I know! Can you believe it? It’s over three years since I started the journey and two and a half since I underwent bariatric surgery. Following a full year of preparation and education, my excellent surgeon performed two procedures, undoing a Nissen fundoplication before the Roux-en-Y. The entire surgery took the better part of four hours.
I was an excellent patient and the weight dropped off as I recovered from the surgery and adjusted to a new lifestyle. At first it was just a matter of coping with the side-effects of a zero carb/high protein diet (dizziness, oh my goodness). Then the longing for solid foods became so overwhelming I resorted to blenderizing ground beef and refried beans, ugly as sin and twice as satisfying. I remember the celebration when I could finally eat a full cup of food per meal! I still eat on salad plates and use smaller utensils to remind me of portions and chewing… chewing… such a blessing.
At my lowest weight, taken one year post-op, I’d lost eighty pounds. Since then I’ve regained 7 stubborn pounds, but I can live with them. So I lost a lot and regained a little.
I also gained a lot of insight into what weight means for an older woman and have lost some respect for our society, all of which will be the subject of several blog posts over the summer.
What have I learned? A lot more than I thought possible. Have I changed? Not as much as I expected. Join me as I try to express the thoughts that have gathered since I started this life-changing journey.
Isn’t that the way for authors? It’s not real until I put it down in words. So watch for the first of a series I’m calling:
12 REASONS TO GET BARIATRIC SURGERY SOONER RATHER THAN LATER
I’ve always taken my health for granted. I’ve been blessed with sound bones, fairly well functioning internal organs, and muscles that do what I ask them to do, not that I ask very often. But I do enjoy a good walk, which is what I was doing when I found my foot flopping at the end of my leg.
My wife and I were visiting her family to enjoy the Carnival on Terceira Island. It was the middle of February and the weather was so much better than our usual Minnesota we walked a lot. We were strolling on the way into town to eat dinner when I tripped over my own feet a couple of times but didn’t think of it as we’d just spent two days traveling and I was still tired. On our way back after dinner, I noticed my gait was different. I usually glide along, my head barely rising and falling with each step, but that night my right foot slapped down jarringly.
I became careful, slowing my speed and experimenting with my foot. It wasn’t rising with each step and when I stood still and tried to flex it, nothing happened.
I searched my mind, wondering what I might have done to make my foot behave this way. Then I remembered a silly thing that happened during a visit to a friend’s store earlier in the day. We were chatting on a steep loading dock, facing uphill at an angle of 20-25 degrees. Since I speak limited Portuguese and family and friends were catching up with shotgun fire rapidity, I let my mind wander.
I’ve recently lost a lot of weight (nearing ninety pounds), which has made me more body conscious than I’ve ever been before. One part of me that is not nearly so rounded as it once was, is my tush. I used to have a round butt but after losing so much weight (not to mention the hours and hours of sitting required of authors) it has flattened considerably. I wondered if I could encourage a nice muscular flex of the booty by (get this) rising up on my toes on the incline. I know it makes no sense but I was still tired from traveling. So up on my toes, I went. My legs immediately cramped and I dropped back to my feet, massaged away a charlie horse, and continued on with my day until that walk down to dinner when I first noticed the foot drop.
The next day when things hadn’t improved, I phoned my sister the doctor. Nothing hurt, if anything my leg was numb from the knee down, but the toes and ball of the foot would not rise. She advised massage, ankle flexing exercises and to continue walking everywhere.
Foot drop, that’s what it’s called because that’s what it is. I could flex my toes forward, but not raise them back up, so my foot hung loosely at the end of my leg whenever I took a step. To do the exercises prescribed by Dr. Sis I had to lift my right leg, position it over the ledge I was using to brace and let the foot drop from there.
It was a nightmare and I wasn’t pleased that there was no improvement. To make matters worse, the left leg also developed foot drop a day later. Both feet dragged now unless I marched like a marionette. My wife was solicitous and we both noticed I was also having difficulty with balance. Even standing still I could lose my equilibrium.
I didn’t get home to America for another three weeks, so I stretched every day, massaged numb legs like crazy and walked as much as I could, even though very tiring compared to how easy it was before this happened. To avoid stumbling over toes that dragged the ground I had to either step high (a kind of prancing move) or swing my leg in a half circle before setting down (think Festus from Gunsmoke). I walked slowly to minimize either movement.
