Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Little Girl Found
I was a pretty girl in high school. I had no idea, of course. I was lucky to not have a battle with acne. I had really healthy hair (nevermind its height, we didn't have a choice back then). I was a Brill, so I had a wonderful wardrobe. I was most often seen in jeans and a concert t-shirt, though. I was a normal teenager, I guess. I struggled with thoughts that I was fat. I would lament that I couldn't share clothes with my friends. Any logic that said everyone has a different body type and can't be the same size was lost on me. They were smaller than I was. So I was fat.
Rolling into my mid-30s, I lived a pretty ignorant existence where my weight was concerned. My doctor had tried ad nauseam to convince me that I was too heavy, but I told her that I was quite aware of that fact. Every time I went to see her I would face backward on the scale when the nurse weighed me. I made it clear that I didn't want to know. Very few people were allowed to take a picture of me. I had no mirrors that would show my lower half.
In 2007, my graduating class had our 16th class reunion (long story). Our name tags were actually a pretty cute idea. We each got a sticker with our senior pictures on it. I had gone to Kohl's to find something to wear and ended up settling on a pair of capris and a t-shirt. I knew I looked bad. I was too stubborn not to show my face, besides, I had been one of the organizers so I couldn't back out. And I had to wear that fucking sticker. It was hard to look at her, that young, beautiful woman on my chest. It was even harder to have a curious face finally realize who I was after seeing her. It was kind of a timid, graceful horror. No one wanted to hurt my feelings, but REALLY? I imagine there were many discussions at the bar that night after I left.
One of my girlfriends emailed me pictures of the reunion the following week. It was absolutely shocking. That wasn't me. I wasn't that fat. I stared at it for what felt like hours. I would close it out on my work computer but kept pulling it back up. I didn't really look like that, did I? That was my revelation. Those pictures were what motivated me to finally get something done about it.
I researched all of the diets and surgery options. I knew that I would never succeed at a diet because it seemed impossible. I had too much weight to lose. I found stories where it had been done, but they were few. I found hope in the surgery options. I really focused on the gastric bypass because it removed the part of your stomach that processes sugar. I knew that sugar was my biggest downfall. It took a long time to realize it but when I quit smoking I replaced my post meal cigarette with chocolate. Eggs, bacon, toast and Reese Cups? Absolutely! And I had a 20 oz of Coke at my side 24/7. I never drank anything else.
I went to my doctor because I had decided to do the gastric bypass. Of course, the first step was to actually figure out my weight. My license said 235, which was a guess, but it couldn't be too far off. 235 was really fat. And I was really fat. Imagine my shock at learning I was actually 300 pounds. I always round up to 300, the honest truth is my brain has screwed up two numbers and I have since forgotten which number it was: either 294 or 297. So, dear reader, please just accept 300 as my truth. I have. I pleaded to my doctor to send me to the initial meeting with the surgeon as my insurance required that she start the ball rolling. She said she didn't think it was a very good idea. I don't know why, maybe because she was talking to a woman who refused to even know what she weighed or maybe she didn't feel comfortable with the surgery as it was still a newer procedure. I loved my doctor with my whole heart. She knew it. But I told her if she wasn't going to submit me for approval then I would go find another doctor. She finally relented and referred me to my initial meeting with the surgeon.
I wanted to go to a hospital in Michigan because my friend had gone there and they exclusively did these surgeries. I figured they would be experts. But they were assholes. They talked down to me. The nurse was rude and their psychologist was a moron. You have to see a psychologist to get approved by your insurance. This lady heard that I had been misdiagnosed as bipolar many years prior and decided I was mentally unhealthy. I was referred to one of their long term treatments before seeking approval for the surgery. I decided they were not the place for me.
I looked around and found that Ohio State had a reputable program. I went to the orientation and really liked their speakers and their staff who spoke. They were open for questions afterward and genuinely seemed to respect their clients. I left there that evening so glad that I had not decided to stay with the group in Michigan. I had my referral sent there and began the process to getting approved by insurance. I had to see a psychologist. We did a long test and then discussions and she determined I was a good candidate. I had to go to nutrition classes. I had to go to a sleep doctor. For approval, I was required to have a co-morbidity diagnosis. This meant I had to have something that could kill me like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. I was surprisingly healthy for being so incredibly obese. I did have sleep problems, though. So I took the sleep test and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Yay. I had something that could kill me!
The entire process from beginning my search to getting the surgery took a year. I learned a lot in that year. I not only learned about the different diet and surgery options, but I learned about myself. On February 9th of that year (2008) I decided that if I was going to have to give up sugar for the rest of my life I would want to see if I could even do it for a minute. So I gave up sugar that day. I had had an accidental slip in June when I went to McDonalds for a Diet Coke. I told Audrey, "Ewww... their machine is off. This pop is foul." She tasted it and replied, "No, mom. This is regular Coke." My taste buds had decided that my beloved Coca-Cola was now foul. Awesome.
