Back in May, I wrote a somewhat cryptic post, which left a few of my friends here puzzled and wondering what I was writing about. I apologize for sounding so vague. At the time I was not ready to share all my fears. I also was not certain that I could actually go through with the ordeal I was contemplating to undergo. I chose to chronicle my journey. The following is my contribution to fill in the gaps since that post. I hope the information will also be of help to anyone contemplating bariatric surgery. This is a long post, the better to journal my experiences:
I think that henceforth, my life will be a tale of either before or after the surgery I just put myself through. I use the term 'put myself through' because technically, it was not an absolute necessity, and I could have opted out and kept on living as before. Up until the moment they were wheeling me to the operating room I was crying, desperately wanting to scream "I don't want to do this!". I knew I was seconds away from the slumber of anesthesia, with no voice or say to add to anything that happened in the next moments of my life.
For almost two years, I studied and researched bariatric surgery, going back and forth between 'yes I want to do this', and 'no this is just too darn drastic for my taste'. Sometime during that phase, a bariatric surgeon opened an office here in town, and I went to my second Bariatric Seminar. I had attended one in San Antonio because that was the closest I would have been able to go for the procedure. Now the surgery was available in my city, but even then I was not convinced. That particular physician's route to surgery for his patients required a pretty long amount of time, as you had to be under a nutritionist's care for months, as well as undergo all the required exams and paperwork, before the surgery could be performed. And then another Surgeon opened offices as well, in another local Hospital. I attended the first of his Seminars this past April, after a slew of television commercials showing many patient success stories. I proceeded to attend several support meetings. I wanted to meet and talk to those patients, to ask them questions. The most prominent in my mind was the level of pain, and to know how they decided among the three types of surgery available. I learned that gastric bypass is the most drastic of the three, but the most successful route for consistent and permanent weight loss. The other problem I saw with it was that because the procedure rendered your digestive system with gastrointestinal malabsorption problems, thus you would have to take multivitamins for the rest of your life. The lap band was something I would not have considered, because it made for having to make multiple trips to the Dr.'s office for readjusting. The next option, a gastric sleeve, sounded more like something I could look at. That procedure called for removing about 2/3 of the stomach, with the remainder left shaped like a slender, banana shaped 'sleeve'. Hence the name. The down side to that procedure, was that weight loss could cease if enough caloric content was eaten, however small the amount of food. The pros were that it was not as invasive (well it is invasive) as a bypass, and one only need to take vitamins for a year. All three procedures were laparoscopic, meaning the Surgeon uses robotic like tools to make small incisions in the abdominal area as well as for the whole procedure. This translates to faster healing of the wounds, but certainly not an absence of pain, as I was soon to find out. I knew that whichever procedure I chose, it had to be coupled with exercise in addition to eating a healthier diet. But in going back to the subject of how long the whole process took from beginning to end I would have to say it was brief and fast. My Lab work was done in late May, and the remaining exams and appointments were completed by early July. My surgery date was August 16, so it took less than 3 months from initiating the process to the day of surgery.
One other requirement for the surgery was that I had to lose 5% of my weight before surgery. About two weeks before surgery I was told I had to lose a little more. Between the start of my journey into surgery and the day of surgery, I lost about 18 lbs. It doesn't sound like much, but to me, it's substantial. My experience is unique, and I know every one's is different. A couple of days before surgery, to add to the discomfort of the whole experience, I started my monthly cycle. I was mortified, because I wondered how I could possibly lean forward to change pads and undergarments- not to mention showering! The thing that kept going through my mind was what if I rupture the stitches and staples! Believe it or not, as hard and painful as it was, I somehow got through all that.
I did suffer before the surgery. I was a mess of nerves and anxiety. The thing which kept me sane was the thought that I had to do this for my family. I know everyone said to me I should do this for myself. But realistically, if I hadn't cared enough about my health before to stop overeating, I wasn't about to go under the knife for 'my health' either. I knew my focus had to be on what I loved most next to my Creator: my family. I knew they wanted and needed a healthier Wife/Mom/Grandma in their lives. They understood even better than I did that I was a very unhappy camper with a poor quality of life. I drew strength from their encouragement to go through with the surgery. It was my beloved Husband who stood by me through every moment prior, during, and after. And even now, continues to help me in all the things which I could not possibly do on my own.
Of the things which lead up to the day, I will write about on another post. For now, I will share that when I awoke from the anesthesia, I immediately felt pain. I could only moan softly, and it felt like even breathing hurt. I remember hearing other women moaning in the recovery room. I assume some of them had also undergone the same surgery. The Dr. who performed the surgery usually operated on Mondays and Tuesdays, doing about 5 operations a day. I believe I was the last one on that Monday last week. Thankfully, I would doze off intermittently, but then awake to the realization that I was in pain and discomfort. I barely remember finally being wheeled to my room, where my Husband was waiting. After a few minutes, a nurse came in to instruct me that I any time I wished I could press the little 'morphine' pump to release the pain killer. It was set to release only the amount needed. I barely remember it, but I know I did press that little button a few times! When my eldest Son and his family came in, I instantly felt exponentially better. Just the sight of my two little Grandsons provided relief. I could actually talk! Funny how love is such a powerful pain killer.
My surgery took place around 2:30PM last Monday. My Sweetie tells me I was brought to my room around 4:30PM. One of the things which causes great discomfort is a buildup of air in the abdominal area. I'm told they fill your stomach with air to check for signs of leakage. But I'm not too clear on that, so I may be mistaken. In any case, it wasn't until about 9PM that I asked to go to the bathroom to relieve my bladder, which was full due to all the liquids from the I.V. I then told my Sweetie I should probably walk to relieve the gas buildup, since I was already up anyway. And so it was that each time I got up during the night to go to the bathroom, I would walk the hallways. It was so painful, and I remember walking so slow, barely creeping along. One of the things I had worried about prior to surgery was the knowledge that I would not be allowed to drink water or any fluids until the day after surgery. I worried because I normally always drank a ton of water. I just really loved drinking water and ice! And I worried that I would be dying of thirst. Interestingly, I never once felt thirsty, I think because I was just in so much pain. Therefore before I was allowed to drink any liquids I had to undergo a test the next day. I had to drink a vile tasting liquid, then stand in front of an x-ray type machine, and told to swallow. The xray doctor would then examine those pictures and then report to the Dr. if there were any leaks in the stomach. Once I got clearance, my first meal there consisted of chicken broth, jello gelatin, and water.
I was released later that second day, but not before a visit from the Dr and the nutritionist. Once home, that first week all I could take were broths and juices. I was instructed to keep myself well hydrated and to drink plenty of water. It wasn't until the fourth day that I actually felt better. And every day since then I've had a lot of improvement. I try to walk a lot, and to drink plenty of fluids. I've continued to lose weight, but not as fast as I would like since beginning to eat soft food. The real test will be when I am free to eat 'real' food. For now I'm just happy to be able to say I made it to the other side of the anesthesia and the surgery. I did worry that I might never wake up from that. I also know that in the moments before the surgery I could have been braver and called the whole thing off. But I opted instead to just commend myself to the Lord, and let him operate on my behalf. I am thankful that he did. Now, I pray the Lord will see me through everything that lays ahead always and throughout my days on this Earth.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ~Philippians 4:8~