Re-Evaluation 104 Pounds Later: Why Gastric By-Pass? Why Now?

I’m not sure that I have ever gone into a detailed account on this blog as to why I finally decided to lose weight through surgery.  I want to try to do that today.

Now that I have lost 104 pounds and my goal does not seem quite so far away, I have been thinking a lot about what I have been through this past year and how my life has changed.  That had me thinking about what finally motivated me to take such a drastic step.  And that had me re-evaluating my life as a whole.  Needless to say, I have had a very emotional week.

I have been dieting all of my life.  When I say all of my life, I mean every day, every hour, every minute I have worried about food and being fat for as far back as I can remember.  That obsession with fat and food had a very deleterious effect on my life.  I never felt good about myself with the exception of a few times.  As a result, I gained more and more weight over the years until I topped the scale at 315 pounds at my heaviest.

I have tried so many different diets, weight watchers, the cabbage soup diet, I have worked with doctors, nutritionists.  I have exercised.  I have walked endless miles.  You name it.  I have done it.  But after each failed attempt, I just kept gaining more and more weight.

People have tried to talk to me about weight loss surgery for years and I was never open to it.  I knew I could just lose weight if I just put my mind to it.  The problem was, I was not losing weight and after each failure, I became more and more depressed until I just gave up.  I went on for years like that.  I buried my depression in more food, video games, I withdrew from the world, I stopped doing things I loved.  My health got worse and worse.  I could not walk much.  I could not breathe well.  The less I could go out comfortably, the less I wanted to go out.  It was a perpetual never-ending cycle.

So, what changed?  Why was I suddenly willing to consider surgery when before I would not even talk about it?

As with most things in life, it was not just one thing.  There were several events over the past few years which made me really want to make significant changes to my life.  I found new interests and new reasons to live.  I wanted to let go of the past, but I did not really know how.  And it became increasingly apparent to me that if I did not change my life, I might be on my way to an early grave and I would not have a chance to really do anything.

The first thing that changed in my life  was the birth of my niece.  When my brother and his wife brought her home, and let me hold her for the first time, I was hooked.  I knew in that moment that nothing in the world was more important than that little girl.  I never knew that I could love another person so much.  I have heard it said that parents feel that kind of connection with their child, but I’m here to tell you, Aunties feel it too.  She turned a collection of related adults into a family.

My whole life centered around seeing her smile when I walked into a room.   I forgot what I was doing with my life before she was born.  Nothing else was important anymore.  I want to be there with her through all of her major life events.  I want to help her know how wonderful she is and how much we love her.  And most importantly, I want her to grow up knowing her own self-worth and never feel the insecurities and worthlessness I have felt in my life.

My biggest fear was that I would die from my obesity before I could tell her how wonderful she is, how much she is loved, and how she changed all of our lives, particularly mine.

I also decided that I want to write.  I have always had stories and ideas floating around in my head, but I very rarely ever tried to write any of them down.  Mostly, I was insecure and afraid to write.  I was afraid that other people would hate my ideas and think I was a bad writer.  Who knows.  Maybe they do and maybe I am, but I no longer care.  I have to write, even if it is only ever for myself.

I joined a writers group and although I did not write much for years, I slowly began to develop some confidence and even more slowly became less and less afraid to write.   Now that I am doing this blog almost daily, I cannot seem to stop.  I am also doing a lot of writing apart from this blog as well.  I am writing short stories, essays, I’m working on a novel.  I love it and I do not want to stop.

The third that really compelled me to start thinking about surgery was my sister Jen.  She was married a couple of years ago.  I looked terrible when I went to her wedding.  I know what a disappointment that was for her.  She wanted everyone to be there and have fun, to celebrate the new life she was starting for herself.  I know that she had a hard time seeing me in that condition and I hated not being able to fully join in the fun the way I would have liked.

Then earlier in 2011, I started experiencing the symptoms of a kidney infection.  My other sister Sandy took me to the urgent care so that I they could do a test and maybe give me some antibiotics.  They took my blood pressure and it was 210/123-ish.  Pretty darn high.  I was on blood pressure medication already.  Clearly, it was not helping enough.  The doctor at the urgent care insisted I get an EKG and they found an irregularity with my heart beats.  So, he sent me directly to the hospital where the doctor there promptly ignored me.  When I saw my doctor that Monday, she made an immediate appointment for me at a heart doctor in the neighborhood.  They did a sonogram of my heart, another EKG, and put me on three blood pressure medications.  Fortunately, they did not find anything wrong with my heart, and the irregular heart beat cleared up when they got my bp under control, but that was very scary.

Sandy was very worried about me and tried to talk to me several times about doing something about my weight.  The heart thing was too scary for her.  In truth, I was afraid as well, but I was depressed, and not sure what to do.  I did not know what to do, but I knew that I had to do something.