Which was fine in a place that’s much slower paced than America. After landing at La Guardia and clearing Customs, I found myself jostled and hurried down long corridors to catch another flight. I have a suitcase with four wheels that always seems hard to push along and I stumbled over my feet and took a header on the carpet. Not fun. I learned to hug the wall, the apparent internationally agreed upon space for handicapped folks who dare to walk, and that people stared as I walked with my crazy, toe-pointed ballerina-type mincing step so I could hurry.
For reasons too personal to go into, I was away from my own medical care for another month. Dr. Sis suggested it might be neurological, sending me immediately to the internet. I found tale after tale of people who live with drop foot continuously, with no expectation of improvement or regaining full function of their feet. Most of these cases were neurological and several were pulmonary, symptoms following a stroke or heart-attack. I grew despondent. But then I found a single comment from someone who said yes, it was reversible. He did the same stretching exercises I did and commented about massage and orthopedic devices.
And there were signs of improvement. My right foot began to flex slightly again, sending me into a frenzy of renewed massage and stretching exercises. I used an adjustable boot I’d worn for a severe case of plantar fasciitis a few years back and tightened it so my toes flexed upward while I slept, alternating night and feet. I rigged my walking shoes with elastic around the farthest lace and an ankle strap to improve my gait. And I walked, slowly, it’s true, and not far. Nevertheless, I persevered.
That was almost three months ago. I haven’t mentioned it online because why would it matter? Either I’d continue to walk with a noticeable limp, or I would heal. Either way, I had nothing to say until now. But along the way, I learned something important I’m sharing today.
Don’t take the act of walking for granted.
If you walk without a limp, bless your lucky stars. The ability to ambulate easily is an underappreciated miracle, pure and simple.
Appreciate your feet today. Walk around the block, varying your speed every time you turn a corner. Run a few steps, stop, twirl on your toes, and run back. Watch other people’s feet as they walk, flexing their feet with every step. Hop up on a curb and descend stairs quickly. Tiptoe somewhere, and dance. Dance like there’s no tomorrow because you never know when you’ll suddenly face a different reality. Enjoy the blessing of healthy feet and legs every minute that you have them.
And if your lower extremities are struggling to regain function or health, hang in there. Do the work, trust in change, and believe in yourself. Pat yourself on the back for every incremental improvement. Know that whatever you’re struggling with will get better, either because you change it or because you learn effective methods of adjustment. You can reach your goals, one stretch/massage/step/walk/run at a time.
I’m happy to report that my right foot is now almost back to normal, and my left foot is improving steadily. Although I’m not there yet, I expect to be able to forget my feet as I walk around the GCLS 2017 conference in Chicago come July 6th. If you see me, stop and say “Hi!”
Two-hundred-thirty-seven pounds is the highest weight on record for me, and that was taken a long time ago. I’ve been heavier, I’m sure of it and I’ve been lighter, sometimes significantly so, but since I refused to be weighed at ninety-nine percent of my doctor appointments, there’s no record of it except the occasional photograph.
Struggling with my weight is a life-long endeavor. At eighteen months I got my first lesson in holding my stomach in; my diaper fell off. I’ve tried so many diets I can’t even remember them all. I’ve joined gyms, walked enough miles to fill a Fitbit, resized portions, tried hypnosis, therapy, and popped a zillion diet pills/cookies/candies and even expanding packets of some substance that was supposed to fill my stomach and then pass harmless through me. Since I never saw anything pass through me, I can only assume they were absorbed directly (ugg) or are still in there somewhere (oh yuck!).
I’ve lost weight, successfully I might add, many times in my lifetime, losing almost this much weight before, and lesser amounts as well. All told, I’m sure I’ve gained and lost at least five hundred pounds over my lifetime. The yo-yo phenomenon was so cruelly automatic that I’ve completely lost faith in dieting as a permanent solution to obesity.
So, how did I finally do it? Well, if you’re hoping for an easy miracle, get ready to be disappointed.
I had bariatric surgery, a Roux en Y, to be exact.
Bariatric surgery reduces your stomach size and bypasses some of your intestines. This limits the amount you can eat at any one time and guarantees a really nasty sensation when you ingest too much sugar at once.
