When my mother passed away, my brother gave me some plants. He ordered this large plant arrangement for her services with the intention of gifting it to me. It was very thoughtful of him. It was a large, round, terra cotta planter with a protruding piece of driftwood coming out of the top, looking like Pride Rock from The Lion King. Atop of driftwood Pride Rock was a small birds nest with a faux bird in it. There was an assortment of houseplants within this, all different varieties I could remember my mother tending to at one point or another in my life.
I loved and hated this plant at the same time. I felt this sense of duty to it, that I must keep all the plants alive, no matter what. My mom is dead and these plants are here, and none of it makes sense. I tended to it, watered it well, pruned the different parts. Eventually the plants were all flourishing enough that I needed to re-pot them into their own individual containers. All in all, I had about 8 different plants.
Some of them didn’t make it. At first, I was really sad about this for sentimental reasons. Time’s went on and more of those plants are dead now, but others are still going strong. The pothos has grown and overgrown so much, giving up so many of its leaves to cuttings and making new plants that are brightening up others’ homes now. When I was checking on it the other day, inspecting the leaves and trimming out the dried parts, I was astonished to find even more newly unfurled nascent leaves sprouting from the vines. It’s strong and it gives and grows so much.
Out of the eight, three are left. a golden pothos, some type of palm tree looking plant, maybe a Dracena, Peace Lily, a weird green stalk of a plant, and a prayer plant. The last one I really thought wouldn’t make it. It had withered and crumbled to almost nothing spare for one leaf. But I replanted what was left of it, and it’s now going strong somehow. I don’t know what it needs, and I suppose I could look it up instead of just my guideline of “I guess I’ll water it once a week” that I do with the rest of my plants.
What struck me the most, was the other day, when doing my weekly plant-watering, to see yet more new growth coming out of the prayer plant. To be honest, I didn’t even know what that plant was called until I sat down to type this out. I googled “common house plants” and tried to find the one with the variegated green with red veins stranger that has called my kitchen table home. I thought “wow this is doing so well, I need to call my mom and ask her what this is.” I still have those little moments, where I forget that she is gone. Where for an instant I’ll pick up my phone to call her over something silly that me and her would laugh about, or ask her for advice on plants or cooking, tell her about a cool dog I saw. We had our ups and downs, but when things were good, a conversation that was supposed to be a quick 5 minute chat could go on for hours.
Taking up house plants as a hobby is just my little way of keeping her memory alive. She always had plants at home, would put them on our porch or in the kitchen window and would marvel at how well they would be thriving. It’s been two years, but I still reach to pick up the phone to call her when I miss her. There’s something that my brain just can’t accept about her actually being gone. There’s a disconnect – I know it’s true, I know it’s real, but the habit is still there no matter what. Sometimes, you just want your mom. I’d give anything to hear her laugh again.
I had been putting off writing this third and final-ish installment until I had my yearly surgical follow-up appointment. That should have been in February, but my procrastination and laziness meant that didn’t happen until today, May 3rd. So what is part three about? It’s all about THE WORK I did all year.
First of all, my one-year results: I am completely healthy and down 105 pounds. My lab results were impeccable. No health issues whatsoever, save for being slightly down in my vitamin D levels, but most people are.
Getting surgery was not the easy way out. It was not a quick fix. There’s still plenty of work for me to do before I even get to a “maintenance” phase of reaching my goal. What is my goal? My goal is to have a healthy BMI. I look good and I feel good, and I’m looking forward to looking even better and feeling even better.
I have put in so much work. Exercise is important, and that is finally a regular part of my life that I surprisingly enjoy. I belong to a pretty good gym in my town, but I just wasn’t attending it. So, in July I signed papers to quit. I was tired of wasting money. When I put in my resignation there, they said that I still had use of the facility for the whole following month of August. And somehow, after all this time of wasting money, I was determined to make the most of my money and started going to the gym 5 days a week. That was the mindset shift I needed, because within three weeks, I decided to cancel my cancellation. This was working for me now. And even better, my daughter really enjoyed playing in the childcare they had available there.
