I left off yesterday with being rolled down the hall to the Libbie Avenue exit at St. Mary’s and put into the van to begin the ride home to my new life. This second half of my story is longer and I am going to cover the intervening two years, but this is already familiar to anyone who has been following along with my blog all along. If you stumbled across this by accident, I apologize for the length. There is a lot to cover.
The ride home from the hospital was surprisingly unmemorable. I had the pillow everyone recommended to hold against my midsection, but I don’t recall it being particularly miserable or anything. That is pretty much all I remember of the day; I came home, slept, took a walk, and slept. And so began the pattern that would go on for the next few weeks.
The next day, Sunday, Grace came home from her extended visit to Ama and Grandpa’s house, where she stayed while I was in the hospital, and I began breaking the physical restrictions I was under. I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 10 pounds for 2 weeks. Grace was over 20 pounds and there was no way I wasn’t going to pick her up and hug her when I first saw her (never mind putting her in bed, changing her, and bathing her). So began my policy of bending and outright breaking limitations I had been given.
My whole world for the first few days cycled around sleeping, waking up, giving myself a shot of Lovenox (a blood thinner to prevent blood clots), trying to down a protein shake in under 20 minutes, putting Grace in a stroller and going for a walk through the neighborhood, occasionally grabbing a shower, taking a Percocet and then back to sleep. Shower time was interesting. I had six total incisions, including one in my belly button. They were glued shut. Let’s just say I had a pretty severe lack of faith in that surgical glue, especially when it came to my belly button incision. I would wash in the shower, very gingerly going over the other five incisions, but my belly button needed more intensive cleaning and I was positively terrified that I would open that incision up. Even the thought of it today gives me the heebie-jeebies.
The next distinct memory I have of those first two weeks was going to InterBaronial Twelfth Night the next Saturday, 9 days post op, 7 days out of the hospital, and working in the kitchen. I wanted to go out and be social since I had been pretty closeted for a while and I remember feeling pretty good by that point.
Remember that whole 10 pound weight limit? Yeah. I like working as the scullery maid in SCA feast kitchens. I spent the day hanging out with Moe and Lyle and Byram and assorted friends, lifting huge pots, washing them, shifting things around, and such. I drank my protein shakes, I took my Percocet as needed, and by the end of the day, I wasn’t any worse for wear aside from being positively exhausted. Looking back, all that activity I did was pretty stupid and I was really lucky I didn’t reopen anything, tear anything, or damage myself in some way or another. I don’t recommend my policy of ignoring those rules and limitations they give you. Just sayin’.
Another week passed, and I saw my nurse practioner, Maya, on the 2 week mark post surgery. I had lost a good deal of weight but I don’t remember how much by that point. Going over what I was taking in, it was clear I wasn’t hitting my goal of 60 grams of protein per day at that point. She told me that was normal; that swelling in the area around my pouch made it very hard to fit in enough of anything to reach either my 64 ounces of water per day or my 60 grams of protein per day, but to keep working on it. I think it was at this point that I was allowed to have food like cottage cheese and yogurts. By that point, it had been 5 days since I had taken a Percocet and I was cleared to drive again, and most importantly, go back to work the following Monday.
Yes. I went back to work 17 days after my surgery. Most people take 4 to 6 weeks off to recover. A few weeks before my surgery, I was asked by the highest up in the office if there was any possible way for me to delay my surgery until after the General Assembly had adjourned, which, in a good year would have been March, and in a bad year, if they couldn’t get a budget together, could have been June. I talked with my supervisor and we convinced him that even though GA season is a very busy time for the attorneys in the office, it is not at all a busy time in my section, and this was the best possible time for me to be out. I got the “Well, okay, if you must, but be back as soon as possible” response; right or wrong, I felt pressured to be back as soon as humanly possible.
Monday, February 1, 2010, I was back to work. Life started feeling more normal at that point, even though I was still limited to protein shakes and only semi-solid foods, and I came home from work every day and went to bed, completely exhausted. I walked during my lunch hours, and drank my shakes morning, noon, and night. But every day for that first week, I came home and crashed straight into bed.
When you get ready for weight loss surgery, you read about all the potential risks, all the potential outcomes, good and bad, you read about all the required supplements, vitamins, protein, walking, exercise, and so many other things. The thing I was completely unprepared for was how exhausted I would be and just how long that would last. Thinking about it, though, it makes perfect sense.
For the first week or two, you have the lingering effects of several hours of anesthesia and then the pain killers; and of course, your body must sleep to do its best effort to heal. But the thing I never factored in was that I went from a daily caloric intake somewhere around 2000 or more calories a day to an average for the first 6 weeks or so, of about 500 calories a day. My body was literally starving. I wasn’t hungry at all, but my body just couldn’t function at a high level.
At the six week point, I had my next check up with Maya. My incisions were fully healed and I think at that point, I had dropped somewhere around 30 pounds. All lifting and physical restrictions (that I had been ignoring since day 3 or so) were removed. I was allowed to start trying soft solid foods like mashed potatoes, refried beans, and macaroni and cheese. My blood work came back okay at that point, but low on Vitamin D, just like always. Other than that, she was very happy with my progress.