But perhaps more importantly, the medical group I went through insisted on thorough testing and comprehensive education about not only the procedure itself but also the other physical, psychological, and emotional changes that would take place as my body rapidly shed pounds. It took from October of 2014 until December 2015 while I was probed, tested, analyzed, educated, and had proved my deep conviction with four weeks of a liquid only diet to be approved for the final step, the operation itself.
I was in the operating room for over four hours while they undid my Nissan (a procedure that helped manage my GERD) and then performed the Roux en Y. Thank God I’d already had my gallbladder removed, or that would have taken yet another few hours.
I spent the next month on liquids only, then graduated to three months of blenderized-to-applesauce-consistency solids. I slowly reintroduced vegetables (so well cooked they were limply translucent) and ultra-lean meat back into my diet. Peanut butter became my best friend and the only taste of sweetness (outside of diet applesauce) in my world. I survived a Christmas feast while still on a liquid diet, a candy-less Valentine’s to avoid the dreaded ‘dumping’ syndrome, a quarter cup of Easter dinner, Fourth of July cookouts that consisted of one hotdog, various birthdays with a forkful of cake, and a child-sized plate at Thanksgiving. Twice I left the country, only to severely limit my tastes of foreign cuisine.
The fat melted away so rapidly I missed the chance to wear clothing long hanging in my closet in case I ever fit into them again. Before I knew it, nothing I owned fit me.
My entire life changed. I feel healthier now than I ever have in my life. I learned things about myself and our society I never knew, discovered for myself the differences between the way large and smaller people are treated, and experienced emotions that surprised me. I also suffered a sense of depression and disappointment directly at odds with my success.
But this post has gone on long enough. I’ll share more about my journey another time. For now, let me just say this:
I lost more than weight and gained more than self-esteem.
Check back soon for more about my journey from being morbidly obese to hearing the magic words from my doctor, “You’re no longer overweight.”
Today it will have been exactly four months since my Roux en Y or gastric bypass surgery. Next week will make it a year since I started this amazing journey.
I’ve lost fifty-two pounds. My blood pressure is lower, my arthritis less painful, and my triglycerides are behaving themselves. I no longer use the C-PAP machine, or take medicine for gout. I haven’t had a bout of Plantar’s fasciitis or bone bruises for months.
Has it been easy? Hell, no. I spent a month (2 weeks before and 2 weeks after surgery) on a completely liquid diet. When you look forward to some sugar-free applesauce so you’ll at least have something to kinda chew, that’s hard. And, of course, my surgery was scheduled for mid-December, completely eclipsing the usual Christmas celebrations. And as much as I wanted the surgery, I hated how it tied my family and friends up in knots, making them tip-toe around me, not eating things they wanted, afraid to tempt me to do something to spoil my plans. As often as I reminded them that I’d CHOSEN to do this, and they should eat normally, they saw the liquids and mushed up food and felt bad for me. I kept telling them that next year I’d be eating with them, just much smaller portions and they should enjoy themselves.
Their support meant so much to me, however. They watched me go to endless doctors appointments and be tested for everything under the sun from breast cancer, to sleep apnea, to a colonoscopy. I was examined inside and out. I still laugh about how shocked I was when a doctor first lifted the folded over part of my belly to examine the skin underneath. It felt like such an invasion of privacy… LOL Little did I know what was in store.
I went through a plethora of emotions and was surprised by their vehemence. Hope warred with despair, anger fought with appreciation, and through it all, I held the deep conviction that I would fail yet again. My wife was terrified of the actual surgery but repeated several times that she supported whatever decision I made. She survived the four-hour wait during the surgery, and hers was the first face I saw when I woke.
I’ve handled the healing phase well. The wounds are all scarred and have lost their purplish hue. Although I’ve had to deal with excessive gas (and the resultant hours of walking) when experimenting with raw vegetables, I’ve managed to escape – knock on wood – the ‘dumping’ I’d been warned about. I needed to travel only a few short weeks following the surgery, but even that went well. The flight crew weren’t happy about my rising and walking the length of the plane every half-hour, but they preferred that to blood clots.