One day, Sandy told me about a girl that she worked with who had lost a lot of weight.  This was maybe in October/November 2011.  She asked the girl how she did it.  Her friend had the lap band surgery.  So, Sandy had me talk to her friend and get the surgeon’s information.  She lobbied hard for me to consider this surgery.  She watched it change her co-worker’s life and she wanted that same thing for me.

I did agree to consider the surgery.  To me, the lap band sounded less intrusive and less damaging than the gastric by-pass.  I went to the surgeon and I was really unhappy with their office.  I really felt like they were trying to sell me a product and they were insistent on pushing me towards the most extreme, expensive surgery.  I left there feeling very uncomfortable, but a seed had been planted.

I decided to get a second opinion, which I did.  I did not like that doctor either.  One, that doctor was connected to the hospital where they basically ignored me after the urgent care doctor thought I was having a silent heart attack.  There was no way I was going to have anything to do with that hospital.  Let them cut me open?  No way.

Then in January/February 2012, I got sick again.  This time I started having excruciating pain on my right side just under my ribs.  I was in and out of the hospital for days.  I kept going to my doctor and she kept sending me back to the hospital for test after test.  The pain was so bad I could not breathe.  After getting a bunch of tests done at the hospital that were inconclusive, I was on the phone with my doctor’s office.  They were telling me they found nothing wrong with me.  I was crying and gasping for air because I was in so much pain.  He sent me back over to the ER.

One of the doctors there was afraid that I had a pulmonary embolism.  The best way to test for it was to give me iodine, which I was very allergic to, for a CT of some kind.  He tried several other tests that were inconclusive and finally told me that if I had an embolism, they would have to treat me for it immediately or it would kill me.  He was gong to have to give me the iodine and risk the allergic reaction.

He gave me a large dose of Benadryl and steroids to hopefully stave off an allergic reaction.  They then shot me full of iodine and did the CT.

Thankfully, I did NOT have a pulmonary embolism, but what they did find was still pretty scary.  My liver was enlarged and my lungs were crushed under the weight of my very large stomach.  My heart was also slightly enlarged.  And my spleen was pretty unhappy.

Now, because I was pumped full of steroids, some of the pain started to abate.  They also had given me some pretty serious pain killers.   They gave me the test results to take to my doctor and finally released me some 10 hours after I had come in for testing.

After about a week of eating nothing but chicken broth and saltines, the pain finally subsided.  My doctor did another round of blood work and kept an eye on me for a few months.  I also lost about ten pounds during that week.  My weight at the start of this debacle was about 315.  I brought it down to about 305 and eventually made it down to about 298.

The seed that had been planted when I went to see the doctor about the lap band surgery really started to take root.  I began to realize that if I did not do something about my weight and soon, I was on the road to an early grave.  If I died because of my weight, I would miss Emmy growing up.  She would only have vague memories of an Aunt who her parents say loved her if she remembered me at all.  All of these crazy stories flying around my head would evaporate into the ether.  My life would have no purpose and I would just be another statistic, another sad obese person who had no control and allowed their addiction to food kill them.  I could not let that happen.

I made up my mind to really have this surgery.  If I was going to die, it was not going to be for not trying.  I started researching other doctors when one day a former co-worker of mine came into the office to visit some of her friends.  I was sitting in my bosses office and she came in and sat down next to me.  She had the gastric by-pass surgery and she looked fantastic.  When she sat down next to me, I stopped talking to my boss and turned around and told her that I had to ask her a question.

She was very open and said,”You can ask me anything.”

Of course, I asked her about her doctor and the surgery she had done.  She gave me his number and I called him.  Once I met him, I knew he was the doctor for me.  Everybody in his office was great.  They walked me through everything step by step.  I felt very comfortable after I left the office and I started making plans.

The surgery has changed my life.  I have no regrets.  I am glad I did it. I know I still have a way to go before I have lost all the weight that I want to lose, but I know I will get there.

Most importantly, my health is better.  I feel great.  And I feel that I have my life back.

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7 responses to “Re-Evaluation 104 Pounds Later: Why Gastric By-Pass? Why Now?

  1. Colleen, your decision was very brave. I have been so impressed with and inspired by the transformation in you! Keep up the good work and keep sharing your story. Your honesty and frankness is very helpful (I’m sure) to someone out there suffering from their own battles with depression or obesity or some other struggle that is harder to define. Bravo!

  2. Inspiring story! You were always beautiful, Colleen. Glad you’re getting healthy so we can enjoy your company a lot longer.:-)

  3. Cathy Gorman

    Beautiful story Colleen – YOU ARE A SUCCESS! Love, Aunt Cathy
    P.S. Would love to read some of your short stories.

  4. This story was amazing. we’ve ALLL had some version of a horrifying, SUPER SCARY “before aha moment” that made us change the course. THANK YOU for sharing!

  5. It’s been an honor to watch your transformation… so amazing! :-*

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