When I was 12 days post-op, I decided to try BodyPump, a barbell weight lifting class with lots of reps, for the first time. It was HARD as hell. I was hobbled for a solid week after that class! It honestly scared me off of that until I felt more ready. I didn’t try that class again until August. Now, it is legitimately my favorite exercise to do. The first time I tried it, the instructor Chris was energetic and perky and singing along and I hated it. Hated! “He is just too extra for me, I cannot deal.” But the truth was, HE was not the problem. It was my mindset. There is more mental work to do in this whole journey than I would have ever imagined. I’m so glad that my mindset has shifted and I can enjoy the different energies all the different instructors bring to the table. They’re all my favorite. No one is disliked or my least favorite – I love them all the best. I couldn’t have found this strength inside me without them pushing me along. I follow them on social media too, because following inspirational and strong people make me keep pushing.
I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had some plateaus. But this is truly the first time in my life that I feel as though success is inevitable. I will achieve my goals. I have other goals in mind too, and one that I actually accomplished last weekend: I participated in a 5k! Me, running! Can you believe it? I can’t. I don’t like running but I like crossing that finish line. It was a color/bubble run… it was cold and windy, but we still did it. By “we” I mean my daughter and I, along with some friends. As though running a 5k isn’t enough, I got the distinct honor of getting to carry my whining, stubborn child when she didn’t feel like running or walking along. She weighs a whopping 41 pounds, and I’ve lost more than twice that amount, and just carrying that amount felt difficult. To think I used to carry that around on my body every single day and then some.
I’ve lost 105 pounds as of today’s follow-up with my surgeon. He is an amazing doctor with the best bedside manner. He’s a nice guy, a cool dude, and someone that I wouldn’t even mind hanging out with. As negative and in-my-own-head as I’ve been about “only” losing a hundred pounds to date, he called me a rockstar and praised how far I’ve come. And he’s right, I have done a lot, I have come far, but make no mistake… I am going farther and I will be doing more. We talked today about what kinds of changes I can make to try to break this plateau, so I am trying out a modified version of intermittent fasting to see how that might help.
So I’ll update more going forward. And I’ll let you guys know my goals. I want to have a healthy BMI as stated before. I will do another 5K without my child involved so I can see my times & records going forward. And, this is kind of hard to even say out loud, but I think I might want to pursue being a fitness instructor of some kind in the future. After I hit goal, I am going to see if this is for me. But it’s an idea that’s been poking me all the time. If I can help or inspire others, that is a gift I want to be able to give people. This has been so hard, and so much work, but if I can dig down and do the thing, I feel like anyone can. I never thought this much could be possible for me, and here I am. I’m buying regular-clothes, not plus-sized clothes, in regular stores. Today I bought an outfit for the gym in just a regular XL size from TJ Maxx. My feet don’t swell any longer. My boobs shrank a little, but they still big. I fit comfortably like a “normal person” in the movie theater seats, in Broadway seats. I feel like a normal person now. I don’t feel like an outsider any longer…. I’m finally part of it all.
A Hundred Pounds Down. Can you believe it???
Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way… friends, doctors, trainers, family, all the pushing to keep going and all the compliments honestly have fueled me more than you’ll know. Thank you.
When we last left off in our tale, our dynamic protagonist got her time slot scheduled for VSG weight loss surgery.
So the morning of… my big day. I didn’t sleep well the whole night before. I packed and re-packed my hospital bag a few times, and thought about what I would wear to the hospital and what I’d wear back home for maximum comfort and ease if I was sore or was in pain. The morning of, I woke up at 5:30 am to be out of the house by 6:30 to be at the hospital for my 7:30 am reporting time. I’d settled on wearing a stylish Mickey Mouse pajama set I’d gotten from Avon. I packed an old Jujube diaper bag as my hospital bag with a few things – phone charger, socks, slippers, going home outfit, some toiletries and my contact lenses. It was explained that I could not wear contacts during surgery so I wore glasses on the morning-of. Here’s my spiffy Day-Of/Before Photo:
And just like that we were off. I let Mike drive us to the hospital since I was tired and nervous. Since I wasn’t driving, it gave me a chance to start my Snapchat surgery story.
