My Body, My Self
A Weighty Decision
Part One of my journey to undergo weight-loss surgery
Much media attention of late has been devoted to Oprah Winfrey’s decades-long battle with her weight. Oprah, honey, I feel your pain: Just three years ago, I was in the same place as you are now–minus, of course, the eyes and ears of the nation. And while your A-ha moment came via Tina Turner and Cher and mine was at a modest birthday celebration with friends and family, it was an A-ha moment all the same.
The message on the birthday coffee mug read “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.” I received it graciously, in the spirit I am sure it was given – full of humor – my usual self-deprecating self. But, the reality was much more painful. I was no longer “fluffy”; I had passed “fluffy” about fifty pounds back. The truth was, I was fat, slowed down and looking at a world of trouble down the road: aches, pains, shortness of breath and worse–what are called “co-morbidities” by the medical weight loss community – high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease.
At barely 5 feet tall and nearing 250 pounds, I was what the docs call morbidly obese. That’s a pretty ugly term for someone who was always perfectly made-up, hair blown out, smelling great and wearing the nicest plus-size clothes to be found (always black, though). But, I had jumped the shark. My quality of life had declined, and I was scared. It was time for action. But what to do? See, I knew how to be a cute, fat chick in New York; I knew just where to shop, knew where to get cabs in rush hour, knew where all the escalators and elevators in were. I was used to my life. It worked, at least as far as I allowed it to. Could I really change all these ingrained habits and behaviors and move out of my well-padded comfort zone?
I have always been a big girl. I had joined, unjoined and rejoined Weight Watchers maybe thirty times since age 12. Shopped in Chubby Departments, went to diet camp. At one time or another, I was the BFF of Jenny Craig, Dr. Atkins, Suzanne Somers, Richard Simmons, and a host of other diet gurus. I could not remember a time when I weighed less than 200 pounds. But time was not on my side – if changes were going to be made, it had to be soon.
So I chose weight-loss surgery. And while I am not advocating this procedure as a panacea for everyone with a weight problem, it does merit some soul-searching and research (note here to Ms. Winfrey).
I had been aware of the surgery for a long time. I watched all the Discovery Channel shows, did the reading, knew all the procedures and terms: Roux-n-y-, Fobi Pouch, Gastric Bypass, Duodenal Switch, Sleeve, Lap-Band, but I always thought these procedures were right for someone else. I didn’t need them: I was smart, I knew how to eat, how to diet, how to lose weight – after all, I had lost the very same 20 pounds at least fifty times. But that’s 1,000 pounds lost and gained over the course of a lifetime. And here I was, still fat.
So I began to interview doctors. I huffed and puffed my way to all the top folks in the New York metro area who were “bariatric” surgeons, the term for doctors who perform weight-loss surgeries. I got the canned rant from them all – how quickly I would lose weight, how I would have to follow up the surgery. But something nagged at me. I knew in my heart that I was the one patient who would be impervious to this drastic method of weight loss. It wouldn’t work for me. I was sure. And all these doctors were just not telling me the truth.
Then I met him. Dr. Alfons Pomp, now chief of bariatric surgery at Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York. The one surgeon who told me the unvarnished truth. When I waddled into his office, he looked me up and down and said – “Well, you’re just too short, aren’t you?” He had a sense of humor. He was a real person, and he did tell me some things I didn’t want to hear. Because of my age and the way my weight was distributed (mostly in the booty), and because I had never been less than obese, I was a “challenged” patient. Dr. Pomp said if I could manage to lose 60 pounds with the surgery, he would consider me a success. Though I was not pleased with this news (60 pounds? I was looking for 100!), I signed on to the process.
For the uninitiated, weight-loss surgery of any kind is serious stuff. You need to get tests and clearances literally up the wazoo-colonoscopies and endoscopies–cardiac tests, sleep studies, blood work for days, and also, a psychiatric clearance. If you claim you want to emerge from surgery looking like Britney Spears, chances are the procedure is not for you and you won’t be cleared.
So I threw down the gauntlet and began the journey…
Check back tomorrow for Beth-Ellen’s account of her surgery and recovery, what her life is like now, and her “after” picture.
Beth-Ellen Keyes is a corporate communications professional who writes and lectures on issues pertaining to healthy weight loss. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org