. She immediately spit it into the sink. It tasted like a mouthful of vinegar to her.
She grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with cold water from the fridge door. Water was the last resort. She hated the taste of it, but needed something safe to rinse the taste from her mouth. As she swirled the water around in her mouth, she was shocked by the taste. It was the best tasting, most refreshing drink she had ever experienced. She quickly drank the rest and filled the glass two more times. The taste was gone from her mouth. In fact, she felt like she had just brushed her teeth. The aftertaste of the water was wonderful.
Joyce needed to eat something. She opened her cupboard and saw that there was a can of green beans in the back. For some reason, the picture of the beans on the label made her mouth water. She opened the can, poured the beans into a bowl and put them in the microwave for 30 seconds. When they were done, she wolfed them down with a spoon and followed them with three more glasses of water. She felt more satisfied from this small meal than she had from anything she’d eaten in recent memory.
By this time, Joyce needed to transfer her laundry to the dryer. She changed into sweat pants and a t-shirt. For some reason, instead of her usual flip-flops, she put on socks and laced on her rarely used sneakers. She grabbed a load of white clothes and trotted down to the laundry room. After she transferred the clothes and put in the new load, she suddenly felt the urge to run. Joyce had never been a runner, but for some reason that was all she had the desire to do at this moment. She left the laundry room and ran around the perimeter of the apartment complex three times. The distance was at least a mile, which was about a mile farther than Joyce had ever run in her life.
She was physically exhausted, but exhilarated at the same time. It was a feeling she had not experienced in her entire life. She finished her laundry and returned to her apartment feeling energized, yet tired. She climbed into the shower and let the hot water soothe her muscles which had been shocked by their sudden use. She put on pajamas, crawled into bed and entered the deepest, most restful sleep she had felt in a very long time.
The next morning, Joyce awoke feeling a bit sore, but energized. She needed to get some groceries. She got dressed and went to the supermarket. As she cruised up and down the aisles, she gradually filled her cart. By the time she got to the checkout, she didn’t recognize what she was about to purchase. The cart was filled with organic fresh fruits and vegetables, yogurts, whole grain concoctions. These were things Joyce had never purchased, yet somehow, she had grabbed them from the shelves. The funny thing was, everything looked very delicious to her.
She brought her purchases home and put them away. After a breakfast of yogurt mixed with granola and a banana, she had the urge to take another run. She got dressed and did another set of laps around the complex. Once again, she felt great.
This behavior continued for the next week. Joyce was getting up early to run. She was packing herself a healthy lunch for work and making sensible meals for dinner. It felt like this lifestyle change required no effort on her part. She had a wonderful week. When she shared her new-found energy with her co-workers, they agreed that they had felt the same thing once they activated their Buff Cuff. The device was truly a miracle.
On the Saturday, one week following her purchase, Joyce bounced out of bed and headed for the scale. She had not weighed herself the entire week. She wanted to see if this drastic change in her lifestyle would have an impact after a week. She wanted to see a three or four-pound difference in her weight. She was astonished to see that she was eleven ponds lighter. She checked the scale and stood on it three times to be sure.
Joyce showered. Her plan was to clean out her apartment today. She had been putting it off, but today she felt like she had the energy and desire to do it. As she dried herself off and got dressed, she thought about where to start. She looked in the mirror trying to spot a difference in herself. As she ran a brush through her hair, the first large clump of hair fell out.
To be continued next week.