Arrived at the hospital and did all the administrative check-in procedures asked of me. Then the medical check-in procedures like blood and pee in a cup. And laughed and laughed and laughed when they asked me “could you be pregnant.” Super nope, how dare you, get that trash talk away from my good vibes. I got into my weird gown that had a hole in it for an air tube that blew hot air at me to keep me warm, and honestly? I’m into it. I’d like that for home. Next, the anesthesiologist came in to speak with me and go over things about me and my health and asked me if I had any questions, and I asked a basic moron question like “what are the odds of someone not waking up from anesthesia randomly?” and the odds were pretty low. But he was kind and patient and didn’t call me a fucking moron so that was cool. Then it was time for surgery and my surgeon, resident and crew were wheeling me away.
And that was that, I was in the operating room, moved over to their table from my bed, was starting to get nervous as they started preparations around me. It was a large, bright white room and very well-organized. Everyone in there knew what they were doing like a well-oiled machine. Then it was anesthesia time and the next thing I know, I’m waking up in recovery.
Recovery was a weird place. I woke up very groggy, in pain, and nauseous as hell. Some woman came over and was doing touch-assist pain relief of some kind. I had honestly completely forgotten about that and chalked it up to being a weird dream, until I saw it happen when my boyfriend had his surgery months later. They send the touchy-lady over to do some kind of healing/comfort maneuvers on you until your pain meds or whatever meds kick in or are ordered. My order was delayed for some reason so I’m like ugh please don’t let me puke on this nice lady who’s touching me. When I stressed to the nurse I needed relief, that I felt like the hottest garbage in an August dumpster, she gave me pain medication, as well as an anti-nausea patch Scopolamine. That shit worked almost instantaneously. It was amazing and I was so grateful for the relief and the relentless caring I received in the recovery unit. The patch is worn for about 72 hours, and I’d never experienced any further nausea after the patch.
Within an hour or two after I was deemed stable in recovery, I was moved into my own private hospital room. The hospital I was in has a specific floor dedicated to bariatric surgical care. So the staff on that floor is all very well-versed with the care and needs of the people having weight loss surgery. It was explained to me that to be most successful and have a healthy recovery, I should be up and walking as soon as possible. They even gave me a little pedometer clipped to my sock to see how much I was walking, instead of just taking my word for it that “yeah sure I’m walking.” I’m not going to sugar coat this, but I had never felt so fatigued and run down in my life. I didn’t want to get out of bed at all. That first afternoon I took one or two slow, tiresome walking laps around the unit my room was located in. But I honestly did not want to do anything. Not out of laziness, but I would come to see that my blood pressure was CRAZY low. The nurses kept asking me “hey do you feel ok???” and I was like “yeah I’m just so tired…” staying awake required way more focus and stamina than I could muster up. By the next morning I was feeling more alert and my BP was creeping back up to a more normal range, but that first night I was a little worried that there might be something wrong with me.
First thing the following morning they sent me for a swallow-test. This was done in the radiology imaging department. I was given some kind of drink that they told me to take sips of as they watched it go down my throat via imaging or x-ray, and then land in my stomach and make sure there was no leaking from my stomach staples inside. Once I passed my test, I was allowed to have my first post-op “meal” …which, frankly, I didn’t even want except for being very thirsty. This was all clear liquids – diet lemonade drink, chicken broth, sugar free jello and water.
This “meal” would be all that I was allowed to have for the following two weeks, with the addition of 2oz of a protein shake 3 times per day. And this was fine. I sincerely and truly was not hungry. It was like I woke up with that part of my brain removed or something. I did not care about food at all, I was not dissatisfied for the sad liquid meals I was forced to have. It was a relief, honestly, for the first time in my life to not be preoccupied with my food, what I was going to eat next, or any of it. After the doctor and nurses observed that I could eat my liquid-meal with no adverse effects, I was discharged and sent home. So from check-in to discharge, I spent about 32 hours in the hospital all together.
