For all the amazement and inspiration that Paul Konar has brought his fellow workers, hunger strikers and supporters, his more than two weeks on a fast for justice have also brought concern. As of Wednesday — his 54th birthday — he had gone 15 days without food. Many workers urged him to go to the hospital for a blood test and full checkup.
“No, no, I know what happens if I get a blood test,” Paul said. “You’ll all start talking about potassium and kidneys and you’ll tell me I have no choice but to stop.”
Then yesterday, Day 16, Paul hurt his back badly enough to be convinced to go the hospital. There was a great relief all around: The doctors would do a full checkup and tell him his health was in jeopardy and he had no choice but to end his hunger strike immediately.
Here, courtesy of Slate.com, is what’s supposed to happen to hunger strikers:
Fasting becomes dangerous after just three to five days, at which point the body begins breaking down fat in order to produce energy. When the liver is reduced to breaking down fat (in lieu of the usual glucose), it produces ketone bodies, a toxic byproduct. These can be excreted through the urine, and a particular variety known as acetone can be expelled through the lungs. (Acetone makes a person’s breath smell like pears.) Ketone bodies can also be oxidized by the brain in order to make the fuel it needs. But when ketone bodies become too numerous in the bloodstream, they can cause ketoacidosis, a potentially lethal condition that afflicts some diabetics.
That’s not the way it turned out.
The doctors at George Washington University Hospital were astonished that Paul hadn’t eaten for 16 days. His blood tests were normal. He was in excellent health.
The doctors can’t explain it, but Paul can.
“It’s God’s gift,” he said.