Because it is what has helped me get to this point in my life, I think I want to talk about my surgery and the experience leading up to and immediately following it.
How does one just decide one day “I am going to undergo a major, life altering operation?” Well, for me, I didn’t just up and decide. I started exploring the idea in the summer of 2009 when it became clear that my body was so heavy I could no longer exercise without risking injuring myself. After coming home from Sapphire Joust, a 4 day camping event, with massive sores on my inner thighs from where they had rubbed together all weekend (even with bike shorts on), I could barely walk for a week.
My shame allowed for almost 2 months to pass before I could bring it up with Byram. I figured he would be radically against it, but I was very wrong. He had reservations (and anyone considering this should have some reservations and concerns), but he supported my efforts to go forward.
I went to a required informational “class” in late August 2009 and confirmed that I was eligible and my insurance was in good order to take the next step, which was a visit to the surgeon’s office to meet the surgeon and answer a whole lot of questions, ask my own, and then some testing. Here is the photo they took of me that day in the doctor’s office, September 1, 2009 (it’s really bad because it is scanned from a plain paper copy I have, made into a PDF, then made into a JPEG; I seriously lack in photo wizardry skills, sorry).
Yes, I really am almost as wide as the door in that photo.
That was September of 2009 and I had a lot of things I had to do before I could even hope for a surgery date. I had to spend time with a behavioral therapist, a nutritionist, visit a cardiologist, and my general practitioner. I also was not supposed to gain any weight in the intervening months. They said they would disqualify me if I gained substantial weight as it would disprove my commitment to my long term health.
On November 3rd, within an hour of getting word that a co-worker (who had also undergone RnY gastric bypass) had committed suicide, the phone call came in offering me January 14, 2010, for my surgery date. In a haze of emotion, I accepted the date and the countdown was on.
The 10 weeks that followed are a bit of a blur. I DID commit the “Last Supper” sin, a lot, eating anything I wanted, worrying about nothing. I had actually lost about 10 pounds between September and November, but I put them all back on, and on the morning I began the two week long liver shrinking diet (January 1, appropriately enough), I was 271 pounds.
The morning of January 14, exactly a week after my 28th birthday, Byram and I arrived at St. Mary’s hospital in the very cold, pre-dawn hours. Most of this is a blur as well; my heart was racing and my head was pounding for much of the time. I went to Inpatient Registration first where I was braceleted, and soon thereafter, we were taken to the pre-op waiting room. I was deeply comforted by having Byram so close to that point, but it was abruptly over when after less than 10 minutes of waiting, I was called into the pre-op prep center. I gave my last hug and kiss to my husband before walking down the hall with the nurse. That was a very hard moment.
I was taken to a large room full of other surgical patients, each of us with our own curtained quarters. I given warm socks and a surgical gown to wear, and the poking and prodding began. My veins were nearly impossible to find and it took 4 or 5 sticks to get my two i.v.s in place, but fortunately, the nurse had a standing prescription for novacaine injections, so I got a little numbing dose before each hit or miss with the i.v.
Things were going along okay at that point. I was being introduced to my surgical team, everyone was asking me my full name and date of birth and what procedure I was undergoing. After being asked a half a hundred times, it got a little old, but that was preferable to coming out with a hip replacement by accident or something. Dr. Bautista, my surgeon arrived, and everyone got down to their jobs; papers were being filled in, my vitals were being checked constantly, and everyone was going about their business, very professionally and at the same time, very casually.
This is where I got off track. I felt very insignificant, very small, and horribly alone right at that moment. My hands started shaking. My eyes started blurring. It sank in that this was really going to happen and I was scared to death. Now, all the shaking and tears were very silent; I wasn’t sobbing or gasping, and therefore, it was a few minutes into what was probably a full on panic attack before anyone noticed I was upset (I was trying to avoid anyone noticing, too. I was very ashamed of the tears and terror).
Eventually, the anesthesiologist’s nurse noticed. She was so very sweet and gentle with me. She asked, “Are you okay?” and I shook my head and whispered “No.” She said “Okay. Do you want to continue? We can stop here and you do not have to go through with the surgery. That is okay.” I got myself together a little and said “No, no, I really want to. I am just scared.” And I really was. She said “Okay, then hold on and I will put a little something in your i.v. to make this easier.”
I don’t know what I was given; some sort of valium type drug, I am sure, but whatever it was, I was grateful for it. Within minutes, the shaking stopped. My heart rate dropped back from the 120s down into the 90s. I was able to detach myself from my fear, look at it with some distance, acknowledge that I had good reason to be scared, but no good reason to let that overwhelm me.