So another awesome perk about this surgery besides all the wonderful life-altering things about to happen to me, was that I got liquid vicodin to take for the pain. I will not lie, I can totally see how and why people get addicted to painkillers. This stuff is amazing. Warm & tingly & pain free. I wasn’t in too much pain, thankfully, but the medication helped a lot. It helped me be able to get up and move around and all together recover more quickly. By my third day home, I went out for a walk in the park… did a mile, and felt pretty worn out, but was glad that I was able to do something. I was going to have to figure out how I’d work fitness into this new lifestyle, and walking is a decent start.
I had scheduled my surgery on a Thursday of a long weekend, and had planned to be back in work the following Wednesday if I felt ok. And I did! It was really an easy recovery and I feel like I handled it well. I brought my vicodin to work to take after I arrived so I would not be under any influence while driving.
One hard part about recovery? My surgical incisions were quite itchy. I might have been low-key allergic to the surgical glue used to close my skin up. Here’s what my incisions looked like the next day at home. Bruised, red and weird. They healed very nicely now, and it’s hard to even find the scar at this point. I’ll have to take a photo at some point (for part three…) to show that off I guess. There were five incisions all together and I used Bio-Oil on them after they healed slightly to reduce whatever scarring might occur. The rest of my two weeks would be spent just doing my thing – working, living, drinking tiny amounts of Premier Protein and biding my time till my first post-op appointment. At the next appointment, I’d be given the clearance to advance to the next step of my diet. And though I’d stated this was the first time I didn’t care about food, after 14 days of no actual food, I was starting to feel a little weird about things. The mind needs food as much as a body does. Not chewing on things for an extended period of time is weird. I started to get cranky. I knew that the next phase of the diet was soft foods, soups, eggs, yogurt… and I was eager for that to begin.
After my two-week, then six-week follow-ups, I was progressing just as I should. Little by little, each week added in new forms of food – first soft foods, then soft protein like fish and seafood the following week. I am not a person who likes fish or seafood, but I tried out some shrimp just to see. It was alright, but I haven’t tried it since so it’s not really something that’s making its way into my routine whatsoever. Then came more firmer proteins like chicken, pork and beef. Each step of the way I was doing just fine, nothing tripped me up, there was no nausea. Once or twice I’d eat a larger amount than I should have and immediately regretted it by having sharp stomach pains for about half an hour. The only cure for me was to lay down till that subsided. But it’s a whole new way of eating, so there was bound to be some lessons learned along the way. To this day there are foods that just don’t sit well – I can eat sugar just fine, breads, I can eat like normal foods like a normal human, just in smaller amounts. But for whatever reason, rice and oatmeal do not make me feel good at all.
This wraps up Part Two. Stay tuned shortly (and I mean it, like in a few days, not in a month) for Part Three on Putting In The Work.
In my last post, I had touched on the fact that I got weight loss surgery, and some of the emotions surrounding the decision to do it. Now, I’m going to dive into the process, the work, and what it’s been like to lose 100 pounds.
The process started for me on January 17th, 2018. That was the night that I attended my medical practice’s seminar about Weight Loss Surgery. It was an information session with my surgeon who put on a presentation for about 2 hours discussing the two types of surgery he offered, different insurance questions, and the changes you should expect to make in the immediate future surrounding the choice to get surgery. The two types of surgery offered were Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy and Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass. To be honest, I still don’t fully understand how your guts get rerouted with the bypass, even though this is the surgery my boyfriend ended up getting in September. Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy, VSG or just The Sleeve, is called that because what it essentially is, you have a big portion of your stomach organ cut out from your body, leaving you with just a small stomach pouch that looks like a sleeve. It ends up being about the size of a banana. This surgery is done laproscopically, which means it is minimally-invasive, uses several small incisions instead of opening you up all the way and having all your insides on display. A minimally-invasive surgery with small incisions has the benefits of easier recovery, less pain and less scarring. Surgery is done under general anesthesia, takes 60-90 minutes and has a typical stay of one overnight in the hospital.
I left the seminar that evening with a lot of information and a lot to think about. If I’d get surgery, which one? The sleeve featured less complications possibly than the bypass, though bypass boasted a higher rate of excess weight loss in the first year. The bypass was also ideal for aleviating obesity-related medical conditions quickly, like diabetes and acid reflux. Since I didn’t have any pressing medical issues, I thought the sleeve would be the best option for me. On my way out of the seminar, I had asked the doctor what the next step would be, and he said to just make an appointment with him – that he actually had an opening the next day, due to some cancellations in his schedule. It was January, peak cold and flu season, so it made sense. The next morning, I made sure to call first thing so I could snag that appointment before anyone else at the seminar did.
