Two years ago today, my life changed for the better. Although had you asked me then, I would have cried and told you to just put me out of my misery! Two years ago today I had my Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass. After 5 months of logging every bite I ate, every move I made and learning what my new life would be like, I finally took the step to give me the tool I needed to succeed. I started off the morning at 218 pounds, 16 pounds under my highest ever recorded weight of 234 pounds. I was miserable. I was wearing a size 22 on that day. I had been a 24. I was always exhausted. I never wanted to move, I never wanted to play with my kids. Wait, no, that’s a lie, I WANTED to, but never had the energy to or would wind up in too much pain to play more than 5 minutes. My kids suffered, I suffered, my marriage suffered. I never wanted to leave the house. I hated to just look at myself in the mirror. But, that all changed two years ago.
The surgery itself was supposed to take 2-2.5 hours. It wound up taking 3.5 because there were many other revisions to be made inside my body. Before Captain Flint could actually perform the RNY, he had to remove many lesions that had formed all over my intestines, keeping them bunched together. He also had to repair a hiatal hernia. Otherwise my surgery was performed flawlessly. Thanks to all the extra work that had to be done, I was in a lot of pain. Morphine didn’t help. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t breathe. But again, that was ME, and the extra work that had to be done. So many others have the same surgery and experience very little to no pain!
I was released from the hospital 3 days later. I was able to drink, but my body wasn’t happy with ANYTHING but water for a few weeks. I was able to handle water, and chicken broth, and some jello. I was unable to handle any protein or vitamins, but should have tried harder anyways. In that first month even the doctors tell you to focus on the water if nothing else works, that there are enough stores in your body to handle nutritional needs, but NOT hydration needs. So I did that. After about 3 weeks the pain went away. I was losing a pound a DAY. I was beginning to be able to have more than just water. At the time, potato soup with protein powder mixed in was my favorite food. My first blood check was PERFECT at a month out. I was down 30 pounds in 30 days. I was still a bit swollen, so I had only lost one clothing size during this time, but you could see in my face, neck and hands how I had lost weight. The next couple weeks were great. I was doing well, beginning to move more, no more pain, the gas had gone away and the swelling was going away. My mood was AMAZING. I was no longer on ANY of my anti-depressants. I was drinking and learning to eat again.
But about 6 weeks after surgery, foods were starting to not sit well. We didn’t think much of it at that point, we knew my body would go through times where it would love a food one day, then reject it the next. The new pouch that is created when you have the RNY often gets referred to as its own person by many patients. Mine has since been dubbed Paco (ask Jason). So, we didn’t think much of it. Well, we took a trip to Charleston to see family around the time of my dad’s birthday. Then we drove up to the Great Wolf Lodge in NC to see Jason’s mom for her birthday. I was starting to eat less solid foods, but didn’t think much of it because I never liked to eat a lot of food when traveling. We got back from NC and took a trip down to Miami, just Jason and me. During that week I stopped being able to tolerate ANY solid foods. Only wanted pure liquids. Then it got to the point that I could no longer tolerate liquids. We thought, maybe I got a stomach bug. Maybe not.
When we got back to Jacksonville the vomiting escalated from once a day, to many times. After a week of this I went to see my surgeon in an emergency appointment. I was no longer even able to tolerate water. I was scheduled for an emergency Endoscope the next day. Turns out I had a stricture. The opening from my stomach to my intestines shrunk from the standard 9mm (roughly the size of a straw) to 3mm so water couldn’t even pass. The doc fixed it and sent me home after a couple bags of fluids. Said by morning I should feel 100% better and to start again slowly adding in foods again. Although some scientific sources rate the incidence of stricture as low as five percent, it can be higher-up to 20%–depending on the technique used. Stricture is typically detected from several weeks to several months after the gastric bypass surgery and is treated by a procedure known as endoscopic dilation. (just for information purposes, the stricture isn’t always common!
Well, the next morning I STILL couldn’t keep anything down. At all. So, we went back to the hospital where they discovered I was still badly dehydrated and my potassium levels were down to a 2.0 (should be above a 4.0 at a minimum.) So I was admitted and they started giving me fluids and potassium. Now, potassium BURNS. If that stuff is not diluted properly it can burn your veins and cause damage. If it is given too fast it can do the same thing. Over the next 5 days I was given 18 bags of potassium. It destroyed a couple veins in the process. One of them is still completely destroyed. We had to change IV sites every day because it would wear the vein down enough to cause the IV to fall out. They could not get my levels up to a 4, every time they did it would drop pretty fast because I STILL could not keep anything down. They didn’t even bother bringing me food trays because of this.
They did another scope at the end of my stay, the opening was still perfect, a little inflammation was noticed but only because of how much I had been vomiting. Since my potassium levels were staying over a 3.5 or so they decided to release me and try and let me rest. Another week went by of me at home, still throwing up. Over this week I started getting weaker. I could barely stand, was incredibly dizzy. I gave up on sitting up and keeping my eyes open. The final straw was when I vomited up bile. That may not sound odd, but my new pouch has next to no acid pumps in it now-usually none. It is why I have to chew SO much, I do not have the acid to break down foods in the stomach. The acid pumps are still in the OLD part of the stomach, and that acid goes through the old intestinal tract and meets up farther down now so that the food will still get digested, just not in the same order as before. In order for me to throw up bile, I had to have the bile enter in the intestines very far down and then get forced all the way up and into the new pouch and back out. It’s just NOT supposed to happen.