Because I was so busy for the first month and a half, it came as an almost sudden surprise when my entire wardrobe stopped fitting me. I sorted out those I could still get away with, and bagged up the rest. When it came to donating them to charity, though, I just couldn’t do it. Part of me still expects to gain back the weight, just like I have after every single diet in my life. They’re upstairs in the attic, but I may put them out for a spring yardsale… maybe.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m still learning. I’ve also learned an awful lot about other people and the way they treat people based on stereotypes. But more about that, next time…
I’ll use this for my before picture. It was taken in early 2015, after I’d begun the journey to get to this point. An interesting thing was happening to me at the time. I’d begun to say good-bye to foods, as if I’d never see them again. I binged on pizza, chocolate, and french fries. This photo was actually taken at a local pizza parlor!
Okay – let’s get down to it: I started this journey because the last straw was heaped on the donkey’s back. Yes, I’m borderline diabetic, have high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. My health has been going downhill even though I try to stay healthy. Yes, my back, legs, and feet were no longer willingly supporting my body. I hobbled places, or worse, waddled. That happened only once, and after that I walked as slowly as it took to never again sway side to side.
But if I’m honest, there were other reasons, ones involving self-esteem and issues of embarrassment. I had an experience that showed me if I fell and couldn’t get up, my loved ones would need help to get me up. I’m tired of being squeezed from all sides when traveling on a plane, and dealing with people who fat shame with glances. My feelings get hurt when my family discusses my size/eating habits/weight in normal everyday conversation. And I avoid looking at my own reflection in a mirror, narrowing my vision to a single area that needs work, teeth, hair, and more and more recently, my neck.
I’ve managed to be a normal weight at least six times in my life. None of those experiences lasted. I blew past 100 pounds sometime during 4th grade and never saw it again. I don’t know any other way to be than overweight, or losing weight. Maintaining a normal body weight will be a whole new experience for me.
And I’m afraid of failing. Again. A failure. Again.
But then again, everything good that’s ever happened to me started with me taking a chance. I’ve managed to do some relatively extraordinary things: travel the US in an RV, write an award-winning novel, performed before large audiences AND received standing ovations. So if the woman who achieved all that decides to put her effort into creating a new food/eating reality, she’ll make it.
I’ll make it. I can do it. I’ve done hard things before and succeeded. I’ve got this. It’s extreme – but then, I can be extreme. *deep breath* I will do this! . . . . And I’ve still got two days more to change my mind and run back to the world of comfort I know so well if I chicken out.
So the best part of day 2 on a liquid diet is that day 1 is over.
Although I grazed through the day with
7 8oz cups of water
3 protein drinks,
2 cups of cream of broccoli soup (eww!),
1/2 cup of Malt-o-Meal (yeah, they still make it and it still tastes the same…),
one 4oz container of applesauce (no sugar added),
one 4oz container of non-fat pudding,
and one truly bitter container of yogurt,
somehow I was hungry pretty much every minute of the day.
Okay, in the interest of total disclosure, there were about 10-15 minutes following the protein shakes where I wasn’t actively hungry, but it roared back within the hour.
However, I’m one day closer to my goal, and THAT is pretty cool.
So day 2 started off with me wondering if I should take some photos of myself at the beginning of the journey. After I stopped quivering, I tried once more to talk myself into it. Same visceral reaction.
I learned a long time ago that you can’t be in the photos if you’re the one taking the picture. So I became the family photographer. There are still enough photos of me to make sure I get my face on at least 10 out of 12 months of the Christmas calendar (Mixbook.com), but I make sure they’re head shots. I shudder whenever someone takes a photo of my whole body, and usually crop it out of the photo as soon as possible.
I also avoid seeing my whole reflection in mirrors, focusing on whatever body part I’m dealing with (usually face, teeth, hair…). When I’m walking by large store windows I focus on the models within, rather than my image reflected from the glass. I never try new clothes on in dressing rooms before buying – I just return them after I’ve tried them on at home. In that way I have happily maintained my own ignorance of the true size of my body.
Except that’s not true. When asked to estimate my own weight I’m usually within 10 pounds, startling the hell out of health professionals who uniformly believe overweight people have no true understanding of their situation. Although I routinely refused to be weighed when being seen by doctors (that public humiliation thing I covered yesterday), I have lived with this body my whole life and am aware of what wearing various sizes mean in terms of total weight.
