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The end of life in the fat lane

Three years ago I took the first step towards having Gastric Bypass surgery; on October 29th I had that operation.

The surgery lasted a little over five hours and when I woke up in the recovery room I was sure I’d been hit six times in my abdomen by a Plymouth hood ornament. For the first 24 hours I kept asking myself, “What have you done?” But as the anesthesia wore off and the pain meds took the edge off the procedure, I felt confident that the right choice had been made and the next steps to a healthy new me were just beginning. 

There were six incisions ranging from a half to two inches. Adding those to the other surgeries I’ve had in my life, I now have an abdomen that looks like a page from the Patriots' game book. I think the nausea was the worst part of the operation and learning to only take small sips of water has been the greatest challenge since the surgery.

The first two weeks my gourmet menu consisted of sugar-free Jell-O, high protein diet drinks, fat-free broth, water and more high-protein drinks. Last week I graduated to cream of wheat cereal, cream soups (made with high protein low-fat milk), soda crackers, poached eggs and more high protein drinks. Yesterday I had two ounces of tuna fish and thought it was the most delicious meal I’d had in years.

My stomach is the now the size of an egg and it takes me about 20 minutes to eat two ounces of food. It takes even longer to finish one of the protein drinks. I can’t drink water during the meal nor for 30 minutes after I finish one of the drinks, as the water dilutes the protein and less is absorbed during the process through my altered intestinal tract.

So right now my day revolves around constantly sipping water while also trying to consume 70 grams of protein by eating six meals a day. Oh, and don’t forget the vitamins. Pills can be no larger than a Tic-Tac so most of what I have to take must be chewable or drops. Let me tell you, there’s a reason babies don’t have much of a memory because liquid vitamins taste like they smell – awful! And chewables aren’t much better. 

I sat at the dinner table and ate my first meal with my family last night. Watching other people eat real food wasn’t so much of a problem for me as it was for them to be eating in front of me. It felt awkward and the family dynamics were uncomfortable during a time that had often been the best part of our day. So I opted to consume my meals at my desk in our office right off the kitchen. Thankfully, that all changed yesterday.

Am I happy with this decision? YES! However, it isn’t something that I’d recommend for everyone. This surgery is meant to last a lifetime but if you haven’t made the mental changes needed to make healthy choices, you’ll eventually modify the surgery and you’ll find yourself right back to where you were within a few years. The Gastric Bypass surgery alters the volume and the process of the food we eat – it doesn’t change the reasons, the choices, or how an obese person eats. As my first surgeon said 32 years ago, “I staple your stomach not your brain.” If only he’d realized just how critically important that statement was to the long-term success for this surgery, perhaps I would have had a different outcome the first time.

By Thanksgiving I will progress to Level 5 in the Bariatric diet and my turkey day menu will consist of two ounces of ground turkey with an ounce each of squash and potatoes. That should take me about two hours to eat so I plan to stay up all night drinking my water and protein drinks for the day so I can share this meal with my family. Oh, and since beginning this journey… I’ve lost 91 pounds.    

Ginger Costen writes a monthly column for the Yankee Shopper. She is a resident of Webster.