Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One Year Post-Op—Happy Sleevaversary to Me!

One year ago, I underwent surgery, a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, to save my life.
Right before taking off my glasses and getting wheeled in,
continuing the family tradition of a goofy pre-op shot.

First meal of broth and jello the next day. Still goofy post-op.

To mark the occasion, this morning I got up and headed to the lab to get my one-year fasting blood tests, stopped at the store on the way back to pick up some double-protein milk to make myself a cappuccino, then came home and took a nice, hot shower, with salt scrub and lovely scented lotions and potions.

I was in the shower at the hotel last year when I got the call that my surgery time had been moved up; Mike answered it, then we hustled to put on all our winter duds to race out to the hospital. Showering this morning was a lot more relaxing, and since we are now in Florida, I could just slip into a sundress when I was done. What a difference a year makes.

Left: Pre-surgery, December 16, 2014
Right: Post-surgery, December 16, 2015

The one year date is a big deal, as the majority of the benefits of bariatric surgery are reaped in the first 12 months—after that, post-op patients basically become average joe dieters, along with the rest of the world, struggling with the same potential pitfalls and sidetracks.

In short, today marks another transition, one that I have felt coming for awhile. On the anniversary of surgery, or my sleevaversary, as I'm calling it, I'm reflecting on what I have learned in this very powerful, life-affirming year. Here's what I now know for sure:

  • This is the second-best decision I have ever made in my life. My top three are now:
    1. Marrying the right person
    2. Saving my life with bariatric surgery
    3. Studying abroad for a year in France
(I know, I know, everyone is going to ask, "Isn't becoming a parent in the top three?" It used to be solidly in spot #3, for sure. When I really think about the decisions I have made that have shaped who I am, and how well I take care of myself, the vertical sleeve has to be #2, without question, knocking parenting out of the trifecta.)

  • Obesity is a disease, or part of a matrix of related conditions/diseases. Surgery helps address these, but it isn't the whole answer.

    I've always suspected that my incredible ability to gain...and gain...and gain...(it's a super-power, truly) has been part of a larger pathology of which I had some, but not entire, control. If this year has taught me anything, it is that I will be managing this disease state my entire life, regardless of how heavy I may be.

    Case in point, unlike a huge number of bariatric surgery patients, I didn't eliminate any medications this year, I actually added one. If you lose as much weight as I did, exercise regularly, and eat small portions of healthy food, but your blood pressure is still borderline high, you have to face the fact that there are genetics at play that require medication as a part of your disease plan. All these things—obesity, BP, blood sugar—are enmeshed, and I can't pretend that I don't have the predisposition to these problems just because I am thinner than I was last year.

    I also have not stopped using my CPAP machine, although I do sleep even better now that I am lighter. Again, this is morphology at play: a strong, genetic disposition for a small, narrow nasal passage means that, even if I become Twiggy, I'm pretty certain I'll be wearing that sassy mask to bed forever. (This helps me get out of camping, which is a bonus.)
  • I have done my very best, and at the same time, I could have done better.

    On this day, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself for being brave, for taking the (calculated) risk, and for persevering through physical pain and practical challenges throughout this year. I have worked incredibly hard. Moment to moment, I have done the best that I can.

    At the same time, I could have done better. My activity level could definitely be higher, and I could streamline my diet a little more. I probably could have maximized my weight loss a bit more with added attention to protein and water intake—I spent a lot of time trying to cram both of these in, but even so, it was a constant challenge. I also may have benefited from journaling my food intake, although that is a slippery slope for me, one that pre-op counselors warned me might be ill-advised if I wasn't able to be kind and gentle with myself.

    For anyone who sees me now, who knew me then, it is hard to believe that I could have had a better outcome. I am a little behind the average weight loss for someone my size, however, and have been in a stall, bouncing up and down five pounds, for months. I can both accept that I have accomplished great things and acknowledge that I missed some opportunities.
  • I can still do better, and I will.

    Sure, the magic of the first year post-op may be over, with my tiny healing stomach and gut flora that supports burning fat like an engine with no hunger pangs, but that doesn't mean this is done for me. My body has leveled out at around my lowest weight as an adult, that of a 16/18 plus-sized twenty-something, my weight when I got married at 25. I can feel my body saying, "Okay, this is great! Let's hang out here forever, or maybe even gain a few pounds." If I stayed here forever, I would still be the happiest with my body I have ever been in my life; that said, I'm going to challenge myself to continually add activity and healthy nutrition to my routine. I am going to remind myself when I don't make good choices that new good choices are always available. I'm going to remember that I can love myself fully exactly where I am, while still making changes that can improve my life.

    This process will never end, no matter how I look, no matter how much I weigh.
  • One great change can get so many other great changes going.

    I preach this to my clients—my whole masters thesis centered around this idea, for goodness sake—but experiencing this firsthand in such a grand scale this year has been revelatory and belief-affirming. My sense of self-efficacy—the belief that I am capable—is through the roof, and with each little hurdle jumped I know I can meet more challenges head on.

    It is not the least bit surprising to me that this was the year we finally picked our new home, packed up and moved, and started planting down new roots. The momentum of my surgery catapulted the whole family forward in a positive direction, and it solidified the way we work together to help each other achieve goals.
  •  I feel joy so often now, it makes me tear up.

    What can I say? The physical heaviness that I carried was a prison. I have broken out of jail, and it feels so good, I can't even describe it.

    This strange thing has happened since my surgery—when I see or hear beautiful things (e.g., a rainbow, a colorful light display, a great piece of music)—I start to cry tears of joy. Without all that weight, everything glorious is so much more palpable.
  • My neck is my bellwether.

    At my heaviest—shoot, at 40 pounds under my heaviest, for that matter—the weight on my neck felt like it was strangling me. When I went to sleep, I would force myself to pull sheets up under the skin and fat on my neck so that I could feel something cool there, as lying back with that weight on my windpipe made me feel like I might die at any moment.

    One of the first places I lost weight was in my neck, and it has become the symbol, to me, of my escape from death. I figuratively stuck my neck out to have this surgery and do the work that comes with it, and I can now literally stick my neck out and feel like a brand new person. I find myself touching my neck, often, still not believing it belongs to me. 
  • I am afraid.

    What, on earth, will happen if I gain this weight back? Not everything has gone to plan this year, and like I said, I can already feel old disease patterns creeping in, making the things I try to do to help myself be healthy seem ineffectual. I can't imagine the pain of gain. I can't envision the psychological and physical ramifications of gaining back the weight without my anxiety and fear rushing in and shortening my breathe.

    Part of what I must do, now, is face this potential reality. It happens to a lot of people. People who become as heavy as I was are not working with a body type that likes to stay trim and healthy. I must fight for it, I must work to keep myself well, and I must also deal with that fear, so that it doesn't start running the show behind the scenes, sabotaging me.
  • I am still a plus-sized woman, and I may always be.

    Secretly, even though I did this to save my life, I dreamed that, by this time, I would be able to walk into any store and purchase clothing. While I can now buy some shirts in an XL or XXL in a "normal" store, by waist/hips are solidly in the 16/18 range. It didn't happen.

    I'm not giving up, but I've also realized something fundamentally true (see next point):
  • I love my body, if it didn't change an inch, I'd feel fantastic going out looking this way.

    The fact that I can't easily buy clothes in a "normal" store cannot change that feeling. In fact, it makes me want to say this: "Stores, YOU ARE LAME. It is ridiculous that I can't get pants in the misses section of a department store. Shame on you. You are the ones who suck, not me."
  • Everything feels better now. EVERYTHING.