In other words, I know how big I am but avoid like the plague seeing the proof of the pudding, as it were, with my own two eyes. Kind of the way I want the world to deal with me too. You can know I’m a plump (fat), middle-aged (old), charmer (woman), just don’t see me that way. I’d rather you ‘saw’ me as my young, beautiful, healthy self in my eighteen year old body.
Of course, doesn’t everybody?
I don’t know if I’m going to talk myself into a ‘before’ photo or not. I’ll let you know tomorrow.
I was talking about this with some women the other day. We’re all full-figured women who’ve lived our lives on the heavy side of the scale, rather than the lighter, and each of us had horror stories to tell.
I shared a story of going through the cafeteria at school during the second grade, and being dished up a portion much smaller than those around me who had all paid exactly the same amount of money. When I asked why I got less, the lunch lady smiled sadly and said, “You don’t really need that much, now do you?” This from a woman shaped like a potato dumpling. I turned bright red, the others around me laughed, and I started packing my own lunch, sitting by myself to eat until I found some accepting friends.
I still not comfortable eating in cafeterias or buffets. I feel myself turning bright red as I gather my food as fast as possible, imagining the people ahead and behind me to be judging my choices and always finding me a greedy glutton. Even in restaurants I try to be seated in a sheltered booth or hidden nooks.
In the fourth grade, I already outweighed my teacher. How do I know? Because she decided she would weigh each student, post their weight, and use those numbers to show children how to find the average weight of each person in the class. For shitz and giggles she jumped on the scale too, adding her paltry one-hundred-ten pounds to the mix. After every other student in the class had been weighed, she called me up. To her credit, she had her scale discreetly hidden from class view, but I was having none of it. I told her I wouldn’t do it, an extremely assertive statement for me. She threatened to call my parents and give me a ‘C’ in math, a subject in which I’d always received ‘A’s. I sobbed, telling her I didn’t want to do it, that the other kids would make fun of me, but in the way of adults in authority she had her way, insisting my weight would make a ‘huge’ difference in the class average.
For the next two weeks I stared at a graph filled with pieces of masking tape, every student’s (and the teacher’s) weight written on masking tape, displayed on one full wall of the class. When we each had to add our tape to the board, I had to place my little square all alone in the highest right hand corner. Because the wall graph was so large, I had to pull a desk over to the wall and climb up to put it in the right place. The teacher was so pleased she even invited the principal to admire it, and I blushed when she threw a look right at me. Whether it was sympathy or judgement was difficult for me to decipher when I was nine years old, but by then I’d already learned to assume the worst.
I never felt the same about math after that. What had been challenging and exciting became threatening and difficult. My growing fear of math eventually turned me away from career choices because I was sure I would fail statistics.
Were the lunch lady and the fourth grade teacher bullies? I’m sure they would not only reject that accusation, they’d become defensive and offer excuses for how and why it was for my own good. I’m sure in each of their minds, at the time, it didn’t seem like that big a deal to them. But here it is a half century later and both incidents are still fresh in my memory.
It is my opinion that both women were bullies, using their authority over me as a child to humiliate and publicly shame me in front of my peers. Their actions didn’t help the school or students in any way, but both times I was directly injured.
The cafeteria might have saved a penny or three by shorting my plate each time they served me, but since I was unwilling to go through the lunch line any more and began bringing my own lunch, all they did was lose a paying customer. The damage done to my psyche was far greater than any financial reward reaped by that judgmental lunch lady.
I’ve never forgiven my fourth grade teacher. The rest of that year was a nightmare of humiliation for me. The kids teased me, of course, but I was the daughter of the local pediatrician. All I had to do was remind them that my father had seen them naked, and they pretty much backed off. And after a while my naturally funny personality made a place for me in the social hierarchy, and my diligent intelligence earned me respect from both students and teachers.
Of course, those two incidents stand out in a life of humiliating moments when people decide to either fight my arguments and constructs by tearing down my looks, or decide I just don’t feel bad enough about what they perceive to be a personal failing. They were the first bullies, but they were in no way the last.
Is it true that learning to handle the bullying made me who I am today? Possibly, but just imagine the me I might have been if no one had ever judged me solely based upon the shape and weight of my body.
Fat shaming has been around for too long. It is dehumanizing and cruel, based on the false social construct that slimmer is better than fatter. It is the last refuge of those who cannot create a winning argument. In other words, fat shaming is for losers.