The appointment was fairly routine. I was weighed and had my vitals taken like at any physical. Then we sat and talked about my health history, my history with weight loss, and my goals. We discussed the two surgery types, and though I had an idea which one would be best for me, I asked his professional opinion on which he’d recommend and he agreed that my choice of the sleeve was the best option. Once comfortable with the thought of “I’m really going to do this,” I asked him “well, what goes into this, logistically speaking?” Would I have to do a pre-operative diet, weight loss plan, subsequent visits and follow-ups? Everyone’s insurance requirements will be different, and I was pleasantly surprised by the prerequisites for my insurance carrier. To get approved for surgery I needed to do the following:
Have a BMI over 35% (or if it was lower, a person would need to have an additional weight-related medical issue to qualify)
Meet with the nutritionist twice within 30 days (or meet just once, if you have documentation you’ve tried an additional weight loss program in the past year – which I had, by providing my Weight Watchers information)
Have my Primary Care Physician write a note that they support and endorse this option.
Get cleared as mentally fit for this surgery by a psychologist.
So at my initial appointment with my surgeon, based on my insurance, there was no requirement for an arbitrary time-based waiting period prior to getting surgery approval. There was no pre-surgery dieting program I needed to do. That’s why on the spot, he scheduled my surgery that day. Reserved my surgery date on the books for February 15, 2018. It felt like a whirlwind as though things were happening very quickly, but in a good way. I was ready. He booked my surgery and sent me on my next steps: I met with the nutritionist that same day right after him. The only next step to check off before they can send my file off to insurance for approval was the psychologist visit, which I called and scheduled for a few days later.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the psychologist visit, and at this point, I wasn’t involved in any online or in-person support groups. This part made me nervous, and I wondered what sort of mental readiness they were looking for. I mean, I’d recently lost my mother and wasn’t dealing with that. I just compartmentalized it and moved on so I could live my life without grief. It wasn’t the healthiest option of “well I’ll have to deal with THAT at some point,” the equivalent of slappin’ a strip of Flex Seal on that part of my brain. Basically, the appointment was making sure I understood the procedure I was getting, that I knew what changes I’d have to make, that I had a support system, that I knew the work I’d still have to put in. There was an assessment to see if you had eating disorders, and they asked about your general mental health, depression, anxiety, coping mechanisms. It was also explained to me that some people exhibit “transfer addictions” once their coping mechanism of over-eating isn’t available. Meaning, some people who had WLS (weight loss surgery) might turn to vices like alcohol or shopping. I disclosed that I’d had depression previously and addressed that with therapy, that I had situational anxiety when dealing with my divorce, and that I don’t see alcohol being a problem for me – I could take it or leave it. I had a firm grasp on what the surgery entailed and I was ready to take on the challenge of changing my life for the better this time, once and for all. We talked about my grief, how I’d tried a bereavement group and it wasn’t for me and I quit after the first session. Then, at the end of the appointment, she added in “oh yeah and I have to ask this, it’s required, are you considering hurting yourself or anyone else” and I laughed and said no, god no, of course not. I mean I’d never murder anyone, we all want to, I’d never do it, though I watch enough murder shows I could get away with it I bet…. I mean no, definitely no, I wish to strike all this from the record. It was awkward, and I really had to be like “I’m normal enough I swear.”
I must have convinced her of my mental readiness because she submitted to the surgeon that I passed my psych eval. Now with all my boxes checked off, my request for approval was sent off to my insurance carrier. All I had to do was wait. There was no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be approved, but I was nervous. “This seems too easy” was the prevailing idea. Or they wouldn’t approve my prior Weight Watchers receipt/attendance for some reason.
The final set of pre-surgery things I needed to do were routine physical tests. They took some blood and I had an EKG to determine my heart was healthy. Some people, depending on their risk factors for sleep apnea, also need to undergo a sleep study. But as an obese-yet-bafflingly-healthy person, I didn’t need that either.
