Baritric Surgery: Sleeve

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Me at age 4 months. My mom still has this outfit.

As many of you may not know, I had Gastric Sleeve surgery on May 14th of this year. My surgery was p[performed at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington by Dr. Cheregi (who’s been simply FANTASTIC). I have long struggled with my weight and even as a child, I was chubby.

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Uncle Neil and I; I was about 2 or 3 at this time.

At one point, during my Concordia University days, I had slimmed down to 230 lbs from 270, which is not an easy feat. I then worked for Meijer (a mega supermarket chain originating in Michigan) where I got exposed to some nasty chemicals that led to  spontaneous pnemothoraxes. In essence, I had coughed so much and so hard, I ended up with 3 holes in my lungs. This led to being put on some major cortisone steroids (and other medications). Steroids for Asthmatics are not the same as those used by athletes. When you are on a dosage, you have to be weaned off and there are notorious for making  one gain weight. I was on such a high dosage, it took nearly a year to be weaned off. So I went from 230 to 300 in a year. Not my proudest moment. Then I went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where they discovered I was diabetic. The medication they put me on made me jump from 300 to 350 (diabetes medication is also well known to cause weight gain). Transferred to Kansas State, put on different diabetic medication and slimmed down to 300 again. After graduation, cannot afford the better medication, so put on Metformin, which not only makes me nauseous but causes me to gain weight (some lose weight on it, I didn’t). This led me to being over 330 lbs again by the time my niece was born two years ago.

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Vivienne and I, May 2017

So, I made the decision to ask my primary doctor about seeing a nutritionist. And she’s been wonderful! Kate has been helpful and has helped try to understand what foods were triggering higher blood sugars (all of them), plus has helped me lose over 30 lbs in the year that I’ve been seeing her. Unfortunately, losing weight did not help my blood sugars at all. I was running over 200 into the 300s on a daily basis. Finally taken off of Metformin by an endocrinologist and put on Insulin. And the dosage kept getting higher and higher. Even though I was eating right, exercising, and had lost weight, the blood sugars just wouldn’t come down. So the Endo first brought up the subject of gastric surgery last August. So I did what I do best and started researching, talking to my primary, and talking to the nutritionist.

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Classmates and I at the 20 yr HS Reunion this past Autumn.

By December, I had made the decision to have the surgery. This meant calling the insurance company, finding out what steps I had to take, and finding a surgeon. By January, I had meet Dr. Cheregi and had done all the tests needed for the insurance company. We had a tentative surgery date of April as I needed the psychiatrist to write a letter. And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after calling repeatedly for days and weeks on end, the letter was submitted and a surgery date was scheduled. Last minute blood work was done and all was set up. At the same time, i had started a new job and had been there about a month. They were all fine with me needing a few days off (they forced me to take a week, which really was the best decision).

Surgery was not as bad as one might think. They give you anti-anxiety meds so I was fairly chill going into surgery. And once they put you under, you are out. At least I was. Next thing, I was in recovery with a male nurse forcing me to take some ice chips. And the first 8 hours were not pleasant. I am not going to lie about that. The anti-nausea medication actually made me nauseous. You have a drain put in to reduce swelling, and a pillow is needed to press against the stomach when coughing or gagging. But I did well as I didn’t ask for pain medication too often and sometime just getting liquid Tylenol was enough to take the pain away. Mainly, I slept.  The next day, I has some broth (meh), Crystal Light lemonade (ok), tea (because I needed it), and a Popsicle (yum!). The Popsicle was needed do to sore throat from being intubated. But I wasn’t really hungry. Did walk and sat in the recovery chair most of the day, snoozing. Got the drain removed and went home. And for about three days, did nothing more than take some pain meds, sleep, drink copious amounts of broth, protein water (I highly recommend Protein2O), eat some Popsicles and had some tea, on occasion. From the date of my surgery to my 1 week check up, I lost 13 lbs (I was 288 the day of surgery). Today I weigh 270, which is 60 lbs lighter than I was a year ago, and 18 lbs since the surgery (I thought it was 17, thinking I was under 288 day of surgery, but I checked and I was wrong).

The hardest part was while doing all of this prep work since January, I lost my Grandmother and my cat. Doris died in January and Jack had surgery before Christmas to remove a tumor that was on his head. We thought he would have at least 6  months before the tumor came back. He had six weeks. My grandmother I didn’t mourn as much, mainly because she had been declining for two years. But Jack was my baby and I still miss him. He was only 9.5 yrs old. So, it’s been hard to recover from that and the surgery at the same time.

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My boy Jack during our time at Kansas State. He had a thing for the linen closet.

After that first week post-op, things got better. I still don’t get hungry, but sometimes a bit peckish. The rules of eating post-op are the first week, clear liquids, then second full liquids. Then weeks 3 & 4 you can add things like soft scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, mashed potatoes…you get the picture. But it’s important to realize that these are guidelines and every one will recover differently. I’m technically in week four, but couldn’t tolerate eggs until recently. It can take me 20-30 minutes to consume 3 oz of soup. And that’s the trick everyone has to learn. You have to take small bites and also take your time chewing. I have had a few missteps and have vomited since the surgery. Drinking water too fast and too quickly was one lesson. The other is eating too fast. But I am learning, losing weight and my blood sugars are finally within a more normal range. One day I woke up and it was 90, which is considered normal. This was the main reason I did the surgery, to help with the diabetes. Will it cure diabetes for me? For some, they are able to get off all medication. I may never because it runs on both sides of the family. But what sounds better, a low dose of insulin for years and years or having to increase it until it’s a few hundred units a day? I’ll take the low dose, to be perfectly honest.

So, why write about this? Why inform everyone? Because in America, there’s a stigma against people who have weight loss surgery. Which I think is ridiculous because no one undergoes having half (or more) of their stomach removed (or those who get bypass have a small pouch and no longer use their stomach) for the thrill of it all. People do this for medical reasons. Diabetes is a major reason it’s done, but not the only one. There are famous celebrities who’ve had surgery yet won’t admit to it. And I think that’s truly awful. There should be no shame in getting proper medical treatment that improves one’s quality of life. It’s not for everyone and that’s fine. There are people that are able to lose weight on their own or with assistance from a nutritionist or even a personal trainer. Some of us aren’t that lucky and do need the surgery. For me, the part of the stomach that was removed is also the part of the body that tends to create insulin resistance issues (meaning I kept having to get the insulin increased in order to work). So now the insulin can actually work and do it’s job in controlling the blood sugars. The bonus is that I will also be able to lose weight, which will help the diabetes, the asthma, and even the depression & anxiety that I have. Because as one loses weight, medications get adjusted and can work more efficiently.

Basically I wanted to share this to be upfront and honest, but also just tell people that it’s OK if you get weight loss surgery and it’s OK if you don’t. There are many people out there that are overweight and it’s not always a result of over eating. Yes, food is involved, but things like medications and actual medical issues can also cause weight gain and retention. I’m not looking to be a model after I lose most of the weight because that’s not my goal. I would like to be able to shop in a regular store, run after my niece, and make myself a pelisse or two. I did this for me and not for anyone else. And that’s all that matters.

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