    This includes, but is not limited to:
    1. Hugging people
    2. Walking
    3. Standing
    4. Breathing
    5. Sitting (and not worrying about fitting in chairs)
    6. Driving
    7. Wearing jewelry
    8. Wearing clothes
    9. Moving in anyway whatsoever
    10. Holding still
  • I'm not exaggerating about how much better JUST BEING now feels.

    I cannot believe I lived in so much pain for so long, and all I ever felt about it was guilt and belief that I deserved it because it was all my fault I was so heavy. As I have described to so many people this year, I spent most of my life trying to do the things that are necessary to lose weight, and then maintain a healthy weight, I just didn't see any real success.

    It wasn't all my fault (see my second point, above, about this being a disease), and I am so grateful that there was a surgery available that helped to catalyze my efforts and make me healthier, stronger, and happier. I didn't even realize how much pain I was in until it was eliminated. I feel very lucky to feel this good after so many years of work.
  • Now comes the hard part (but they've all been hard parts.)

    Accepting that I was ill was hard. Researching the surgery was hard. Adopting the pre-op diet was hard. Traveling to get the surgery done was hard. Recovering was hard. Changing my lifestyle was hard. Dealing with this current stall is hard. And now that I am one year out, and just another heavy person using regular dieting techniques to lose weight, it's going to be hard. Around every turn in this journey, I can hear that voice saying, "Now comes the hard part, Kori."

    The fact that this is hard no longer has anything to do with anything. It's all hard. Real life stuff is HARD. We've all got our troubles. I don't win an award because I lost weight that many people never even gain. I'm just so grateful that this was more effective than any other difficult attempt at weight loss in my past. This is my hard. I'm on it. I accept it. I own it.
  • I was never alone.

    Here's where I get all weepy-eyed and sniffly. This year taught me that being vulnerable—opening yourself up to ask for help, and to tell people that you need love/support/prayers/assistance/good thoughts/listening ears/cheerleading/hugs—is the most powerful thing you can do. I have never, ever felt more connected to others as I have this year, and I can honestly say that I felt the support of all of you who love and care for me buoy me up so many times when I thought I might go under. I mean this in the most literal way possible—I felt the energy, the good intentions, the love and prayers, and they carried me further than I could have ever gone without all of you.

    I am forever grateful.
For those who want my one-year stats, here they are:

Pre-op jeans on my post-op body.
(Special thanks to Carrie,
who suggested I keep a pair of my old jeans for comparison.)

Total weight loss (including pre-op diet): 112.2 pounds
Weight loss since surgery: 91.2 pounds (roughly 10-15 pounds heavier than my doctor's projection, but not too shabby)
Sizes lost: 3 (plus sizes have wider weight ranges, and drop much slower than regular sizes, I have learned)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Speck-Tacular—Don't Miss It!

This post is sponsored by Speck Products, who provided me with some lovely Speck cases to try out and write about here on the blog. All opinions presented here are my own, or those of my family members who have sampled the Speck cases along with me.

It's that time of year, friends, when technology gifts abound, and/or hearts may be broken because new technology gifts aren't in the cards. Either way, you can find something fabu at Speck, either to wrap up that new tablet you got for Hanukkah, or to spice up that old phone you just pray will make it until you are eligible for an upgrade in the spring. 

Right now, Speck is running their Holiday Speck-Tacular, with all items on their site 30% off. Plus, if you order by tomorrow, December 16th, you have guaranteed shipping in time for Christmas. I'm always jolly when I don't have to worry about gifts arriving in time.

My family and I received the following items this week, and gave ourselves some early Christmas presents—I know, I know, we should wait for Christmas, but I had to review them here, didn't I?

For my birthday last month, I was lucky enough to receive a new iPad Air, replacing the slowly churning "old-timey" (by Apple standards) iPad 2 that served as my main work tablet. With my sassy new orange StyleFolio, I can keep that new iPad protected until it, too, becomes as slow-moving as a glacier. I picked orange, because I'm a coral/orange kind of gal, but there are wide variety of colors and styles available.

The kiddo had worn out her Speck case after two years, but she's all of ten, and I can hardly believe her original case lasted that long given that iPad Mini's extremely careful treatment general abuse. She was excited for a more grown-up floral case for the iPad Mini she earned for Christmas two years ago by doing homework and chores, and immediately commented on how cool the clasp is. She also likes how she can set it up at almost any angle for viewing/typing.

As for my hubby, he was desperate for a new phone case. He has used several Speck cases in the past, and has determined through experience that he prefers those that don't have a hard cover over the screen. No matter what he does to keep them clean, he always manages to get dust/lint in at least one corner of the case, blocking off his screen in that area. With his last case, he couldn't adequately see how much charge he had on his phone, as what looked like a layer of sand (denim lint) covered the top right-hand corner. I picked a blue non-hard cover version for him to try, and we will be purchasing some screen films to keep his screen scratch-free. He was pleased immediately after putting the new case on, exclaiming, "Look, my phone has 72% charge!" It's a brand new world of knowing when his phone is going to die, and plugging it in time, thanks to Speck.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, but expensive technology is something you'd like to last as long as possible. Speck cases are available for many makes and models (we are a Mac family, but Android-lovers can be Specked out, too), and give you a stylish way to keep your tech safe. Check them out!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Anything But Fearless

Have you seen the movie, Inside Out, yet?

It is a terrific movie—genius, actually—about the way our emotions interact, and how each emotion is valid and necessary in its own role. More specifically, it is about a family of three—mother, father, and school-aged daughter—moving across country, and the daughter having what is tantamount to an emotional breakdown, as she tries to stay joyful when she is actually feeling anything but.

You can imagine how frightening this movie was for my husband and me, as we watched it on opening weekend, just days away from <<gulp>> moving our school-aged daughter across the country.** Fear, one of the five emotions highlighted in the film, along with Joy, Sadness, Disgust and Anger, was swimming all around me, and this acute potential scenario of pain and struggle was hard to swallow. Fear was popping up nightly in my vivid dreams, daily in my endless lists of "things to do/pack/think about/discuss," and physically in the tightness in my chest when I imagined our short-term future.

In the movie, of course, as voiced by Bill Hader, Fear is hilarious. Worry lists, anxious movements, and frenetic screams make his character a much-needed relief from the (sometimes dark) plot. Check him out:

Today, four days post-moving truck arrival, buried by boxes but starting to enjoy our new home, I can think about this movie with a little bit more perspective, and a lot less fear and anxiety. We made it to the other side, with a toe dipped in the water of our new normal, and we are all doing okay. We love Florida. It is a good choice. This transition is nowhere near over, and there will be many more moments of sadness, anxiety, grief, and frustration ahead, punctuating this honeymoon period with our new home. We have a lot of hope, though, because even in the stress of unpacking, living out of suitcases, and paying big bucks for home repairs, we have all been having a lot of fun.

For EJ, a good chunk of that fun has been a drama camp she has been attending this week, for which we will go and see her performance in a few hours. As I was driving on the (now familiar, previously foreign) route home from drop-off this morning, I started to think about how fearless our kid is. Aside from her anxiety about loud noises, for which we got some excellent professional help, I have always described her as fearless about everything: entering new situations, trying new things, being in front of people, etc. Even as I discussed her noise anxiety here on the blog, I called her fearless (topic sentence, third paragraph.)

It struck me this morning, however, how dangerous that description really is, or at least how dangerous the expectation of "always being fearless" could become if she internalizes that label, especially as she approaches adolescence. Thank you, Inside Out. 

