Time was, if I’d had a rough day at the office, I’d come home, crack a few skonskis and eat something. Didn’t really matter what it was. Pasta. Leftover chicken. Cheese. Peanut butter. Whatever. As long as it was easily scarfed with relatively little preparation, preferably standing in in the kitchen, reading something.
Those days are over. Bariatric surgery leaves no room for stress eating. Or skonskis. The stress itself itself, however, remains.
Which means I’ve had to find some other way of dealing with it.
One of the things you hear about in Bariatric Surgery class is something called cross-addiction, or addiction transfer. What that means is, when someone who’s addicted to carbs and sugar no longer has access to those substances, the odds are good that another addiction will emerge. Booze. Drugs. Gambling. You get the picture.
So far, I’ve been able to stay away from all that. Instead, I’ve been using exercise — specifically, bicycling and walking.
For me, bicycling works the best. It tends to clear my mind. A good climb followed by the rush of a 35-mph downhill doesn’t leave much room in the head for the tedium of the daily bullshit.
Walking, on the other hand, gives me way too much time to dwell on the crap I’m trying to get away from. But sometimes it’s all there is, so I take what I can get. A half-hour walk on my lunch hour is better than nothing when you need … something.
But I’m not gonna lie. I really miss beer.
I had my own personal Come-To-Jesus moment the other day, the first since having bariatric surgery.
This was about a week ago. Things were going well. To that point, recovery had been uneventful, not even a whiff of complication. Just the way you want it. And it would have kept going that way, too. But I started getting cocky.
In my mind, I was killing this bariatric shit.
One of the things they drill into you in Bariatric class is: don’t skip to the next phase of the recovery diet, even if you feel great. I was feeling great.
“I can handle this. Hell, I can handle anything.”
It was a mouthful of Pad Thai that showed me just how wrong I was, fresh and hot, from a container that had been tossed casually on the counter while plates and knives and forks were brought out and set on the table. A forkful. A bite.
I couldn’t handle it.
Within two or three minutes, I started salivating like a rabid dog, my mouth wet and sour. My gut felt like a January haggis, stuffed to nearly bursting, and on the verge of emptying itself.
Thank Christ it didn’t.
Forty-five minutes later, I had pretty much recovered. But the point had been made: don’t fucking rush it. Some things are greater than you and this, clearly, is one of them.
Since that day, I’ve hewed hard and close to the diet appropriate for the recovery stage I’m in, which is currently the second of three. I’ve taken pains to take small bites and chew my food thoroughly and without mercy, savoring the flavors as they come. I’m eating slowly, putting down the fork between each mouthful.
And I’m putting it down for good before I feel full, because that action may come on late, but when it does, it comes on hard and I don’t want to feel that way again. Ever.
And it struck me the other day that perhaps I’ve become a Clockwork Bariatric.
On the surface, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange is a novel about aversion therapy, which is used to “cure” a juvenile delinquent of his predilection for ultra-violence. At its heart, though, it’s about free will. It asks, Burgess said in The New Yorker back in 1973, whether it is better to be bad by one’s own choosing, or good by choice of the authorities.
I like to think I’m being good of my own free will, that I’m doing what’s right in this recovery because I choose to do so. But I’m not so sure. The memory of that moment has not faded. I’m sure with time it will, but it hasn’t yet, and I think about it every time the notion of eating something I shouldn’t crosses my mind.
Which itself is more often than I care to admit.
Of course, I don’t have the velvet fist of the benevolent state behind my treatment; no one forced me into my decision to have bariatric surgery. It was a decision I made on my own, after a long and hard period of consideration.
But the sense of finality that comes with knowing that there’s no going back can be disquieting, to say the least, particularly at three in the morning when sleep has left building.
But I suspect that, too, will probably fade with time.
I certainly hope so.
I’ve also renamed the page to something that I hope more fully communicates what you’ll find there: #SleeveLife: The Post-Op Journey In Pictures.
I’m still on the fence about it. I dunno, a little too on-the-nose maybe, a bit too twee. What do you think? Take the quick and easy poll below. I’ll publish the results in a few days.
Did somebody step on a duck? Maybe it was one of those barking spiders …
Go ahead, laugh it up. Everybody’s a comedian. But one of the things they don’t tell you about in Bariatric Class – the dirty, little secret, so to speak – is the gas.
The struggle is real.
There are two kinds of gas you deal with as a bariatric patient. The first is exactly what you think it is. After all, it ain’t called GAStric surgery for nuthin’, amirite?
(ed. note – like what you’re reading? Don’t miss a word! Click that follow button to the left.)
But let’s start with the second, and much more disconcerting, sort, which relates directly to the surgical event itself.
When you have bariatric surgery, one of the first things the surgical team does, after inserting the trocars, is blow you up like a birthday balloon, inflating your abdominal cavity with a burst of CO2 so the surgeon can more easily see his or her way around your innards. At the end of the procedure, the surgeon deflates your abdomen, removing most of the CO2. Some, however, remains.
This can result in what’s called intraperitoneal gas pain, which often presents as chest pain that extends into your left shoulder.
In other words, it feels like you’re having a goddam heart attack.
But you’re not. You’re hooked up to blood pressure monitors, pulse/ox monitors, and all sorts of other monitors. If it was a heart attack, the health care professionals surrounding you would be springing into action to forestall your imminent demise — at least, that’s what I kept telling myself.
Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done about intraperitoneal gas. Pain meds don’t work on this stuff. It’s just got to run its course. The best thing to do is move around. Walk. After a few days, the body will absorb and expel the gas.
From personal experience, I can say with confidence that intraperitoneal gas pain can be brutal. Walking was the only thing that brought any relief at all. Two days later, though, it was gone.
As the intraperitoneal gas subsides, the intestinal gas emerges. From both ends.
In the hours after my surgery, the belching was constant. Huge, staccato bursts of gas rose up from my surgically altered stomach with astonishing regularity and virtually no warning, more so if I took a sip of water. Now, more than a week out, though, it’s pretty much resolved itself. There’s still the occasional bbbrrraapp if I drink too much too fast, but I’m getting the hang of managing it.
The flatulence, though. Good lord. That’s a different story.
Following my surgery, a nurse would stop by every two hours, take my vitals, and ask if I’d passed gas. Evidently, that’s an important sign that the healing has begun.
For 24 hours, the answer was no.
Then, on Thursday, July 6, as my elderly, hospital roommate lay enthralled by that morning’s episode of Fox & Friends, I cut loose with a ripper of such vigor and duration that my hospital bed shuddered from the force of the blast.
The sweet relief in my gut was immediate – a breath of fresh air, so to speak, for someone who’d been troubled by constant bloating and pressure since waking up in the recovery room. I can’t remember exactly what the clueless cast of Fox & Friends were nattering on about that morning, but I’m quite certain the fearsome output that so suddenly emerged from between my buttocks was more infinitely more cogent than whatever it was they were saying. It was definitely more impactful.
Now, about a week and a half past the surgery, the intestinal gas continues to assert itself, although with not quite so much audacity, probably in so small part because of the Stage One, post-op diet, which relies in large part on pureed beans (black, refried, etc.), yogurt and cottage cheese.
That ends Wednesday, when I can slowly begin to reintroduce other sources of protein that, I hope, will not prove so combustible.
So, I just uploaded a bunch of new pix, taken one week after my recent bariatric surgery. Small changes are already visible, at least to me, but the biggest change, by far, is in how I feel: more energetic, more positive and really just better all the way around.
And it’s only been a week.
Over the past few days, I’ve been working from home to the degree that I can. My estimate of how much I’d be able to get done in these days after bariatric surgery was way too aggressive. I tire easily, but that’s to be expected the doctors say, what with the recent major surgery and the restricted post-op diet; the Stage One diet, which comprises mostly pureed, high-protein foods and liquids – protein shakes, cottage cheese, beans, yogurt, etc. – provides around 500 calories per day. I’ve got another week of that.
I’ll be back in the office on Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. Things are going well.
Since that time, my recovery has been remarkable. Without question, the first couple of days were difficult. The resulting physical pain was far more intense than I had imagined it would be, and there were most definitely times when I wondered what the hell I had done to myself. Four days later, though, that pain is receding. I’m up. I’m walking around. I’m getting plenty of fluids, and I’m eating solid food, such as it is in Stage One of my Bariatric Plan.
And, counting the pre-operative diet I began on June 21, I’ve lost 23 pounds.
More importantly, I feel different; I feel better, not just physically, but more hopeful than I have in years. Yesterday I found myself thinking: why didn’t I do this years ago?
Here’s why: bariatric surgery is not a decision arrived at lightly. To work – and it is far from a guaranteed success – it can’t be. For me, it is very much a weapon of last resort in my ongoing, lifelong battle with my weight.
When it comes to losing weight, I’ve pretty much tried ’em all, from the name-brand, corporate products to the sketchy, fad diets. I’ve counted calories. I’ve eaten less and moved more. I’ve gone low cal, low carb, and low fat. I’ve fasted. Each time, I had a degree of success but eventually the weight came back, and then some.
Truth be told, this isn’t even my first run at the bariatric program. Two years ago I was considering it, and began working with the Weight & Wellness Center team in preparation for bariatric surgery. When you enroll, one of the things you learn right up front is that to qualify for bariatric surgery you have to lose some weight on your own.
Which I did. I lost a lot of weight – about 75 pounds to be exact – and ultimately, I decided that losing weight was something I could do on my own, after all.
Two years later, I was right back where I started, weighing in at 340 pounds and wondering where the hell I went wrong, an abject failure. Again.
So I made another run at the bariatric program, vowing to actually go through with the surgery if I qualified.
Which I did. And here we are.
One of the things I discovered as I worked through early stages of the bariatric program is that there are a ton of blogs about bariatric surgery out there targeted at women. But there are very few targeted at men. Precious few.
So I’m starting one. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll use this space to talk honestly about my experience as a male bariatric patient – a Bariatric Boy, if you will – as much to keep myself accountable as anything else.
So check back often, because I’ll be posting new material frequently. Maybe one day, it’ll be a protein-shake taste test, and the next it’ll be a detailed look at whether a man’s penis actually gets bigger when he loses weight. Or maybe it’ll be a quick and easy recipe for a tasty and nutritious dinner. Or a discourse on some of the more surprising and, umm, earthy effects of the bariatric program.
My goal is to always keep it both honest and interesting.
Thanks for reading.