There is this major story that I’ve never written about here, and I’m not sure why. I guess because the people who are close to me in real life already know about it, and I figure that it isn’t anyone else’s business. (Which really just furthers my theory that on blogs, you only get to know a fraction of a person, the small part that they choose to share with the world.) But by not talking about it, it sounds like I’m ashamed of it, and I’m not. So here’s the story: a little over 3 years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery.
I was always a “fat girl.” When I was little, one of my aunts nicknamed me the Michelin Tire Baby because I had rolls of fat down my arms and legs. I didn’t outgrow it, either. I went on my first diet and exercise plan when I was 9 years old, and I was on and off of them all through junior high, high school and college. I hit 200 pounds for the first time when I was in 9th grade, at 14 years old. (I’m only 5’5″. Big-boned or not, 200 is pretty heavy for someone my height.) High school wasn’t exactly fun for me, for obvious reasons. College was better, but still, you name the diet, I have probably tried it. But no matter what extreme diet or exercise program I tried, I could never lose more than 15 pounds at the most. I should add that I am a very conscientious dieter; when I do it, I do it all out, I never cheat or slack off. And considering that I needed to lose well over 50 pounds throughout most of my adolescence and adult life, 15 pounds wasn’t enough to be encouraging.
So, on May 14, 2002, I had gastric bypass surgery. It was quite possibly the most difficult, painful thing I have ever endured. There were complications with my surgery, so I ended up in the hospital for 6 days instead of the typical 3. Basically, the place where my esophagus connected to my (new, tiny) stomach got completely covered in ulcers, and it swelled shut, so I threw up everything I swallowed. Including my own saliva. About every 5 minutes or so. Plus one of my lungs collapsed. I have quite honestly blocked out a lot of that time because it was so horrible (and hello, demerol IV! If anything can help you forget unpleasantness, that’ll do it), so I only remember a little bit of it here and there. I remember that late at night, after my mom went back to my apartment to sleep, I would walk down to the nurse’s station because I was convinced that I was going to die, and I didn’t want to be alone when it happened. I remember being awake, fully conscious and crying during one of those tests where they put the scope down your throat to take a look at what’s going on in your stomach. And I remember the pain. My god, do I remember that.
The ulcers caused me to throw up pretty much non-stop for the next 6 weeks. Luckily, about a week before my surgery, I had gotten laid off from a job that I hated (yay, unemployment!) so I could relax in the comfort of my own home and puke, I didn’t have to do it in an office environment. And then, finally, the ulcers healed, I stopped barfing, and I lost weight like crazy. (Oh yeah, and found a new job.) I weighed 265 pounds at the time of my surgery; here’s a picture of me a few days before the operation. This one is from a few months before, that’s me and my brother on New Year’s Eve 2001. By the summer of 2003, a year after the surgery, I had lost a little over 100 pounds. I’ve regained about 10 to 15 pounds since then (thank you, birth control!), but I’ve stayed more or less the same weight for the past 3 years. I’m still not a skinny girl by any stretch of the imagination, but if you compare those pre-op pictures to something like this or this (which were taken 2 and 3 years post-op, respectively), there’s a pretty huge difference.
As for how it affects me now, it’s hard to put that into words. Most of time, I still think of myself as the fat girl that I was before surgery, even though I know that’s not how the world sees me. If you met me on the street, you probably wouldn’t know that I used to be morbidly obese. My brain hasn’t quite reconciled that, even after all this time. I’m not sure it ever will; more importantly, I’m not sure that I want it to, because I don’t want to lose my ability to empathize with people who have serious weight problems. And I still have plenty of hang-ups about food – the surgery fixed my stomach, not my brain. As for my health, I have to drink protein shakes and take all kinds of vitamins because my body doesn’t absorb nutrients from food like normal people. But when you think about what would’ve happened to my health if I hadn’t had the surgery – high blood pressure, diabetes, joint problems, etc. – taking a few minutes out of my day to swallow some pills and drink a shake seems like a pretty ok trade-off. For the first year or two, I only ate tiny amounts of food, but I eat pretty normal-size portions now. There are foods I have to limit my intake of, though; mostly carbs (potatoes, pasta, etc.) and sugar, because too much can cause some major abdominal discomfort. And I’m now lactose intolerant, so I have to buy lactose-free milk, and ice cream is off-limits altogether, which is fine because I am all about the fruit sorbets anyway.
I guess the main reason why I generally think of my gastric bypass surgery as something that I keep private is because I don’t want people to judge me for it. No one has ever had the nerve to say to my face that I was just fat and lazy, or that I took the easy way out by having surgery, although I know that’s what people think a lot of the time. And if you read above what I went through, you might understand why if anyone ever does say that to me, they are probably going to get punched in the neck. Actually, credit where it’s due, the only reason I finally decided to write about it is because I read Amanda’s story on her blog, and I really admire her honesty and openness in the way that she talked about it. I’m not sure I agree with her that surgical weight loss procedures are the only way to cure our nation’s obesity epidemic, but I do believe that there’s a rather large (no pun intended) subset of the overweight population who would greatly benefit from this surgery, particularly for those who may not be able to lose weight any other way. Unfortunately, it seems that fewer and fewer insurance companies are covering the surgery, which means that a lot of people who need it, and who can’t come up with the tens of thousands of dollars that it costs, won’t have access to this life-saving procedure. I was extremely blessed in that my insurance covered me 100% when I had mine. My heart goes out to those who don’t have that luxury.
Oddly, I got married the day after my 3-year gastric bypass anniversary. I remember thinking of it when we set the date for our wedding, but when it was all happening, I don’t think the surgery even crossed my mind because I was too busy thinking, “holy sh*t, I’m getting married tomorrow!” Oh yeah, plus I was apparently preoccupied with taking pictures of my ass. Whatever.