Every significantly wonderful, life-changing, soul-expanding, perspective-enlarging experience I have had in my life has come with a healthy dose of fear. I have never been unafraid in those moments; sometimes, my fear has almost gotten the best of me. Had I believed that being fearless was key, I would likely have pushed away these experiences to rid myself of the feeling, and in return, I would have denied myself:

  1. Every single performing arts moment of my childhood through adulthood, through which I have learned how to play and to think, how to relate to emotions with empathy, how to express myself creatively, and in the process, how to make and maintain life-long friendships.
  2. My trip to France in high school at age sixteen—a trip in which our plane got turned around halfway across the ocean for suspicious reasons, and after a long lockdown at JFK, finally flew to Paris—a trip that ignited my love of France and helped me become dedicated to being a fluent French speaker.
  3. My college education, away from home, at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which shaped me in more ways than I can count.
  4. My junior year abroad in France, a year that I almost chickened-out of completely the night before our plane left, as I weighed my giant green suitcases over and over trying to make everything fit within the baggage weight restrictions, and obsessed over everything I would miss in Madison (e.g., friends, clubs, classes) if I left. I have said this before and I will say it again: aside from choosing the right person to marry, choosing to go abroad and live in Aix-en-Provence for a year was the single best decision I have ever made for myself, it was so profound in its impact on my life.
  5. My life in Washington, DC, packing my 1988 Honda Accord and driving out there after college, taking a job at a big firm, persevering as I struggled to assimilate to professional life, coping with missing family and friends, surviving on a $25K starting salary. Learning to love a place, build a life in that place, and create the family/friends/structure I needed to make any location truly a home, was the gift that DC gave me.
  6. Marrying my husband. Was I scared to get married? I didn't think I was, right until one week AFTER I got married and we were on our honeymoon. As I stared at a complimentary bottle of champagne for "Mr. and Mrs. Lusignan," all I could think was, "What have I done?" He sent me to spa and bought me flowers, I calmed down, and the rest is history. 
  7. Moving to Chicago for graduate school for Mike. Chicago was wonderful, and Chicago was hard. School took longer than we expected, and we had to take out student loans. Our fourth-story walk-up was difficult in the ice and snow. Nothing really turned out as we had planned, except that, in the end, he got his PhD. That said, moving to Chicago meant living closer to family, making an amazing network of friends in our neighborhood of Hyde Park as well as through my masters program at Northwestern University, living a truly urban (walkable) lifestyle for a season, and confirming that we DO NOT want to live in the Midwestern climate forever.
  8. Giving birth. I wasn't afraid to be a parent, and I wasn't afraid to go into labor, initially. When the labor took some frightening, exhausting turns, however, I was more afraid—actually, more physically terrified for my life, to be exact—than I had ever been, or have ever been since then. The lesson: the human body can (and will) withstand almost anything. Case in point, see item #9.
  9. Saving my life with a vertical-sleeve gastrectomy. Because this was elective, and because it was expensive, and because there was so much shame around how "I really should be able to be a healthy weight without surgery" rolling around in my head, the fear I had going into this surgery was immense. What if I were the one person in thousands who died on the table? What if I had complications that made it hard for me to ever eat again, or be nutritionally sound? What would happen to my family if this all became a tragedy? Getting ready to go to the hospital that morning and putting myself in the hands of the care team was overwhelmingly scary. I remember doing breathing exercises in the shower, then hearing my husband pick up a call from the hospital saying that I could come in early, and being so grateful that I wouldn't have to sit in that terror any longer. Now, at seven months out and 107 pounds lost, it all seems obvious that it was the right choice; I remember that fear, though.
  10. Moving to Florida. Taking a risk on a new life, trying to shape our future in a new way, and launching into a new community with the hope that we will make friends, find our place, and grow some roots.
Ten is such a nice number for a list, but I must add one more thing, one that encompasses everything: fear helps me ask for help. In every big moment listed above, as well as the million other moments of fear and anxiety I have felt throughout my lifetime, I had people in my life who helped me to face the fear, chose courage, and cope with the stress. These folks reminded me that if things didn't work out, I could always make a new choice. They patiently sat with me as I tried to answer the question, "What's the worst that could happen?" even as my responses became outlandish and hyperbolic, and lovingly tried to convince me that a) those probably wouldn't happen and b) even if they did, I could—and would—handle them. Fear has made me seek out new techniques from others—breathing, meditation, exercise—so that even when I am alone, I can be okay. At its best Fear keeps me safe, and connects me to others in a web of support. We all experience fear—there's no getting out of it—and we all need help feeling our way through it. Acknowledging fear doesn't mean you lack courage, it means that you may be at the precipice of making a courageous choice.

As the audience learns from the story of Inside Out, no good comes from an externally-imposed emotional expectation, even when it comes from a kind moment of praise or gratitude. Feeling what you feel, and knowing you can express your feelings honestly, is vital to sanity. I want my daughter to know that fear is normal, healthy, and not insurmountable. Being fearless, as much as that is praised as an attribute in today's world, especially for a young girl, is an unrealistic expectation. My hope for her is that she may embrace the feeling, breathe, ask for help, and make choices based not simply on that one emotion, but on the sum total of what she knows, with the support of those around her to buoy her up when the tide comes in. That is my hope for all of us.

**Our child was in no way traumatized by this movie. She thought it was funny, and would help her with her move. So far, so good.

(Special shout-out to the folks at #BlogHer15 today: attending the conference last year was one of the key steps in my choice to reclaim my life and have weight-loss surgery. It also connected me with terrific new friends. Hope to see you again next year!)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, Five Months

With inch-by-inch of circumference eliminated, I'm five months out of surgery. 91.9 pounds down, with many more left to go. Feeling great and grateful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Flying to the Summit

In the world of weight loss, particularly in the world of online weight-loss support among peers, there is much talk about NSVs, or non-scale victories. NSVs are the things you cling to when the scale just isn't moving, successes like, "My jeans are too loose," or "An old friend didn't recognize me at the grocery store." You would imagine that bariatric surgery patients, like myself, wouldn't need to focus on these, as our excess weight would simply pour off continually, without fail, due to our minuscule dietary intake. That isn't the norm, however. For me, while the overall trajectory has been weight loss, I have had weeks at a time when the scale does not budge. This morning, for instance, I lost a couple of pounds for the first time in at least two weeks. I wasn't slacking off while the scale stayed still; nothing I did this week with my diet and exercise is any different than anything I did the week before, or the week before that. During those lulls at the scales, NSVs have become an important focus.

I've written before about how my life felt restricted before my vertical sleeve gastrectomy—not only did I know that obesity would kill me, it was physically and psychologically hurting me every day. While I still am overweight, and have a long way to go, taking 85 pounds off of my frame has had a tremendously positive influence on my overall well-being. NSVs for me include, but are not limited to:
  1. Not constantly worrying about fitting in seats at restaurants, theaters, etc., making me reluctant to go out and enjoy life
  2. Not waking up in the morning with back/knee/ankle/arm/neck pain
  3. Not being restricted to my orthopedic mattress (which is now in storage with the rest of our stuff, pending our upcoming move) because sleeping on anything else caused agonizing back pain by 3:00 a.m.
  4. Not panicking when I have to shop because I am inching out of the highest sizes typically sold, even in plus-size shops
  5. Fitting comfortably in a queen-size bed with my husband (who lifts weights, and is very broad in the shoulders—only one of us can take up extra space if we are going to sleep peacefully!)
  6. Not wondering if the first thing people think when they see me is, "Wow, she has gotten bigger."
At Christmas, my husband capitalized on the first NSV mentioned above, giving me tickets to see Carousel this spring as my present. To quote him, when he gave me the present, "I know you love the theater, and have avoided going to see shows for a long time because you aren't comfortable in the seats. I thought that, by April when the show is on, you would be able to go and fit in a seat without worry." Two weeks ago, we went to see the show at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and it was fantastic. I was so giddy when I sat down and fit beautifully in the seat, I actually started to cry. We took a selfie to commemorate the moment.