I got a call in mid-August from the nurse at the OSU Bariatric center to tell me that they had received approval from my insurance and that I could schedule. I took the next date they had available. Duh. I knew I would never be able to have sugar again so I went to Graeter's. I hit the drive thru and got a mint chocolate chip ice cream hot fudge sundae. Medium. I would've normally ordered a large but I was trying to be more thoughtful about portion sizes. (Wink). I pulled into the parking lot facing north. The sun was bright and I had to put the visor down. I made quite an event of it. I turned my ringer off and my radio up. I sat back and took a big, perfect bite. It had my ideal amounts of ice cream, whipped cream and hot fudge. This is what I had promised myself back in February for my celebration when I got approved. It was gross. I was a little pissed and a little tickled. I walked over to the trash can outside by the edge of the parking lot and threw it away.
On September 15, 2008, I went into the Ohio State University for my Gastric Bypass. I knew the failure rate was high if compared to other life-saving surgeries. But I also knew that the success rate was based on the patients attitude. I was too stubborn to go through all of this and fail.
My recovery from surgery was not at all as painful as I was told it would be. I do have a high threshold for pain, but it was really nothing. I was supposed to have 6 weeks off, but it was pretty boring. I was fine. Really. The diet was the biggest thing to become used to. I knew I couldn't have sugar. And I knew that sugar was in a lot of things one might not consider. But I had carefully stocked my fridge and pantry with the items I had read about in my nutrition classes. Fortunately, I really don't care about food. I can eat the same thing for weeks in a row. If my taste buds don't reject it, that's fine. I did have an unfortunate attempt at eating out where I learned the hard way that marinara sauce has sugar in it. I got to see what that "dumping syndrome" was all about. You really only need that lesson once.
The week before Thanksgiving, my girlfriend had a party and I felt comfortable with what would be the right food choices and felt uncomfortable receiving a lot of praise for all of my successes so far. It had been only two months and my progress was so profound that you could tell immediately by looking at me. I had lost 65 pounds. This included the weight I lost before the surgery when learning the new nutrition from the class and giving up sugar.
This was the picture my friend took of me that day. Somehow I couldn't see the big change, probably because I looked at myself every day. It was quite a profound comparison to where I had been that summer.
The weight loss was so fast it was hard to believe. In October of 2009 I weighed 145. I weighed more than I had in high school when I was "fat," but now I knew that I wasn't fat at all. I was finally in a place where I could feel pretty. I had not purchased clothes because it seemed like a waste of money. I had some clothes donated by friends on my way down, but I didn't buy any myself. None of them really fit so I opted for dresses that could just hang without falling off or I would use a binder clip to keep my pants up. I looked ridiculous. That year I asked my family for gift certificates from Kohl's for Christmas. It never even occurred to me, but I got a winter coat from my mom and dad for Christmas from the store (I always refer to "the store." My family have been clothiers/furriers since the 30s). The store had been downsized in recent years and didn't even carry plus size clothing. I hadn't worn anything from the store since high school. I was so proud to wear a coat with the family label in it again.
On January 3, 2010 I went to Kohl's with my gift cards from the rest of the family. I always start at the clearance section. I found a pair of jeans that were a size 5. I wasn't sure what a size 5 translated to in women's sizes but they were clearance. I couldn't possibly fit into these but I filled my cart with all kinds of sizes from the 5 jeans in the junior department to 10s and 12s in women's. I thought it would be exciting to see if I could pull up the 5s so I tried them first. Not only could I pull them up, but I could zip and button them, too. I was overwhelmed. I started crying. Seriously crying. I called my mom at the store from the dressing room. She couldn't make out what I was saying. I calmed down and told her that I was wearing a size 5. It wasn't just joy. There was fear in that call. What if I fuck this up? A lot of people lose weight and put it back on. It was an amazing mixture of emotions. I feel confident the people in the rest of the dressing rooms at Kohl's were not as emotional about my revelation as I was and were hoping I would soon leave.
These are the jeans. I wasn't trying to show off my butt, I was showing off my jersey.
That following summer I was able to submit for reconstructive surgery. I went to the plastic surgeon that OSU suggested and he was great. He made me feel very comfortable standing there in my underwear and having him grab large masses of empty skin and taking pictures. He told me when we were done that he doubted the insurance company would approve me because my skin wasn't too bad. HUH? Gladly, my insurance disagreed. I was approved to get the excess skin from my stomach removed. I was not approved for the rest.
This surgery was in June and it required a cut from my breastbone down to my pubic bone and then a long curved cut from my pubic bone up and over each hip. He stitched two layers of skin. The recovery wasn't too bad for that one, either. It took a long minute to determine which ways I could turn and how I could stand or sit with the least pain, but after that it was fine.
After having had gastric bypass, you have to visit your surgeon once a year. They take your blood to make sure you are getting all of the vitamins you need and weigh you and make sure you are comfortable with your progress. I was always afraid of my progress. Finally, after about 4 years, when I said, "I'm afraid I will gain the weight back," to my nurse practitioner, I received a chuckle and a reply, "If you were going to do that you would've done it a long time ago." I felt so much more at ease after that. I started to coast into life with a little more confidence that this would be me now and I wouldn't fuck it up again.
Last September was the 6 year anniversary of my surgery. It was the very best decision for me. Everyone has to judge and recognize their own strengths and limits before making such a decision. I knew that I could live without sugar. And I knew that I could succeed with the help of the surgery. I have days now where I feel beautiful. I don't apologize for saying that. I don't feel arrogant. It took a lot of work, both mentally and physically to get to say that. Quite honestly, I am entitled to that feeling.