Cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Here’s what happened at my doctor’s office when they were about to do the height-weight calculation.

“Good morning, Mrs. Shapiro. How tall are you?”

“Um, 5 feet 8 or 9,” I answered, averting my eyes while removing my glasses, shoes, socks, watch, ring, earrings and tissues from my pocket.

“You’re 5-8 or -9? Let’s just check. Step over here and we’ll measure you.”

Chana Shapiro

Chana Shapiro

“Busted!” I admitted. “OK, OK, I’m 5-2.”

“That’s better,” she said, soothingly. Nurses know when people are in pain.

When I came off the scale and had replaced all the items I’d shed, I mustered my courage, “Am I obese?”

“You can discuss that with the doctor.”

Fortunately, the examination was uneventful, and the doctor answered my question.

“You’re not morbidly obese,” he smiled (real or fake smile? I couldn’t tell). “But it would be good to lose a few pounds.”

“What’s a few? Just round it off.” (Perhaps round wasn’t the best word to use.)

“Oh, 20 pounds or so. Not impossible for somebody who gave up smoking 30 years ago and stuck to it.”

“How do you think I gained all this weight? I gave up smoking and ate more food. If I give up food, I’ll perish! You want me to perish?”

The doctor assured me that he wanted me to live. I drove home with the 20-pound challenge weighing heavily (that’s right) on my mind.

I was surprised by a phone call that evening.

It was my friend Joyce from New York, who was coming to visit us with her husband, Marty.

“I just need to warn you, I’m not sick,” Joyce said.

I never like the word “warn.” “You’re not sick? Why call to tell me that?”

“I’m not sick. I just look sick.”

I never like the phrase “look sick.” “What’s wrong with you? Is it contagious?” Well, I had to ask.

“I shouldn’t have called. You’ll understand when we get there.”

Cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Cartoon by Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

“If you’re sick, we’ll pick you up at the airport instead of the subway station,” I insisted, wondering where I could buy a germ-filtering mask at the last minute.

“Do not come to the airport. I’m not sick.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire, I thought. Naturally, instead of sleeping, I spent the night worrying about my old friend who used to be so full of vigor — and praying that whatever she had wasn’t communicable.

The next day at Lindbergh Station, I saw Marty walking toward us, but not Joyce. Had she suffered a sudden relapse or, G-d forbid, experienced a new debilitation back in New York? Then I heard someone calling my name, and a familiar-looking stranger grabbed me.

“Joyce? Is it you?”

“I told you I look sick,” she said.

“Sick? You look fabulous!” I was stunned by the svelte woman facing me. I blubbered, “What are you now, a Size 2?”

“Two or zero,” she answered. “I’m trying to gain weight.”

What’s that like? I wondered.

Joyce, who used to be chubby, had become, for want of a better word, tubby. When nothing else worked, she decided to have bariatric surgery. But the insurance wouldn’t pay for it because she was only 80 pounds overweight.

She had a 20-pound dilemma. Joyce had to be at least 100 pounds overweight for her insurance to cover the procedure. Otherwise, it would cost her over $30,000.

If only there were a fat-exchange program, I thought, considering how useful my extra 20 could have been. Sitting next to her, I tightened my abs and stretched my neck to minimize my multiple chins.

“Go on,” I urged.

“So I went to Mexico,” she said. “It cost under $5,000.”

Her story didn’t end there. In Mexico, the doctors missed old, internal scarring, and that caused pain, inability to swallow and other complications, so the surgeon in New York had to correct the Mexico operation. Insurance paid for that one.

My think-out-of-the-box friend Allen had an alternative suggestion. “If I were Joyce, I’d have spent the next couple of months eating everything I love until I gained 20 more pounds, making me eligible for insurance-paid surgery in New York.”

That’s something weighty to chew over, isn’t it?