I am grateful for all the weight-loss wins that led up to that moment, and tomorrow, I am excited that I will catapult over another previous hurdle, in what will likely the be the pièce de résistance of NSVs. Tomorrow, I am flying, alone, to the Mom 2.0 Summit.

I cannot recall a time in the last decade when I have flown alone. Once EJ was born, and my weight started to really pile on, I just didn't feel safe flying on my own, sitting next to strangers, worried about spilling out into their space, not being able to put my arm rest or tray table down all the way, and asking for a seat belt extender. Then, in 2010, there was the whole Kevin Smith/Southwest debacle, in which he was escorted off the plane because he was too big for his seat. I mean, if a famous movie director could be told he was too fat to fly, I was certainly not going to get any special treatment. I love Southwest, and continued to fly it when traveling with my daughter and husband, borrowing space from my child within our family row. In my mind, though, in 2010, a door slammed shut for me: as long as I was obese, I could not fly on my own.

It was convenient that, during this time, our family was grad-school poor. It was easy to justify not spending money to attend conferences, visit friends, or to pursue work possibilities on our own travel dime. Heck, we didn't have money for essentials, why on earth would I book unnecessary flights?

For someone like me, who loves to travel, loves to meet new people, loves to explore the world, swallowing the reality that I could not go where I wanted to go (and do what I wanted to do, Mama Cass-style) was too painful to think about. I didn't face it, fully. I imagined travel for another time and place in my life, unsure of when that would (or could) happen.

Tomorrow, it is happening. I am flying to Phoenix. Alone. To a conference that is suited just for me, to meet new friends and learn new things. To feel the sunshine, and go swimming in fancy hotel pools in my plus-size bathing suit. To visit with family I love. To test out the new freedom that comes with being in a body that, while still heavy, is reasonably proportioned and not extraordinarily difficult to haul around.

I have to give a shout-out here to my friend, Kate, whom I met last year at another blogging conference—one in which I flew out with my entire family, and attended with a close friend—for tipping me off about the sold-out Mom 2.0 Summit, and helping me to get in touch with another blogger who was hoping to transfer her ticket and hotel reservation because she could no longer attend. Having someone cheer me on through the process made me feel like I could actually do this. 

The conference's opening party theme, "Rise of the Phoenix," is not just a metaphor for me; I feel like I have been through a fire, and am reemerging, ready to fly again. To my fellow passengers tomorrow, please excuse the inevitable tears of joy at take-off. To my fellow conference attendees, get ready to meet the most grateful participant at a blogging conference you have met in years.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, Four Months

December 16th—April 16th

Over 82 pounds down, fresh from a walk to pick the kiddo up from school, in a shirt she picked out for me two sizes smaller than what I wore the day of surgery. "Believe in your selfie," indeed. If I had not have believed in that gal taking the selfie on December 16th, I would be here right now.

As always, thanks to everyone for the outpouring of love, encouragement, and support. I still have a long way to go, and I'm very grateful to be doing it with all this great company.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, Three Months

December 16th—March 16th

Seventy pounds down, feeling healthier, walking further, eating lighter, drinking sippier (I know, it isn't a word, but it should be), and generally being Kori a lot more happily.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, Two Months

December 16th—January 16th—February 16th

Or, for full photo comparison, from surgery day to today:

I purchased the pants I'm wearing in today's photo last week while on vacation, one size lower than those I wore on my surgery date. They didn't quite fit when I bought them, but they were such a steal, and the pants I was wearing at the time were becoming so loose, I had to get them. Today, they fit just fine. Nutty. 56.4 pounds lost. I'm still hippy, but hey, you can't have everything. 

Today's non-selfie photo credit goes to the kiddo. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Surgery Recap Series, Post #2—Getting There, Getting It Done

(This post is the second in a series about my vertical sleeve gastrectomy, performed on December 16th, 2014. To find out about my pre-op physician selection, you can read my first post here.)

My first in-person consultation with my physician was on the Monday before Thanksgiving. At that time, I was weighed, measured and photographed, and I must admit that I felt a bit like I was being prepared for showing at the county fair. My physician asked me if I was at my highest weight, and although I had measured three pounds down from my very highest, I said yes, speaking generally. He told me that that is a red flag, and he would expect me to have lost weight before I came in for surgery, three weeks later. If I came back the same weight, or heavier, he would not perform surgery at that time.

I immediately regretted not replying, "Oh, no, I was three pounds heavier earlier this month!" If you want to scare a fat person, tell them that they have a limited amount of time in which they must prove they have lost weight. My brain was screaming, "If I thought I could lose weight, I wouldn't be here!" 

I didn't worry about starting my pre-op, liver-shrinking diet until two weeks before my surgery, as recommended, which allowed me to eat normally on Thanksgiving later that week. Did I eat as much as I might have if didn't know I had to lose weight by the 16th? Nope. I was moderate in my choices, and gained no holiday pounds, thankfully.

There is talk among the bariatric surgery community about "food funerals," opportunities to really eat those foods that you absolutely adore, but are terrible for you, before you may be unable to eat them again. I held no funerals. I didn't feel compelled. It wasn't an act of heroism, it was primarily a laser focus on my goal of being surgery ready by my surgery date.

In the end, I needn't have worried about the doctor's warning. Once provided with the nutritionist's recommendations for a pre-op diet, created specifically to shrink a pre-fatty liver (which, as an obese person, I was already the proud owner of), I found that the pounds started to fall off. The first two days were tortuous: no sugar, no carbs, and no caffeine, all at once. I called the nutritionist in desperation, I was so hungry. She told me to go ahead and add a lot more lean carbohydrates and good fats. By day four, I had figured out a decent protein shake recipe, and was cruising along.

In fact, about a week before the surgery, I started to have doubts about even moving forward with the operation. If I could lose weight so quickly, why would I get cut open?

It was at this point I had a lot of tears, doubt, and self-examination. I began to remember that I have lost weight quickly like this many, many times before. In the end, I always ended up gaining the weight back, plus more. I sought reassurance from family, friends, and other gastric sleeve patients I had met online. I told myself, "If you show up that day, and it doesn't feel right, you don't have to have surgery," all while continuing to prepare.

Thankfully, I was soon in the thick of our daughter's Nutcracker ballet performances—getting her ready, doing her super-sticky-will-not-fall bun several times a day, and volunteering in the front of house during performances we did not attend. It was exactly as I hoped: between being busy, hosting relatives coming into town to see EJ perform, and getting repeatedly covered in hair gel, I didn't have a moment to worry about the upcoming surgery. I mean, look at this kid—how could you worry about anything when you get to watch this kid dance, right?

On the evening of Sunday the 14th, two days before surgery, I started to make piles of everything we needed to take with us to Michigan. A Magic Bullet blender, protein powder, sugar-free jellos and puddings, homemade broth frozen into ice cubes, the Aeropress coffee maker and Colectivo coffee (decaf for me, regular for Mike), GasX strips and Milk of Magnesia, bottles of grape-flavored Isopure clear liquid, and comfy pajamas and slippers for lounging around were all sorted, and various coolers and ice packs were set up for early morning packing.

