Turning Point

August 10, 2010

I remember feeling oddly calm as I showered and dressed before heading to the hospital. The bed in the corner room of the Ambulatory Care Unit was uncomfortable and cold, but I was surrounded by family, text messages from friends, friends and coworkers stopped in to check on me, and my online family sent virtual hugs across the interwebs. By the time I was wheeled into the operating suite, my calm had dissolved into a facade I was only able to maintain thanks to the pre-op cocktail of happy juice that was slipped in though my IV.

I don’t remember the rest of that day.  The latent effects of anesthesia took care of that. I do remember waking up briefly and reaching for my phone, though I’m pretty certain I passed out again before I was able to find it.

That was a Tuesday. I spent the rest of the week learning to sip, as opposed to gulp, clear liquids, talking to the dietician, my surgeon, reading magazines, fighting waves of nausea and trudging up and down the hall with a drill sargeant disguised as a spritely little wisp of a woman in scrubs. On Friday, after a bolus of magnesium, a shower that could have gone on for days, and final instructions from my doctor, I was sent home.  Well, most of me was sent home. According to the op report, 85% percent of my stomach was sent for “permanent pathology,” otherwise known as the incinerator.

On that Tuesday, I underwent a Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy. A form of bariatric surgery designed to limit, physically, the amount of food and/or liquid I am able to consume at any one time. Basically, about 85% of my stomach was surgically removed, leaving me with a banana-shaped sliver of a stomach that can hold about three to four ounces.

My new stomach came with a whole slew rules and restrictions that dictate what, when and how I eat. I won’t bore you with the details (yet), but you should know that my entire life revolves around protein, protein and most importantly, protein. Sixty or more grams per day. Every day. If you have any protein-dense recipes to share, please do! One cannot live on tuna and chicken forever, you know.

I was never scared of surgery, the procedure itself. I work for my surgeon so I get to see, day in and day out, how meticulous and compassionate he is with all of our patients. His skill as a surgeon was never, not even for a moment, given a second thought.  I was scared, though, of the social, and subsequent emotional, impacts of this type of surgery.

I know that there is a stigma surrounding weight loss surgery. I was worried that people would think I was taking the “easy way out”. I’ve always worried too much about what people think about me and I feared their judgment of my decision.  I read this on a blog recently:

Weight Loss Surgery: seen by pious public to be surgical baptism for the guilty gluttonous slothful.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a tool. Not a cure or a magic bullet or a quick fix…a tool. It is also not for everyone. I never considered myself to be gluttonous or slothful. I knew how to eat in moderation, increase my physical exercise and I could easily lose 10% of my body weight. Weight Watchers was my method of choice and it really worked. But sooner or later, my old behaviors – emotional eating, stress eating, laziness – would come back and that 10% was wiped out. I’ve probably lost that same 10% ten times over the last ten years. I needed to break the cycle.

This surgery wasn’t about vanity for me. Far from it. Okay, sure, I do love picking up a smaller size of jeans every time I go shopping and it is such a rush to not have to shop in the plus-size section. Those are little things, small measurements of my progress. I chose surgery for my health.  My family’s medical history is filled with diabetes, breast cancer, gastro-intestinal cancers, osteoarthritis, hypertension and dyslipidemia, all diseases that are major risk factors when one is obese. So while I could lose 10% easily – losing and maintaining a 10% weight loss, by the way, is the marker of a successful diet – that would never put me out of the risk zone for the diseases already prevalent in my family.  And I do not come from a family of overweight people. I had to ask myself, how many times am I willing to lose the same 25 pounds and do I really want to wait until I get sick before I get serious?  The answers were easy. Zero and hell no!

I chose surgery. I chose it for my health. You don’t have to agree with my decision, but I would prefer that you respect it.

Fast Foward

Four and a half months after surgery, I am still learning how to use my tool. By the way, I’ve named my sleeve, my little sliver of a stomach, Suzy. She has a personality all her own and deserved a name. She gets cranky when I drink too fast. She is quick to correct me if I eat too much, too fast or don’t chew enough. And she punishes me, swift and vicious, when I have something with too much fat or sugar.

I’m still working on the emotional eating behaviors. That is where my goal to journal compulsively comes in. I think that if I can get a better handle on what I’m thinking and feeling, the triggers that send me rummaging through the cupboards, I’ll be able to come up with alternate behaviors that are healthier. Only then can I stop perpetuating the feel-eat-guilt-stress-eat cycle that threatens to destroy any chance I have to be successful.

I also need to move more. That is a goal all in itself, but it is also a big part of my goal to get organized. I’m going to schedule time for regular exercise, both at home and at the gym. If there is anything I”m scared of more than not losing weight, or regaining what I’ve lost, it is flab. Or the appearance of saggy skin that can be a problem for some after bariatric surgery. One of the best ways to combat this is regular exercise, cardio work to burn calories and strength training to build, tone and shape.  I’m going to be breaking in these new trainers starting today, with any luck (and a lot of dedication), I’ll wear them out pretty quickly.

That’s all for now. Time for me to stop ignoring the elliptical glaring at me from the other side of the room and get on with my day.

Happy Sunday!

  1. I have a few friends who have done this and not one has had a bad ending. In fact, it has been the opposite. None of them were over eaters. They tried to exercise but had trouble sticking with it. This surgery actually gave them the momentum to get up and go and do and most importantly be. You are courageous, wondrous and amazing. I know you have already seen much of the benefits and there are more down the road.

    • Ashleigh Dickins
    • January 2nd, 2011

    *hugs* YOU CAN DO IT! 😀 You made a very brave choice, and I can only hope you’ll reap the rewards ten-fold!!

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