The introduction of soft, solid foods actually made my protein situation worse. At that point, I could eat maybe two tablespoons of semi-solid food and I was at maximum capacity for a while. Well, there isn’t huge quantities of protein in foods like mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and such. Some, but not a lot compared to my 20 grams of protein per serving shakes, and when you are trying to hit 60 grams of protein per day, it was really difficult to get a good balance. After a while, I decided to quit being so stressed about it and do what my body was okay with. There were days I got more than my 60 grams, days where I got maybe 48 grams, and lots somewhere in between. Stressing about it made me a bit crazy and once I relaxed and just accepted that not every day would see me hit 64 ounces of water or 60 grams of protein, I started to really enjoy my new life.
Even better, I was beginning to enjoy the changes I was seeing in my body. I remember when I was able to get back into the size 18 pants I wore after Grace was born, when I was at my smallest I had been in a decade (morning sickness for more than half a year was a GREAT diet, but I don’t recommend it). I was thrilled to get out of pant sizes that started with a “2”. I was getting more mobile, too. By March, I was up to walking a mile at lunch every day, even on the snowy, slushy days we had that year.
By April, I had gotten down to 225 pounds, which was almost a 50 pound loss, and it was a magic number I had gotten into my head. That was the number I decided I would start trying to run at. April was also the month that my hair started falling out. As best as I can tell, it happens to pretty much every gastric bypass patient. There is no definitive answer as to why, but theories range from depleted protein stores to hormonal changes. I never lost all or even most of my hair, but I had a lot of hair and I lost a lot of it. The good news is that it did stop falling out by around October, or 10 months post-op, and now, over two years later, I have a secondary “coat” of hair, new growth that is now about 6 inches long. Yes, hair falls out, but it is only temporary and it does grow back. My crazy 6″ hair “halo” is proof of that.
Anyway, so back to April. My first few runs that April were…let’s just call them humbling. I went with the very popular (and worthy) Couch to 5K training program (“C25K”) to get me started, but at the beginning, I couldn’t run a full 60 seconds like the first week required. I was that out of shape. I now am able to factor in that my energy stores were fully depleted, so that surely contributed. Still, who can’t run for 60 seconds?
Well, lots of people, it turns out. But it doesn’t stay that way if you keep at it. I started out by running in my parking deck so that no one would see me, and even then only running on the downhill ramps. Within a couple of weeks, I would walk to the bottom floor of the parking deck and then do a one lap run around the bottom floor of the deck, then walk two laps. Then it was walk a lap and run a lap.
Eventually, I began to work my way up to multiple minutes of running at a time. By mid-May, I announced to everyone that I had started running, even though I had been at it about 6 weeks by that point, and since I could go for more than a single minute at a time, I felt confident enough to leave the dark and musty parking deck behind and head outdoors.
Why in the world did I want to run? I blew up my right knee back in 2002 and still suffered from patellar tendonitis, and my left knee had major joint degeneration already in the early ’00s, as seen by x-ray and MRI. Running just sounds like it would be a bad plan for someone who had knee issues and chose gastric bypass because her feet and ankles hurt too much to even walk short distances anymore, right?
As a kid I liked to run. I was in the “joggers club” at various times in my K-3rd Grade elementary school; a program that allowed those kids out doors an extra 30 minutes a few days each week to run a couple of laps around the school yard. I ran around like a crazy person as a kid. I rode my bike everywhere. I was a great swimmer too while I was near the beach. I was very active as a child.
My obesity prevented me from enjoying activities like I used too, and then eventually prevented me from being active at all. As I shed the pounds, I began to rediscover the pure enjoyment I take just from moving around.
So all summer during 2010, I worked on the C25K program, and it was very slow work; much, MUCH longer than 6 weeks. It was a hot summer and I was very fearful of dehydration; something that can hit very quickly in a recent gastric bypass patient, and something that could land me in the hospital in no time flat, so I took my time.
It was when I went to Pennsic that year that just how far I had come really sank in. By Pennsic, I was just short of 100 pounds down (I lost 7 pounds at Pennsic, pushing me over that mark) but the difference one year made was so remarkable that my camp mates must have been sick of hearing me say “I am just so thankful…” And I was. I was able to work all weekend long at Land Grab, putting up tents and digging our sump in a record time for me. The previous year, I had stayed mostly in camp because I couldn’t get back up the hill to our camp without needing to stop and rest. In 2010, I came and went as I pleased. Pennsic was a little nerve wracking, too, because it is easy to get dehydrated even with a normal stomach, but I did okay with my water. I ate almost nothing but protein shakes because Pennsic meals at that time didn’t work very well with my still relatively new pouch. I drank liquid protein “bullets” (absolutely disgusting inventions, but useful) mixed into my crystal-lite flavored water.
And like I said, when I got home, I was officially down over 100 pounds in just 8 months time.