My folks had agreed to come with us for the surgery, which was a huge blessing. After I was discharged, they would return to Chicago with the kiddo, get her to school and activities, etc., then bring her (and our dog) up to their place in Wisconsin for a fun weekend with family, while I recuperated in Michigan with Mike, waiting for my one-week post-op appointment. It made our daughter very relieved to know that she could be at the hospital to visit me, and it made me very relieved to know my parents would be there for support.

Early on Monday the 15th, we were all packed in two cars and heading out. Mike and I stopped for gas, while my folks went through the adjacent McDonald's drive through to get everyone but me some breakfast. As it was the day before surgery, I was on clear liquids, only, so I had a bottle of water and a bottle of Isopure for the road. EJ decided to go with her grandparents (smart kid), so I drove Mike and I there, knowing I wouldn't be able to drive for several weeks after surgery. We listened to an audiobook, chatted, and generally had a relaxing time. Once in Michigan, we checked into our Residence Inn, loaded up our mini-kitchen, then headed right to my pre-op appointment with Dr. Pleatman.

Fancy, right?

Because I had come earlier, I did not need to attend nutritional or informational sessions with the staff, which were being held for other surgical patients that week. Mike met my doctor, though, and we discussed my concern about having the smallest recommended bougie (size 32) used for my surgery.

In a gastric sleeve, a tube called a bougie (bougie means candle in French, to give you a visual) is placed down your throat and positioned in your stomach, making a guide for the staple line that removes your excess stomach. Dr. Pleatman favors the the smallest bougie recommended, a 32, in his procedures. I was worried about that, though, as I have had years of GERD, and a smaller-sized stomach is indicated in increased post-op acid reflux. Mike and I had read research stating that bougie size did not matter for long-term weight loss outcomes (comparing 32 to 40, and 32 to 36), but using smaller bougies could increase patient discomfort and short-term complications.

After our appointment, I left, having agreed to the 32, but once in the car, I started crying. Even though the difference between a 32 and a 36 is only a matter of millimeters, I didn't want the smallest pouch. My doctor, who I trusted, felt it was best, based on his patient outcomes, but I just couldn't feel good about it. Mike and I drove to a nearby soup restaurant, where they painstakingly attempted to strain out all bits of vegetables from a broth for me, and I started to obsess about this issue. This was the absolute, most difficult moment for me in the pre-op process, and it was less than 24 hours before surgery. If I didn't trust my surgeon, I wouldn't have picked him; at the same, time my gut (metaphorically and physically) couldn't get on board.

God bless my husband, who said, "Let's go back to the office right now," as soon as we finished lunch. We did. We asked to see the surgeon again, and even before I reiterated my concerns, he volunteered something like, "Why don't I just use a 36 bougie. It's fine. It's your stomach, you need to be happy with this."

At that moment, I was completely relieved, and completely ready for surgery. I'm sure you could see the stress lift off my face. I knew I was doing the right thing, and had picked the right doctor.

We went back to the hotel, where we rejoined my folks and kid. There was swimming in the pool, talking to friends on the phone wishing me well, and Christmas manicures for my mom and daughter with the new Jamberry nails I had purchased. Yes, I gave out manicures the night before surgery, and it was terrific! The family time was perfect, and it kept my mind off feeling hungry.

I then did the (gross, unfortunate, necessary) Milk of Magnesia pre-surgery prep, let that do its work, and headed to bed. Before falling asleep, I had a mental conversation with my grandparents, who are deceased. Granddaddy was a doctor, and Grammy was a doctor's wife (so practically a doctor, as we all were repeatedly told.) I asked that, if they could come around tomorrow, be in the room with me, be with the doctors and nurses caring for me, I would really appreciate it.

I woke up feeling calm and happy. My original surgery time was scheduled for mid-afternoon, but I had learned the day before at my appointment that it had been moved up, and I should plan to arrive at the hospital around 11:30 a.m. I had a lazy morning, not eating or drinking anything as requested, just hanging out with Mike and monitoring the comings and goings of our kiddo with my folks in the room across the hall.  I took a photo of myself in my pajamas, for a last "before" picture.

I got into the shower around 9:30 a.m., and it was at this time that we got the call that surgeries were running ahead of schedule, and I could arrive as soon as possible. With hair still wet, I kissed and hugged EJ and my dad goodbye, then Mom, Mike and I headed to the hospital.

What happened next is a little bit of magic, if you ask me. As we walked to the surgical wing, Mom and I noticed the name of the unit I would be on: Gustafson. Gustafson was my Grammy's maiden name. I had come all this way, picking this surgeon and hospital from options all over North America, and this is where I had ended up, in Grammy's wing. To me, this was just one more little confirmation that I was in the right place doing the right thing, although others might call it simply coincidence. I knew Grammy and Granddaddy were watching out for me. We stopped to take a picture on the way to check-in to honor the moment.

Registration didn't take long, and before I knew it, I was in a gown being prepped. At this point, we realized that, in our haste to leave the hotel, I had forgotten my CPAP machine. Mike had to run back to get it—the hotel wasn't that far away, but I was worried he wouldn't make it in time for me to see him before getting wheeled back. That was my only worry before surgery, and it was a good distraction from any pre-op nervousness that could have formed. My surgeon came in to see me, and confirmed that he was using a 36 bougie. I thanked him. My nurses were terrific—the lady who weighed me said, "I know, this is everyone's least favorite part," but I was actually thrilled to see my before number right before surgery. As it turned out, I was 23 pounds down from my highest weight, 20 since starting the pre-op diet. Both nurses cheered with me, then a PA came in, heard my news from the nurses, and got on board with the encouragement. My IV was started, after I explained that the IV I had in my hand for Ellerie's birth had become swollen and painful, the nurse said, "I hate putting them in the hand, for that exact reason," then nearly painlessly put one into my forearm.

Mike and Mom came back about ten minutes before I was wheeled into surgery, with plenty of time for us to share hugs, and for them to be there when the anesthesiologist walked me through what she would be doing to keep me asleep and comfortable. They also took a goofy pre-surgery photo for me—specifically requested by EJ—a tradition of ours starting back to when my dad had surgery a few years ago, and he posed in a silly way right before his anesthesia kicked in.

Dad and Mom are better at it, as you can see here, but I did my best.

Once wheeled back, I don't remember much. I remember seeing the surgical lights, which looked like a giant, glowing lotus flower. I also remember the nurses bragging about my progress to the surgical crew. According to Mike and Mom, a nurse came out 30 minutes later to tell them the surgery was going well, and a little after the hour mark, my surgeon came out and showed them my inflated, removed stomach (a test that shows that there are no leaks internally, which both of my anatomy-geek relatives loved), as well as the bougie he used. He also told them that I had done a great job shrinking up my liver on the pre-op diet, making the surgery easier to perform, as it was quite small.

For my part, my first thoughts and feelings when awaking from surgery weren't quite as rosy. I had just been cut open, of course, so that is pretty reasonable. Want to hear more about it? Stay tuned for the final installment of my surgery re-cap, coming soon.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Screwed Uped-ness of the Thinking

It amazes me that I have been following this sparse diet for weeks, healing from surgery, following the letter of the law as my doctor and nutritionist have recommended, losing weight throughout it all, and yet, I can still worry fervently that this surgery is not working.

I have been around the same weight for a week now, hovering between 43 and 45 pounds lost. It is a stall, I guess, but I don't know how much it counts, given that I lost over 6 pounds the week that I had stomach flu. Even so, even if I hadn't lost a pound when I was sick, and I was still stalling here, it would be completely normal. There is no need to worry. 43 to 45 pounds is a lot of weight to drop, and my body needs time to adjust.

My doctor's materials make all kinds of notes not to weigh yourself too often, or to worry about the results. "Just do the work, and let the results follow."


