Downsized: Fishtown Native Tells His Interesting Odyssey With Gastric Sleeve Surgery (Part 2)
After my dangerously close call on the mountain, I started getting very tired all the time, and my concentration was noticeably slipping. Then the daily bloody noses started. Fortunately, my wife came into the gym and I was caught red-faced with more than 500 lbs. on my back and a very bloody shirt. Another blood pressure check and Dawn (who I should point out is Dr. Dawn) started making appointments, and I was going to go to them, period.
I had already seen orthopedics (one’s knees and shoulders get angry when one weighs 290 lbs. and runs 5Ks and obstacle races), but this was a whole new level. I was told that I had “severe exercise-induced hypertension,” sleep apnea, etc. The subject of gastric surgery came up, to which I responded, “That’s for obese people who are in really bad shape!” I was told: “You are, technically, obese, and you are going to drop dead working out if you continue on your current path.”
I protested. I was told to shut up, and more appointments were made: I saw general pulmonary and cardiac doctors, nutrition specialists, and a partridge in a pear tree. Radiology told me that I had a pretty bad hernia and that my gallbladder was going to have to come out too. Surprise! I had an extensive battery of tests and meetings, even had a psych consult. (Passed, barely.)
I have to hand it to the staff at Cooper Bariatrics: they were thorough, and everyone was very nice. All that was left now was the actual consent – and that’s when the fear hit me. Holy crap. This is really going to happen. They’re going to take 80 percent of my stomach out forever. I knew they were going to remove most of the ghrelin hormone that made me perpetually hungry, but that hormone was still in me and working very well at the time, so when I was told how I would have to eat for the rest of my life, I started having reservations. I love food, lots of it. How would I function without it? How would I continue to build muscle? How would I get through Christmas?
I started the liquid diet 10 days prior to surgery. 10 days. I thought, I’m going to kill someone. But I actually felt energetic, calm, and not nearly as ravenous as I thought I’d be. This just might work, I started telling myself.
The night before the surgery, fear gave way to my resolution, and I went over all the reasons why I was doing this, the most obvious being that death wasn’t conducive to my long-term health goals. I tried to sleep.
December 14th, 7AM. I lay on a table in a hospital gown. Everyone kept telling me, “We’re going to take good care of you.” I woke up three and a half hours later. I was in and out of consciousness for most of the afternoon. It took monumental effort to drink a tiny cup of water. What had I done?
The catheter and drain came out, the wires came off. I felt semi-human again. I told everyone I would be out of the hospital the next day, and I was. I pushed it, and I paid for it, but I needed to keep those little personal promises to alleviate the doubts that were plaguing me. I kept setting little goals (walk three miles every day, get in my protein requirements, etc.) and hitting them to get me through my “buyer’s remorse.” But I felt tired. I wasn’t able to eat as everyone around me overindulged during the holidays, and I had dropped 30 pounds in a month (not good for a guy that prided himself on being big). I was very close to telling my wife that I thought I had made a mistake.
Then everything changed. My blood pressure, previously 190/100 on two meds, was now 120/70 with no meds. I was sleeping restfully through the night. My energy was through the roof. I started eating, and savoring, food again. My already active libido got turbocharged. I felt great. I started working out again; slowly, carefully, but the strength started coming back. I heard the jokes, of course. “What’s up, little guy? Have you seen Step?” And I laughed. Only in my world is 6’3”, 240 lbs. “little.”
I have new lessons to teach my children now, about humility and longevity. I’ve learned that the nutritional content of everything is available online, that eating healthier is easier than I thought, and that the reasons I needed to be big were all in my mind. It only took one voluntary surgery to facilitate a lifetime of living on my terms, without the restrictions that a medical event would have imposed upon me. Most importantly, I appreciate the things that were almost taken from me, and that is more than enough for this semi-big guy.
Now, then, that mountain and I have some unfinished business.