I saw Maya in October for another check up and blood work; I was down to about 160 pounds at that point (from my original 271) and she was absolutely thrilled with my diet, exercise regimen, and water. That day, the fire alarm sounded in the middle of my check up and we all had to trundle down 6 flights of stairs and wait until the building was cleared to re-enter. I was able to take the stairs back up to the medical office after we were allowed to go back in; something, as I told Maya right then, that would NEVER have happened before my surgery.
I went through my first holiday season post-gastric bypass. It was a little tricky because there are foods related to the holidays that I had a real attachment to, but I did okay. As I approached my 1 year anniversary, I realized people no longer recognized me by my directory photo at work, so I had a new work picture taken right at the beginning of the new year.
It was in January 2011 that I began to see Warrior Dash advertisements running on Facebook. Warrior Dash was something I had heard about long before my surgery and something that always sounded like a ton of fun, but was far out of my reach of doing. In honor of my 1 year “surgiversary,” I decided to pay the $45 entrance fee and sign up for the October 1st race scheduled for the first time in Virginia. At the time, 3.5 miles plus obstacles sounded so far out of my ability that I figured it would take the whole intervening 9 months to be able to do it, so I started training right away.
Then in March, we discovered a local 5K race called the SuperHero Run benefiting Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children. Being a superhero-friendly family, we decided to sign up for it, just 3 weeks before the race. I had never run a full 3 miles before but I committed to it with only a few weeks to get ready.
Together, my family raised almost $500 for CASA and I ran my first 5k race ever, in just under 32 minutes.
It was official by that point: I was hooked on running. I decided almost instantly that I wanted to try for a 13.1 mile distance and wanted to run the Richmond Half Marathon in November 2011. Unfortunately, between catching Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in May (from one or more of the 6 different tick bites I suffered that spring) and getting hit with a lot of expensive car repair bills at the same time, I had neither the money nor the energy to devote to training for the half marathon. My training for the Warrior Dash also suffered because of the illness and lack of energy I had all summer.
By September, I was pretty much back to normal and achieved my goal of running the Warrior Dash.
Almost immediately, post-race blues set in and I knew I needed a new goal to work towards or I would crash to a halt. I signed up immediately for a 5K in December to benefit the Arthritis Foundation, but I still had it in my heart that I wanted to run a 13 mile distance.
I discovered the brand new Instant Classic Half Marathon trail race being run on March 17, 2012, and after mulling it over in my head for a couple of weeks, I decided to sign up.
Today is March 1st. I am sixteen days from the race now. I have been training for it since December 3rd (I will count the Jingle Bell race from December as my first day of training, why not?).
This race is more than just a new distance for me. It is the culmination of over 2 years of working, dreaming, training, hoping, growing, shrinking, changing, and praying to be more than I was. It is more than just a long run. It is more than just a race. It is proof positive to me that I have achieved what I set out to do when I was rolled down that hallway on a gurney into a bright white operating room on a cold January morning.
I wanted to be fit, healthy, and able. I never actually dreamed that this was what I would end up doing. A half marathon was never on my list of things I expected to do post-surgery. It just sort of grew up organically from my efforts over the past two years; a natural progression from the fat girl I once was, full of excuses and complaints, to a new person, still full of excuses and complaints, but stronger and more able to overcome those excuses.
I will go see Maya again on April 18th for my next 6 month check-up, a month after my half marathon. I will take my race medal to her to show her and say “Look what I did. I couldn’t have done it without you and Dr. Bautista.” I would give it to her to keep, but I also acknowledge that while I couldn’t have gotten to this point without their care and help, I also wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t put in the time, money, work, and sacrifice of my own, too.
So this is where I came from, and for now, this is where I am going. I don’t know what will come next. I am signed up for the Richmond Half in November, the one I couldn’t do last year. But after that, what will be next? I don’t know. I am entertaining the idea of a triathlon, and last night I took my first real swim in years. That was as humbling as that first, tremulous run I took in April of 2010. I know with enough time, training, and learning, just like the half marathon distance, nothing could stop me from a triathlon, if that is what I want to do. Or maybe the next thing I want to do is full 26.2 mile distance. Or maybe it will be something completely different. Maybe it will be long-distance hiking or biking. I don’t know, yet, but the only limits are the ones I choose to set on myself.
The one thing I have learned and come to fully accept is that weight loss surgery is not a means to an end. You never “arrive” anywhere. You might hit your goal weight or achieve a physical goal (as I am about to), but it doesn’t end with those things. On March 18th, I will wake up and have achieved a major goal, but my weight loss surgery journey will still continue. Just like anyone else, I have to keep working, stay vigilant about my diet and how much exercise I take. I have a severely addictive personality and I have to work to keep away from unhealthy addictions, and if I must be addicted to something (or things), make them positive things; things that make me healthy and let me be with my family and friends, as opposed to isolated, secretive, and alone.
This is the road I have chosen and the journey doesn’t end until my road reaches its final destination.
Thanks for sharing in my journey. I hope all these words reach someone who needs to hear them.