I have one more day, officially, of the soft solid diet, and then on Wednesday, I am cleared to have at it. Try new things. Go crazy and eat something crunchy, for instance. Even with soft foods, I am inching my way to my new normal. Today, I had a lean breakfast sandwich: multigrain bread, egg white, chicken and apple sausage, and a bit of cheese. The whole thing was really perfect, split in half and eaten for two meals, because I couldn't get more than a few bites down at a sitting. Two hundred calories, with 16 grams of protein. By all accounts, a great choice.

And yet, there I was, thinking, "Oh, no. This is bread. I haven't had bread in over eight weeks. What on earth am I doing?!? Now I'm going to start having wild food cravings. Tomorrow I'm going to have gained five pounds."

That, my friends, is the screwed uped-ness of the thinking, the obese mind trying to make sense of the obese-but-forcibly-losing-weight body.

I simply can't fully believe this is working. I think I'm afraid to hope, and a part of my brain is saying, "Hey, 40+ pounds, look at that! Not ideal, but you can live this way. You feel so much better. If you do everything right, and it just doesn't work, this will be just fine."

It's meant to be helpful coping thinking, I'm sure, but it leaves me feeling afraid; afraid to move to a regular diet, afraid to reintroduce any complex carbohydrates (lest I interrupt the weight-loss machine that has been my body lately), afraid to be part of the 1-5% for whom this surgery isn't effective.

Screwed uped-ness lives.

It has been so long since I have really lost weight, significantly, it just seems impossible that the consistent weight-gaining pattern of (almost) my entire adult life could end. No amount of my work or dedication on my part can completely shake this feeling, and the more normal my diet and life becomes post-surgery, the more I think, "Somehow, this is going to end."

Even worse, I think, "Somehow, this is going to end, and it is going to be my fault."

I know, rationally, that something about my body helped to trigger or fuel my obesity, beyond my behaviors or choices. It was never all my fault, as if fault should even be assigned in such a matter. I know that all the shame that I have felt as an adult for being obese—primarily because I assumed all thin people I encountered thought me lazy and gluttonous—was pointless, and only made the problem worse. If I didn't think that I needed a medical intervention in order to treat this, I wouldn't have pursued one, and the results of this intervention are clear: you can't eat much, you aren't hungry much, you lose weight, end of story. All that said, old thinking patterns—even ones that I have worked hard to address—can still strong-arm the new thoughts, the ones that only began to take root in December, as I witnessed my pre-op diet work effectively. 

Is this working? I can't know. I can only do what I'm supposed to do. I can only move forward. It would be shocking if it wasn't working, practically speaking, but to my brain, it is shocking that it even could.

Do you have your own screwed uped-ness of the thinking, those patterns of thought which remain indentured from an older version of yourself, but that don't match your current life? I can't imagine that the obese have the whole market on this. If so, come join the evolution, where we see the old thinking, recognize it for what it is, and kindly tell it that is doesn't work anymore...over, and over, and over.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Surgery Recap Series, Post #1—Pre-Surgery Week: Deciding Where to Go

For those who are regular blog readers, and specifically momblog or dadblog readers, today's entry might feel vaguely familiar. This post begins a series, which will effectively be my surgical equivalent of "the birth story," the often anticipated post after a parentblogger has been writing about an upcoming birth for months, and then sinks into the black hole of exhausting infant care, and is unable to post the actual details of the birth for a few weeks.

It took me FOREVER to post a birth story after having EJ, mainly because the birth was so darn horrific, way beyond the norm (as if the norm isn't just a freak show to start), and I just couldn't get pen to paper, so to speak. I didn't even want to think about it, and I certainly didn't want to scare anyone else. I believe what I wrote was pretty cursory, and within the following years, my blog revealed more details of the event as they were germane to new thoughts and feelings.

But, hey, here's the good news, readers! For those of you who are interested in what my experience of receiving a vertical sleeve gastrectomy was like, I can tell you this: it was MUCH better than birth! Maybe 10,000 times better? That sounds about right. Of course, I didn't get an adorable baby out of it, but I sure am sleeping better than I did when I came home with a baby.

So, for those who have been interested, here is the first in a series in which I flip back in time just over a month, and give my play-by-play account of my surgery experience. For those interested in this same surgery, and who may have questions, feel free to leave a comment with your contact info, and we can chat directly.

Pre-Surgery Week: Deciding Where to Go

After several years of research, attending informational sessions, and going back and forth with our insurance company, we got the final word that there would be no way that my surgery could be covered via insurance.

THIS IS A MAJOR SCAM. Obesity kills people, and bariatric surgery shows the most promising outcomes for helping to combat obesity, in conjunction with health behavior changes. I could go on and on about the silliness of all this, but suffice it to say, this isn't cosmetic surgery, and I hope that insurers stop thinking of it as an expensive elective soon.

At that point, I knew I would not be able to have the surgery here in Chicago, as the local (amazing) hospitals did not have a fixed, set rate for the surgery, which meant that I could pay as much as $55K once all the costs were covered. I felt pretty despondent, but after reaching out online to communities of people who were having/had recently had vertical sleeve gastrectomy, I discovered that affordable options were available if you were willing to travel.

For those in America and Canada who want to self-pay for surgery, the main affordable option is Tijuana, Mexico. For a set price (minus airfare), you can fly to San Diego, get picked up at the airport, brought to the hospital, receive surgery, get put up in a hotel after you are discharged, then brought back to the airport 2-3 days later. I had heard rave reviews online, and began calling different practices to determine who might be best.

Here's where things got complicated. There is an entire world of marketing and competition that happens in this industry, and surgeons have coordinators and staff members specifically hired to encourage you to use their practice, and to avoid others. Some folks had nothing negative to say about other doctors, others used vague jabs and innuendo to let you know other doctors were really not as safe, and a few basically called out others as butchers or hacks.

I found this entire process very difficult to swallow. I talked to some really great coordinators and some very thoughtful surgeons, and I know (through meeting others online who have had surgery in Mexico), that many of these doctors have excellent outcomes. Still, though, as an intuitive, it was hard for me to decipher through the propaganda to figure out who was best in this market. In addition, different doctors had wildly differing techniques, none of which I could verify as best practice through my own research.

It occurred to me around this time that, for general surgery, if you have a great local referral and good insurance coverage, you likely wouldn't ask so many technique questions. There was something about having to seek out providers, and having it completely in my own purview to make the decision, that brought me straight back to my days as a health care researcher. I simply could not get enough information. The problem: the more information I received, the less clear I was about my choice.

Throughout this entire discovery time, I posted my insights on Facebook, and got a lot of feedback from friends who work in health care. One of my former colleagues (when I was a health care researcher), who went on to become a registered nurse, reminded me to think volumes. Every surgeon can have complications: sometimes the best surgeons have higher complication rates, actually, because they work on the trickiest cases and/or the sickest people; volumes are the key to becoming an expert technician. It was nice to have my memory jogged about such an important point, especially as I was sifting through varying reports of outcomes for different surgeons via phones calls and online searches.

Around this time, I went back to a post I had made on a sleeve community forum, asking for self-pay physician referrals, and remembered that someone had recommended a surgeon in Michigan, only four hours away. I had also found a different self-pay doc in Michigan, one who has a terrific series of videos about obesity, the surgical options, and healthy eating/exercise.  

The first doc, Dr. Pleatman, was described as an excellent surgeon, but not the best interpersonally. The second, Dr. Weiner, was so engaging on screen, I wanted to find out more.