They admitted me to the hospital again. My potassium was back down to a 2, and I was even more dehydrated than before. They had a hard time getting a vein; those were all still hurt. They gave more and more potassium and more and more fluids. After 3 or 4 more days in the hospital I realized I was not JUST dizzy, but actually seeing DOUBLE. Full on, two full people, double. My eyes were losing muscle control and could no longer focus on anything. This clued the docs in that I was extremely B-1 deficient. This is called Beriberi and it was not fun. They rushed up what they called a banana bag-a HUGE bag of liquid vitamins. After an hour I stopped throwing up. After 2, I could sit. By the end of the 4-hour treatment I could see again. It took them so long to realize that I had this because Beriberi usually takes a long time to develop. Just a month prior I had perfect levels! And it didn’t help that it takes 2 weeks to get the results back from testing for b-1 levels. I stayed in the hospital another few days getting more b-1, more potassium and a few other vitamins that my body was lacking.
It was hard when I went home. I had nervous system damage and had a very hard time walking. It took MONTHS for that to stop. It took 6 months to get a vein again. It also took 6 months for me to walk faster than a slow walk. And to somewhat jog. Every now and then they will go weak again, but nothing like at the beginning when they would give out. So, lesson learned. Vitamins are SUPER important. Protein is SUPER important. I can’t survive without either. Today I am 118 pounds, 100 pounds less than one year ago, and 116 pounds less overall. I fit into a size 2-4, I have energy for the most part (unless my anemia is flaring up, which happens) I can play with the kids, I can ride on amusement park rides with the kids, I am able to get on a plane and NOT touch other seats and have extra seat belt (I was so close to needing an extender)! I can walk around Disney World all day and be fully recovered the next day and not a week later. I have lost 2.5 shoes sizes, 2.5 ring sizes; have needed smaller framed glasses, shorter necklace chains. I have lost 100.4 inches from my body. I can see my feet, I can get a real hug from my husband, and I can actually hold my children CLOSE to my body. I can do so much more now than I ever thought that I would be able to do.
A year, a month and a half after my RNY, I went under the knife again. I had reached goal in 8 months, and 2 months later was 15 pounds under goal. And maintaining. With the help of Dr Wallace of Coastal Cosmetic in Jacksonville, FL, we made the decision to go ahead and have all of my excess skin removed. The Naval Hospital would have done this for free, but the surgeon was not a board certified plastic surgeon, and he would have only removed skin from the front, not all the way around. We also knew that we would be moving in August and I needed all the time I could get to heal, I was not yet far enough out for the NH to perform their surgery. For most people, I rushed that part, but I did not want to move overseas and have to wait (what we thought was) 3 more years before having the excess skin removed. I could not live that way for that long. I could not come back for a summer to have the surgery performed because I knew I would need a long time to recover, not just 2 months. All in all it took about 4 months to be fully recovered and pain free. Even now, almost a year out the scar lines will flare up with itching. Where my RNY took 3.5 hours, my full belt lipectomy took 6. It was hard, and there was a lot of pain, but it was COMPLETELY worth it. This far out I am finally getting used to my new body. And treating it right. I need to get better about working out on a regular basis, but other than that I am doing well and following plan.
Eating is not an issue. Protein first; always. Then veggies. My body hates potatoes in all forms now, which took away my favorite carb. It is also hit or miss on broccoli, so I just don’e eat it anymore. I avoid breads most of the time, but sometimes have a little. I plan on following plan. I do not EVER want to get back to where I was, or anywhere near. I am fully aware that most bariatric patients have a small bounce back even if they are following plan, usually around 2-3 years out. This is the result of our bodies learning what happened to them and adjusting and becoming able to pull more calories back in. I have gained a few pounds back, but stay around 118 now, my lowest weight hit was 115. I had gotten up to 122 during our move, but managed to work what I gained back off. I refuse to gain any more and have been doing well at keeping it there. I will be a good example for my kids and will teach them the right way to eat and how to be as healthy as they can be. I do not want to see either of them go through what I have gone through.
I know some people think I am weird posting yearly updates now. But unless you have gone through this, I don’t think you would fully understand. This surgery has changed so much of my life, and my family’s lives. It’s like celebrating someone’s birthday, Paco just has his own birthday now. If I chose to start ignoring this day I fear that I will go back to old habits, and will ruin everything that I worked so hard for. It would mean that nearly losing my life was done in vain and I do not want that to be the case. Therefore, I will tell my story each year. Not just for me, but for others to understand and to support my friends who have gone through and are going through this process. It is completely life altering. It is hard. It is frustrating and can cause severe depression at times. But it is worth it to have my life back, to have extended my life to be able to grow old with my husband and to watch my kids grow and get married and have their own kids. Yes, this was done for ME, but this was also done for them.