Fat to Fit: My Guide to Gastric Bypass

Post Surgery
The following is an account of my gastric bypass. It took place almost 3 years ago (June 30th is my Surgiversary). I’m writing this as a guide for people who might be thinking about having the surgery so they have some idea of what they can look forward to. Also, if you have friends or relatives who are considering having the surgery or who have had it, this might help you to help them. Post-surgery support is very important to succeeding in this situation. Part One will cover why I had the surgery and some of the hoops I had to jump through to get there. That bloated sack in the picture is me immediately following the surgery. I weighed 320 pounds on the day of the operation.

The first time I went to the hospital was right around ten years ago. I had trouble sleeping, breathing actually, and soon discovered it was because my lungs were filling with fluid. The clinic doctor called the emergency room, scribbled down the words “heart failure” and my journey began, but not before I stopped at Taco Bell on the way there because – let’s face it – who knew when I was going to get to eat again? I was overweight and working a stressful job and, as a result, had sky-high blood pressure. High blood pressure is some serious stuff, go get it checked. Seriously, go now, I’ll still be here when you get back. Anyway, at the age of 28, I was on more medication than Grandpa Simpson. Where I come from, we call this a game changer.

Years passed and medical conditions piled up like an accident on the freeway. Congestive heart failure. Renal failure. Gout. Sleep apnea. We used to joke I was going through the list of possible conditions alphabetically. I was headed for an early grave, of this there was no doubt. One of my specialists kept telling me I needed to lose weight. Easier said than done. I lived a sedentary lifestyle that involved video games and junk food. Without some major kind of change, I was just going to keep ballooning up until they had to wheel me around on a cart while I wore a muumuu. I wanted to do stuff. I mean, as a kid I used to hunt and fish. Hell, when I lived in Florida I used to ride a bike to school, it was 4 miles each way and that’s no joke. When you feel like you need an oxygen mask after walking up a flight of stairs, working out is the last thing you want to do.

One of my doctors recommended I look into gastric bypass. I had, of course, heard a lot about the surgery; mostly only bad things. People had complications with staples bursting or intestinal blockages. I had also heard about the much milder lap band procedure and how it was supposed to be safer. We decided to go to a seminar that was held monthly by the guy who did the surgery in our area. Let me just say, I knew I was pretty overweight at 315 pounds, but damn, there were some big people at this seminar, one of them had to weigh over 500 pounds and the floor shook when he walked. One look at that guy and I knew I had to do something. I never wanted to be that big but that was where I was slowly headed.

The doctor seemed very nice and he gave a detailed description of both procedures. This particular surgeon was against the lap-band and favored a surgery called Roux en-Y. I’m not going to go into the details that you can easily look up on Wikipedia, but it basically involves taking your stomach, cutting a small pouch out, sewing the rest up and moving it to the side and connecting the small pouch you have left to your small intestine. He was mainly against the lap-band because it implanted a foreign object into your body and it would eventually have to come out. The bypass offered a quicker, if more drastic life-altering solution while the lap-band offered what seemed to be a safer, if much slower way to lose weight. I talked it over with my wife and went over it a lot in my head and decided to go with the bypass.

We went in and met with the doctor for a physical exam. We talked over everything and he seemed to think that with my particular weight and all of my underlying conditions. I was an excellent candidate for the surgery. Then we went to his assistant, her job was to submit all the paperwork and make sure it was covered by the insurance carrier before he would perform the procedure. We filled out everything and we received some bad news. She told us they would probably turn us down. Medicare had guidelines and in order to qualify for the surgery you needed to be on a 6 month physician-assisted diet and take a psychological examination. We asked her to submit it anyways since we had already filled everything out. All of us were quite shocked when Medicare came back with a “Yes”. It was unexpected and things began to move quickly.

I made a list of favorite foods that I wanted to get a chance to eat one last time before the surgery. Things like a root beer float and my favorite pizza. I knew it would be a long time, if ever, before I got to enjoy any of these things again. I had about one month between approval and surgery to get stuff done. We had to attend several classes on recovery and nutrition and what to expect after the surgery. A few years previous I had ruptured my appendix (story about this to come!) and they had not been able to perform the surgery laproscopically. I remember waking up in some of the worst pain I ever felt in my life. Since that was my first major surgery experience I was pretty nervous about what my second one was going to be like.

They did some traditional blood work the week before the surgery and we got hit with some bad news. Because of my heart and the fact my potassium numbers were high they were considering canceling. I never really understood it, but it had something to do with the anesthesiology. They ended up prescribing me some very nasty fluid I had to drink a couple days before the surgery that was supposed to draw the potassium out. I also managed to avoid having to take a special medicine meant to empty your bowels, because we spotted one of the ingredients on the label and it would have been very bad for my already weak kidneys. I am glad I got to skip this step as I believe the nutritionist described it as “not a lot of fun.” June 30th came, and I said goodbye to the cats and checked into the hospital; it was time to rework the plumbing.

You don’t remember much of the stuff that happens right before the surgery. They give you some very good drugs to relax you and everything starts to haze out. I do remember meeting a bunch of doctors and I particularly liked the anesthesiologist because when I asked him about the potassium and my heart and if it would be a problem, he said that he “liked a challenge.” His confidence really put me at ease for some reason, or maybe it was just the drugs. I don’t remember being wheeled into the operating room, I only remember waking up in recovery and finding that the pain wasn’t so bad.

They kept me in the hospital for several days. I obviously was not allowed to eat or drink anything as they had just rebuilt my stomach and they didn’t want me bursting the stitches. I hated having dry mouth and all they would give me is a small cup of water and a sponge on the end of a stick I could moisten my mouth with. I may have cheated and slowly drank that cup by sucking it off the sponge, a few drops at a time. I grew concerned by the amount of leakage from the cuts in my stomach, but everyone seemed to think that was normal. I remember my surgeon would come by and change the bandages and do absolutely the worst job putting them on, requiring the nurses to come back in after he left and dress them again. When I asked about it, they would just roll their eyes and say, “that’s how he rolls.”

Next week, part 2:  My new diet (also known as someone give me some solid food.)

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