I made appointments with both, and was happy that, unlike with Mexico, I could meet these surgeons in person, not just online. I hit it off immediately with Dr. Pleatman's coordinator/receptionist, Cari. She was friendly, personable, and not the least bit a salesperson. She's a great ambassador for his practice. She also warned me that the doctor is not very "touchy-feely," or something like that, which was consistent with what I had heard from his previous patient. That's not why we hire surgeons, of course, so I wasn't deterred. When I called the second doctor, they were hesitant to book me, as I wasn't local, and had to get specialized approval.

Dr. Pleatman called me the evening I first spoke to his office, and I found him extremely personable. I was surprised I had heard otherwise. He was patient, went through my medical history on the phone, and made me feel hopeful.

A few weeks later, I travelled to Michigan, stayed with my aunt and uncle, who made me delicious meals and fancy cappuccinos, and interviewed both doctors on a whirlwind day.

In the end, I chose Dr. Pleatman, for a variety of reasons, and I am so glad I did. While surgery in Michigan is twice the cost as surgery in Mexico, it was one-fifth the cost of surgery here, so still a bargain. While I highly recommend Dr. Weiner's videos—truly, if you want to understand obesity, how this surgery works, what kind of diet is best, etc., he is your guy, and I am so grateful for what I learned from him via these videos—the main reasons for choosing Dr. Pleatman were, as follows:

  1. Volumes: Dr. Pleatman had performed at least 3 times as many surgeries, and that is just within recent years; beyond comparison between the two surgeons, specifically, his volumes are excellent (with a low complication rate, too.)
  2. Facility: The hospital at which Dr. Pleatman performs surgery was fantastic, and when you come from out of town, and don't know hospital reputations from local chatter, it is nice to find such a modern, well-equipped, and quite frankly, aesthetically lovely place to have surgery waiting for you. My aunt in Detroit, who is a nurse, liked that it was a part of the Catholic health system there, which she recommended. I like a nurse's approval!
  3. Out-of-Town Accommodations: From material on their (robust) website to the services provided at in-person visits, Dr. Pleatman's practice has everything worked out to ease this process for out-of-town patients. I got a special rate at a hotel just minutes from the office and the hospital that had a kitchenette (to make eating my specialized food easier), and received an hour-long consultation with both the nutritionist and the patient-care coordinator, with accompanying reference materials, diet plans, exercise plans, and dates to remember to take home.
  4. Trust: I trusted him, from the start. I realize this is intangible, but it may be the most important factor of all.
(There are a few additional reasons why I made the decision I did, and if you are someone considering this surgery with either physician, I would be happy to share my insights, privately. For public consumption, this is all I want to share.)

Once home, I began the process of ordering protein powders and vitamins, and starting my two-week pre-op, liver shrinking diet. I received great online support from Dr. Pleatman's nutritionist during this time, and the results were terrific. 

Interested in more? Stay tuned for more on my beautifully-small liver and my actual surgery!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sweet Sixteen, One Month

December 16th/January 16th, in photo.

I know these photos aren't great—the first is from surgery morning, so I'm still in my jammies at the hotel, and in today's follow-up pic, the room is really dark, as most of the lightbulbs have gone dead. I'd fix them, but I can't reach them, even with a step stool. Ah, being short. Please send official complaints for the weird computer brightness in this shot to my tall, capable husband, who isn't the least bit troubled by an inability to see while getting ready in the morning. He doesn't often check personal email or Facebook, so it won't bother him at all, I promise.

Don't send complaints about my jammies, though. I had enough on my mind that day, I'm owning that look 100%

Can you see a difference?

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Today is the first day since my surgery that I really felt some get-up-and-go energy. I almost didn't recognize myself.

I am not a morning person, and as our child has transitioned from needy little one to capable school-aged one, my husband usually humors me by letting me sleep a little past the alarm while he helps the kiddo with breakfast (if she needs it.) It's a lucky arrangement for me, because there is almost nothing I like better than getting to sleep in.

(I once received a Garfield-themed, "I don't do mornings." nightgown as a teen, much like this one, except more 1980s, on a preppy fuchsia/mulberry background. My morning preferences have been long established.)

The trouble I have is that if I start to string too many of these mornings together, and he happens to have too many busy mornings in a row, I discover that I am, in fact, expected at wake-up by the rest of the family, lest I have forgotten.

During post-op recovery, though, my mornings have been late, and no one has had any worries about it. I am tired a lot, not the kind of tired one feels from a stressful or busy day, or a late night, but fatigue in the body that says, "Hey, don't forget, you got cut open a few weeks ago." I'll go for a few hours, feel really good, then WHAM, there it is. Deep, down tired. I really should be napping every afternoon, if I a) had the time, and b) were smart about this whole recovery.

(I have mentioned here that I am totally off caffeine, right? Yeah. That's some tough stuff to work without.)

Having the stomach bug last week didn't help, of course. Dehydration, already setting in because of the cold, dry Chicago air, was quadrupled, and as I can't throw back anything more than a few sips of water at a time now, it is hard to turn around.

This past month, when the alarm has sounded, I have usually been so zoned out, I just fall back asleep for awhile, if I have even fully woken up. Sometimes I haven't even heard it, then wake up startled much later, to find that everyone is fine, lunch is packed, and the kiddo is about to head out to school with the hubby. Even for me, a late sleeper, this has been out of the ordinary. It is weird to try to jump into work without a warm-up.

This week, though, was a bit of a breakthrough. I realized a few days ago that, once again, like before my surgery, I was instinctively waking up a few moments before the alarm. Pre-surgery, I would have gone back to bed, and just hit snooze a few times. What I noticed beginning this week, though, was that I have been feeling more awake when I wake up before the alarm than I ever did pre-surgery. I think I need to sleep longer, and I go back to bed and really try, but then...hang on...I discover that, "Nope, I'm well rested and ready to wake up." My body feels a little more refreshed, a little more recharged, and it is...odd. It is also wonderful! Exciting! Hopeful! Still, even though it is great, really, it feels very, very odd. Who am I?

My little endomorph self doesn't quite know what to do with a revved up metabolism.

Today, I awoke to "Let It Go" being played on our tablet, which EJ usually takes to her room to use as her alarm. Last night, she left it in the living room, so just about the only person who wasn't going to wake up to it was her, sleeping on the opposite end of our home. Interestingly, though, Mike didn't hear it either.

(How? I don't know. I really, really, don't know. It was so much broadway-style singing with inspirational lyrics. Who sleeps through that?)

I got out of bed and brought the tablet in full Idina Menzel to EJ's room, stopped in the bathroom, then planned to go back to bed. I put on my CPAP mask and snuggled in. Then our alarm went off, and unlike any other morning since I had my operation, I got up and started the day. I had had enough sleep. I wasn't groggy. I made a great start. I then proceeded to have an energy-filled day, including some writing, a visit to the acupuncturist, school pick-up, then errands with the kiddo. I'm planning to cook a whole dinner tonight: salmon, cauliflower mash, and some asparagus. I can feel the tired starting to creep in a bit, but it's 5:30 p.m., much later than any other day's onset of fatigue.

I don't know what my current 40+ pound weight loss means for my blood pressure, my cholesterol, or my blood sugar right now, as I haven't had those tests done. What I can say is that my back hurts less, I'm sleeping better, and I have more energy than I have felt in longer than I can actually remember.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This post is sponsored by Speck Products, who provided me with some lovely Speck cases to try out and write about here on the blog. All opinions presented here are my own, or those of my family members who have sampled the Speck cases along with me.

Did you get a new iPhone for Hannukah or Christmas? Speck has got you covered!

