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.