My Body, My Self
A Weighty Decision, Part Two
Life during and after my weight-loss surgery
As I wrote in Part One of this piece, I spent most of my life carrying way too much weight. With complete honesty, I can also confess I wasted a lot of time, effort and money (many diet programs not continued, many gym memberships not used) doing things my way, which meant adapting the rules of any program to accommodate my own comfort level – as you can imagine, this only got me poorer and fatter!!
When I signed on to the Weight Loss Surgery process, I made a commitment to do it their way, meaning I did every single thing my surgeon and his medical team advised. I followed their directives to the letter, and for the first time in my life I stopped being a smart-ass and really listened to people who knew more than I did. We joked that I was going to be the best patient my surgery team ever had!!
One of the first things they advised: join a support group! And what an eye-opener this was. At these monthly meetings, I met men and women in all stages of the surgery process – those who were doing the preliminary testing, like me; those who where still on the fence about the process; and those who had already gone through the surgery and were losing their weight or were already at goal. I attended meetings for almost a year before I was ready to get a surgery date, but when I was ready, I was really ready.
If you are considering this surgery, it’s critical that you not rush the process: Do your homework and listen to your heart, not anyone else. Trust me, everyone will have opinions on this subject, and everyone knows someone who had a terrible recovery, who gained back all their weight, who had chronic complications. But there are just as many folks who have had easy recoveries and trouble-free healing, yours truly included.
Managing friends and family in this process is a big topic and may be one for another posting. I was faced with objections from friends, family and even my primary-care physician, but I knew this was the right road for me and barreled ahead.
My surgery was performed at Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City on March 16, 2006. Many WLS veterans take their surgery dates as their new birthdays – or re-birthdays – because after you’ve undergone this type of procedure, life is never the same.
I’ve had no previous experience as a hospitalized patient and was not quite sure what to expect, and while I can’t say this was like a couple of days at Canyon Ranch, it sure wasn’t bad. The team at Weill Cornell is top notch and so was the care they gave me. Everything I came into contact with was created for the plus-sized patient. Big. Everything was really big – the hospital gowns, the furniture in the room, the blood pressure cuffs and the compression booties. Even the bed was created especially for comfort of the WLS patient. It raised mechanically to a standing position so I could literally walk out of bed post surgery – bending in the middle was not such a good idea. All things considered, I felt pretty good post-surgery, good enough to put on makeup, receive visitors and walk up and down the halls once an hour, schlepping my IV pole with me. When my surgeon stopped by to see me, I was out at the nurse’s station checking my e-mail (they indulged me). He agreed I was an exemplary patient, and he sprung me a day early.
Once I was home, the real work of recovery began. Since I’m single and live alone, I hired the delightful Claudette, a home health aide, who was to live with me for a week. Truthfully, I felt pretty damn good, and Claudette was an extravagance I could have easily forgone, but I didn’t know I would be feeling this good, and it was comforting to have someone with me, even if all she did was play cards with me, help me out of the shower and watch the soaps with me.
After a gastric bypass, you are forbidden to eat solid food for three weeks. Everything must be pureed (or at least mashed beyond recognition), and you eat very small portions – a couple of spoonfuls of anything is pretty much all you can tolerate. In preparation, I bought TONS of baby food, which tasted like, well, crap – no wonder babies love to spit it out. I ended up blending regular food – chicken, egg whites, cottage cheese or my wonderful sister-in-law’s fabulous chicken soup. I did experiment by blending an order of steamed chicken and broccoli from the Chinese takeout place, but it was pretty repulsive. Was I hungry? Nope. Was I nauseous? Nope. Did I suffer from constant diarrhea? Nope. Was I in pain? Not really. I could eat the recommended little servings of mush three times a day to make sure I got some nutrients and protein with no discomfort. I was mildly tired and a little sore, and–I realize now-very, very blessed. I was up and around in just a few days, and truthfully, I have never looked back.
So, you ask…How did I do? How am I doing? How do I think I will do in the future?
I did GREAT. I lost way more than the doctor’s predicted 60 pounds. It’s now close to 95 pounds, almost at my dream 100-pound divestiture. No more high blood pressure, no more pre-diabetes, no more aches and pains.
Has the journey been easy or difficult? A little of both. While I don’t have palpable food cravings, I do sometimes miss the comfort of being able to go “unconscious” from stuffing myself. There really are no soft landing places for WLS patients. There is a certain code of behavior that we are encouraged not to stray from, but mostly the choices of what and when to eat and how we apply the “code” is left pretty much up to the individual. For instance: no drinking while you eat, and for at least 30 minutes before or after a meal, no liquids; eat protein first and then carbs if you have room; take all your vitamins and supplements EVERY DAY; stay away from all sugars and white flour. Each person develops their own list of trouble foods – for me, it’s red meat and anything breaded, coated or fried. And I think I have seen my last sandwich and burger – the combo of filling and bread just won’t seem to go down. These offending items just seem to automatically eject – you do get a little warning – but it’s a fast process and two minutes after you’re rid of the offender, you feel absolutely fine. Eating ice cream, candy, and cake engenders something called “dumping syndrome,” basically the sweats and the shakes. It’s a feeling so unpleasant that it’s just not worth the momentary gratification, so for me, at least, it’s been very easy to stay away from the things that cause it.
My “after” life is characterized by commonsense decisions about food, much more exercise than I’ve ever even thought about and regular bloodwork and check-ups to make sure I am not experiencing any nutritional deficiencies. Sounds pretty routine, doesn’t it? But the real beauty of what WLS has done for me is that I now operate on a level playing field. Instead of my old 100-pound albatross, I deal with the same 5 to 10 pounds that “normal” people are always complaining about.
Could I gain it all back? Absolutely! WLS is not a get-out-of-fat-jail free card. In time, if we relax the eating code, our pouches (the new, smaller stomach created by the procedure) can stretch, and all the weight can come right back. But right now the exhilaration of shopping for normal-size clothing and flying without a seatbelt extender and just walking about feeling unencumbered is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Could that change? You bet. Remember the support group I spoke about earlier? We still meet once a month, and I am very sorry to report that some of the members have backslid – weight has been gained. Some have had relationships that ruptured, causing separations and divorces and other physical and mental issues. But, by and large, I do not think any of us, if given the choice, would elect to have not undergone a WLS procedure.
So getting back to Ms.Winfrey, who I talked about in Part One of this piece. I so get it, and it does not surprise me that you are still talking about your weight problems, even after all these years and with all the support you can afford to surround yourself with. It might be time to have a serious think about some surgical intervention. It’s not the wimp’s way out – it’s risky and takes all the determination and courage of any other weight-loss program, but the results are so worth it. So girlfriend…let’s talk!!
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.