If you didn't receive one of those lovely new gadgets, don't worry! Speck has products available for all kinds of phones, tablets, and laptops. Speck kindly offered one phone case, one tablet case, and one laptop case for us to sample, and I am happy to report that we like them all. Here's our reviews:

1) iPhone Case

My father-in-law graciously offered to review a new iPhone 5 case, and it couldn't have come too soon. Dad's OtterBox case had begun to fall apart, the rubber peeling away and getting sticky. He chose the CandyShell + FACEPLATE iPhone 5 case in Black/Slate Grey. 

After having to fool around with it a little to get the faceplate on without air or dust behind it (my husband had this same issue), he has since reported that he loves it. He likes the look and the feel (slimmer than the OtterBox, shinier, but still with grips to hold), and says the buttons work well and plug-ins are easy to access (something that was less optimal with his old case.)  

If you have an older phone going the distance, a Speck case is a nice way to keep your phone safe and stylish.

2) iPad Case

Speaking of going the distance, let's talk for a moment about the iPad 2. You know, that iPad so many of us purchased a few years back, and is still going strong? 

Sure, I'd love a fancy new iPad Air. I'd also like a new car and a beachy vacation home. None of these items are in our budget, and I can say that our iPad 2 fits squarely into the category: "If it ain't broke, don't replace it."

Unfortunately, the snappy magnetic cover that I purchased from Apple along with the iPad 2 did not hold up. I was able to purchase another one, but it is gray, blah, and provides little protection for the device.

I like color. 

Speck to the rescue! I am very excited to report that the case we tested, the Slim-Fit Protective iPad Case and Adjustable Viewing Stand, is currently on sale for $19.99 (usually $39.99.) It does add a little weight to the device, but also adds protection and versatility, with two ways to fold it in order to use your iPad in different configurations for viewing and typing.

I like this case because the color and utility of it make me feel like we have a brand new device. I have found that it is hard to hold it's position in typing mode, and wish it had a feature that allowed it to be propped up in portrait, not just landscape. All told, it is really nice to have our old device looking and feeling new and snazzy. Given that it can be hard to find cases for older devices, it is nice to have a variety of colors and patterns available, too.

3) MacBook Case

This was the big-hit winner of the holiday season this year. My husband's laptop is now adorned with a MacBook Pro SeeThru Case in deep blue. He loves it. LOVES it. Is there something bigger than love to say here?

The case, itself, does not add a lot of weight to the computer, it protects it well, and it is really beautiful. The light from the apple on the back of his computer glows through the case, and is very striking. I think he is officially converted from "my computer doesn't really need a case" to "I am never taking this case off."

I'm a Speck fan, as you can see. Check 'em out, friends.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Four Weeks

Four weeks ago today, on December 16th, I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy. It was performed in Michigan by a surgeon and at a hospital that accepts self-pay patients at a set rate that was more affordable than local Chicago facilities. It required a whirlwind of preparation and help from family, but now looking at it in the rear-view mirror, I wouldn't have done it any other way.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook and other social media already know all about this, as I've been posting #postop notes, and gratefully taking in all of your kind well wishes. Thank you, a million times, THANK YOU. It has taken me awhile (and some starts and stops at the keyboard, unusual for me) to begin to write about this subject here. This will be the first of many posts on the subject, provided in the tiny bite-sized chunks that mirror my actual eating pattern these days.

What a month.

When I speak to others who have had bariatric surgery, or read articles concerning the subject, I often hear the frustrated, "If someone tells me this is the easy way out, I'm going to...[insert empty threat.]"

Does anyone really think this is easy? Truly? I haven't heard anyone say that to me, and I certainly don't think much about what has happened in the past month has been easy. For people like me, who have felt trapped with a seemingly intractable form of obesity, this surgery is certainly more effective, but easy, not so much.

I have had well-meaning folks try to warn me about how hard the work will have to be for the rest of my life. How I must be mentally prepared, how I'll need to eat differently, how I can't just skip exercise, how I really have to commit. (I feel like getting cut open and having the majority of a major organ removed is a pretty good indication of commitment, but I digress.)

Here's a truth that I'm sure a lot of fit/skinny people might be uncomfortable to hear: many fat people have lots of experience with strict diets and exercise regimes, maybe as strict or stricter than their less heavy friends. The difference? For many of them (myself included), their bodies have not responded as well.

It feels better to believe that your body is entirely your making, I get it. I wish that were true. It just isn't. I'm no different than I was before surgery when it comes to my need to really, really watch what I eat and really, really work at my fitness. I've done it before, many times, sometimes more successfully (when measured in pounds) than other times. I have also just said, "Screw it," and stopped caring about all that for months at a time, suffering the consequences. Isn't that true of some "normal sized" people too, though, typically right around the holidays?

So don't worry, friends, I understand my predicament. I've lived my weight predicament for my entire adult life. I have no idea where my body size/weight will end up after the initial kick-in-the-pants from this surgery, but I know that paying attention to my lifestyle will be the long-term key to success.

For now, I'm on my last day of eating puréed and liquid foods, moving tomorrow to soft foods, then in a week, I'm cleared to eat just about everything, save for really crunchy raw vegetables, etc. I have been following my guidelines to the letter of the law, rule-follower that I am, save for a lack of walking around on days with extreme cold, or last week, when I got stomach flu. (I don't recommend getting a stomach bug while recovering from stomach surgery, btw. It is a horror show.)

In some ways, this experience has been a lot like having a child for the first time. You can prepare, you can anticipate, you can do all the work necessary, but you really don't know how it is going to shake out or how you are going to feel until you are already fully committed, past the point of no return. I am pleased to say that most of my worries about potential recovery complications have not come to pass, and I am getting used to my new life through experience.

One difficulty did really surprise me, though, and I don't remember reading about it or discussing it with others who have had the surgery before I went under the knife. It has been extremely isolating not being able to eat. I'm not hungry, thanks to the mechanism of the surgery, itself, and getting enough protein and calories in everyday is a challenge. The hard part, for me, has been not being able to sit at table and participate with the family and friends at mealtimes or celebrations. I managed to make it through the Christmas and New Year's holidays on a liquid diet, which I am putting down in my list of "life's greatest accomplishments."

I am grateful that I am so close to the finish line of this stage, at which point a new set of challenges will present themselves. Tomorrow night, as I move into soft foods, I am heading out to a restaurant for the first time since surgery, for a girls' night out. I checked out the menu online, then called to confirm that some of the softest foods mentioned are still current menu items. I am both thrilled and terrified to make this transition, but that has been how each stage of the pre- and post-op experience has been, so I'm not surprised. I've become increasingly comfortable with this intensity of opposing emotions right before a shift occurs. I laugh, I cry, I ride it out, it all feels okay.

For those who care about these things, I have lost 43.9 pounds as of this morning. At my pre-op visit on Monday, November 24th, I was 3 pounds down from my highest weight, measured a few weeks before. I then went home, enjoyed Thanksgiving without going crazy, and started a pre-op, protein-rich, low-to-no carb, no sugar diet to shrink my liver before surgery. I lost 18 additional pounds before my surgery, two weeks later, bring my total pre-op loss to 21 pounds. With 22.9 additional pounds lost this month during my recovery, I've already improved a lot of my potential risk factors, while still understanding I have a long way to go.

On the left, I am in my jammies at the hotel in Michigan, right before leaving for surgery on December 16th; on the right, I'm standing in our kitchen this past Sunday, anticipating the Packers playoff game against the Cowboys (with one of my biggest cheerleaders.) Small difference? I think so. No big drop in size yet, but I can button my wool coat over my heaviest fleece, and not be so stuffed in I can still use my arms to drive. Is that a good Midwestern measure? I'm going with it, with a giant smile on my face.