At the seminar and the appointment with my surgeon, he stressed that the most successful patients attend the monthly support group meeting, prior to surgery and after. The thought of this made me kind of uncomfortable, but I put that aside and “got comfortable with being uncomfortable” and made my way to my first support group meeting on February 5, 2018. Even though my insurance approval hadn’t come through yet and I was getting more and more nervous by the day, I decided I’d go to the meeting. If this is what successful patients do, I want to be one of them, so I will do the thing. It was a diverse group of men and women of all races, varying adult ages, all at different steps in their weight loss journey. Some were pre-op like me, others had just had surgery recently, and some were long-term, several years out of surgery and at their goal weight. What struck me, is the people who were at goal, looking at them, you’d never know. They just looked like “normal” people. I don’t know if other overweight people feel this way, but it’s like there’s two types of folks – fat people and normal people. Normal people who don’t have to think about every meal, every snack, every calorie burned or consumed. Who don’t have to think twice about if a store will carry their size, if they will fit into an airplane seat, if they should even try fitting on a ride at the boardwalk. People who just live and don’t have to feel like a prisoner to their body. I wanted to be A Normal Body Person like these people. They talked about their struggles, their victories, new recipes they’ve tried, different vitamins they’re taking, and a pharmaceutical rep came in and talked about their mail-order bariatric vitamin services and gave out some information about it. I got a good feeling being there, but mostly kept to myself and observed and didn’t really speak.
Days ticked by and my insurance approval still hadn’t been received. I’d been calling the doctor’s office asking for updates often enough, and while they assured me this is typical of that insurance company, there was still the nagging thought that I was going to be denied. But on February 11, just four days before my surgery, I received my approval letter that was dated February 5th. The surgeon’s office called and let me know my surgery would be at 9:30 am and to report to the hospital at 7:30 am to start checking in. No food after midnight like a gremlin, just “eat light” the day prior.
I was so relieved, and now the nerves set in. I didn’t allow myself to get nervous about surgery before now, because I was half-convinced it wasn’t going to happen. And there’s no sense in worrying about something I can’t control. I did the same tactic before getting a c-section too; I didn’t worry about the idea it could be POSSIBLE to get a c-section, even when the OB said that I was getting one while I was in the hospital, I didn’t worry until the point I was in the operating room getting my epidural/spinal block put in. It’s like I just condense all my worry into one brief panic attack instead of letting it take up a lot of mental space. You can bet the psychologist didn’t ask me about that.
Now all the pre-work and approval was done, stay tuned for Part Two where I talk about actually getting the surgery and the beginning of the work to come…
Check out the gallery below to see how my (redacted) group chat was lit with supportive vibes re: cut my gut
How many times have I thought “wow significant things have happened, maybe I’ll blog about it.”
Then refreshed that thought with a swift “ah, who cares anyways.”
Big important things happened to me and I didn’t know how to talk about any of them. I don’t want to make a big sentimental post, or get emotional about it. A year ago I lost my mother. Maybe I’m still processing that. In my typical, dysfunctional way of dealing with Big Emotions, I took the route of “distraction.” Taking on a big project or new thing or literally anything else other than acknowledging the elephant in the room.
But I did acknowledge the elephant in the room, myself. So, in February, I got weight loss surgery. That’s been my big project: myself. It’s been a long year, and I’m down 90 lbs. I’ve found strength in places I didn’t think I had. I pushed myself harder than I thought was possible. It’s taken me to a point where I have processed some grief along the way. And realized, for the second time in your life, that this isn’t something you just get over. The grief gets woven into the quilt of your life, and it’s apart of you in different ways. I’ve been able to think more about myself, and wonder if I’m just a selfish person. That my reaction to losing a parent is to go all “new me” about it. That wasn’t it, necessarily. But the catalyst of life being short and that I should hurry up and do something to take care of myself now before it is too late was definitely the initial urgent motivator.
There’s so many layers and nuances to embrace of myself, my mind and my body and I’m feeling more and more like a whole person with the more weight I lose. Not because my weight equates my worth, but I am putting work into myself, and making myself feel like a significant priority.