Surgery. The final solution. The last resort when all else has failed. A desperate act taken in desperate times. The ultimate answer to winning The Battle. Or is it?
I had just turned 20 when I paid my family physician a visit for a checkup. It had been a few years since my last real checkup and this visit was precipitated by my mother's alarm at my growing size. My mother had always been concerned about my weight, over the years we had gotten family memberships at the gym, she had encouraged me to visit my doctor for referrals to dieticians, holistic practitioners and one doctor in particular who practised hypnosis (guess she heard about this somewhere and thought it might be worth a try). But like most fat people, nothing stuck and I continued to grow wider and managed to find new ways to get food into the house and eat. (One of my favourites was to pick up a pizza, get it home and place it on top of the shed that stood beneath my bedroom window. Once inside, I would pop the screen and grab it. The perfect crime! Of course she knew something was up because there was a mountain of empty pizza boxes sitting on the floor of my bedroom yet she never saw me bring them in). So I had been living away from home for most of the year and when I returned, she was naturally alarmed at how much bigger I must have appeared to her. I never really thought about it, I hadn't stepped on a scale in ages and wasn't paying much attention at that point. She made an appointment with my GP to figure out how we were going to resolve this growing crisis.
First thing we did was record my weight. I could have sworn the poor scale groaned when I stepped on it and would have waved a tiny white flag if it could have. I have to admit, I almost had a heart attack right then and there when the scale read: 318lbs. He sat me down and did the usual routine of checking the rest of my vitals, then it was time to talk. 318 was too much. Way way way too much. At this rate, I'd be dead by 30. Basically he said "you need to lose about a 125lbs or grow 2 feet." I seriously considered how to go about growing the 2 feet. Then he said "there is another option, but its a last resort. I want you to consider all other options before this and try to make one of them work. However, if it doesn't, we can look into this." Then he said it: stomach stapling.
Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery. Basically creating a small pouch out of your stomach using staples and connecting it directly to the small intestine bypassing the lower part of the stomach. This results in the individual only being able to consume about a cup of food at a time and slows the emptying process of the stomach. Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. This was 1987. Laproscopic surgery hadn't been invented yet. They weren't using lap bands or other less invasive tools and techniques. These guys were doing it the old fashioned way, big cuts that ran from your diaphram to your belly button, big steel staples being clipped into your flesh and then more stitches and staples to close you up again. Not very pretty.
I had never had surgery before and it didn't appeal to me so I said I'd keep it in mind while he hooked me up with yet another dietician. For the next couple of years, I attended a couple of weight loss clinic programs that were being advertised in town, saw dieticians, and basically continued to grow. I had moderate success with the clinic programs but nothing held up. I simply didn't have the will power. Mom had been battling her weight for years too and we did most of it together which was nice. She had much more success than I did with it. Finally in 1990, I had my doctor refer me to the surgeon. Because my weight was a threat to my life, I qualified to have it covered by my provincial health care plan which was fortuitous because it was a pricey procedure and well beyond my means. The surgeon evaluated me, decided I was a good candidate for the procedure and explained the idea behind it. In a nutshell, after showing me a crude drawing of how he planned to mutilate me, he said that I'd only be able to eat about a cup of food and that I will lose weight as a result. Simple eh? Well not exactly.
See, it was what he didn't tell me that was far more important. Now I understand that doctors today offer mental help along with the surgery to help with the huge adjustment this makes in your life. Being able to eat one day and not the next is not something you just accept at face value. For a fat person, its a major lifestyle change that is being forced upon you. Once you go under the knife, that's it. You can't just not "diet" anymore and go back to eating whatever you want whenever you want to. Those days are over. Without some therapy to help you adjust to your new lifestyle, its quite a shock. Plus, when he said I'd only be able to eat a cup of food at a time, he never mentioned not being able to eat certain foods anymore. This is important later on. Essentially, he didn't give me the whole story and not once considered how much of an impact this would have on me psychologically. For that matter, neither did my family doctor.
I was scheduled to go in March 24, 1990. I "celebrated" my impending victory over The Battle with a pizza on March 22 since I had to check into the hospital the next day for prep. I swear it was the best tasting pizza I had ever had. (The Pizza House R.I.P.) On March 23, I was not really nervous as I prepared a bag to take in, I guess the whole thing hadn't hit me yet. Mom and I hopped into the car in the early evening and we headed off to what would become the biggest nightmare I had ever had.
To be continued......