Much calmer, and of course, slightly high, time began speeding up. The team left to get the operating room ready, dimming my lights, which allowed me to drowse off. I looked at the clock at one point and saw that the scheduled time for my surgery had passed. Dr. Bautista came in and said the room had to be decontaminated and it would be a little longer. No problem; I just dozed off again.
Right around 8am, they came and got me. It was go time. They gave me more of the calming drug and I remember being moved, but I have no idea what direction I went or how long it took to get from the pre-op prep area to the operating room. I do distinctly remember the operating room. It was smaller than I expected and looked NOTHING like they do on t.v. I remember seeing the daVinci machine they would be using to do my surgery and thinking it was much bigger than I thought it would be.
I helped the surgical nurses get me shifted from the gurney to the operating table and I remember that I was surprised at just how narrow the table was. This was the point where I was very glad they had given me all that happy medicine. I remember them strapping my arms down; I even remember thinking “Man am I glad I am high as a kite because I would be freaking the *bleep* out right now.”
The anesthesiologist was the last person I saw. He put a mask over my face and told me to take some deep breaths. The last thing I said before the lights went out was “I trust you guys.”
Fast forward about 4 hours. I woke up in recovery and the very first sensation I became conscious of was the feeling that my midsection had been perhaps run over by a dump truck; possibly two dump trucks. Immediately following that sensation was “Oh my god, I am going to puke” and in full terror, I started dry heaving (who wants to be dry heaving with a brand new right down to the new car smell pouch for a stomach???). A nurse quickly saw my distress and immediately put something in my i.v. for the nausea and showed me where to find the morphine delivery button.
I clicked that button. A minute later, I clicked it again. And again. And again. And then the lights went back out and I was gone again. And so began several maddening hours of waking up, checking the time on the clock, hitting the morphine button over and over again, and back to sleep. The only things I was conscious of were that much more time was passing than should have (I had been told I would only spend two hours in recovery), that Byram was probably flipping out not having seen me yet (he wasn’t), and that waking up meant hurting and clicking the button meant not hurting, but not being awake either. My five or so hours in recovery bordered on hellish.
Eventually, I learned that they were waiting for a bed to open for me, Byram had been updated about my surgery long ago and had left to get out and get lunch, and that I was doing just fine. I think it was about 4:30 that they finally got me a bed in the bariatric ward and I finally, at long last, got to lay eyes on my husband again. He stayed with me for a long time. He brought me my knitting project I had chosen for the hospital stay and even took a photo of me attempting a few, morphine assisted stitches. I was incredibly weak and constantly slipping into and out of awareness. He stayed until my drill sergeant, I mean, nurse came and made me take my first required walk around the ward.
That was the most exhausting and painful walk I have ever taken. It was maybe a couple hundred feet total, just down the hall and back, but once I was back in bed, I kissed Byram good night and I hit that happy little morphine button and went straight to sleepy town.
The first night was a bad one because I had roommates and I had to get up and walk every 4 hours and had vitals taken even more frequently than that, same as they did, and none of us were on the same schedule, meaning there was no rest for anyone. Around 6am, I got my own private room and finally started getting real rest.
I passed my barium swallow test and was given water to start sipping. Eventually, I was given broth and apple juice to sip for my very first post-op “meal.” That was Friday, the day after surgery, and it is a blur of walking the corridors and talking to various nurses. The morphine button was taken away and I was switched over to Percocet. Percocet was F.U.N.! I am a friendly little lady on Percocet. It turned out for all that I thought I was hitting that morphine button like crazy, I only got 7 doses in the space of 24 hours. There was a 6 minute delay between each dose and apparently it would send me to sleep long before that delay was up.
I was taught how to give myself a Lovenox injection. The catheter was taken out and I was allowed to get up and use the bathroom myself. Slowly but surely, the number of tubes I had attached were decreasing and as I gained more mobility, the discomfort eased.
The most stark moment I remember was meeting a man in the hall who had had his RnY bypass the same day as me, and also with Dr. Bautista, just later in the day. He was coming back from his barium swallow test and he was upset. I asked him what was wrong and he said “I have a goddamn leak, and I am going back into emergency surgery in a couple of hours.”
Whoa. There but by the grace of God went I. Dr. Bautista had done two surgeries in the same day and mine was the one that went flawlessly, not his. I felt scared, horrified, relieved, and guilty all at the same time. I talked to Dr. Bautista shortly before he headed back into surgery. He told me how great I was doing and that my procedure had in fact gone off without a hitch. I acknowledged where he was headed and wished him luck. We shook hands and I thanked him.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
Soon thereafter, I was very unceremoniously packed up and shipped out the door to head home and begin my new lease on life.