One man’s harrowing story of fighting for his life.
I grew up fat. Not cute chubby thighs and round face, “Isn’t he so cute?” fat, but fat. As a sophomore in high school I was north of 220, and at 29 years old I had reached 340 pounds. I started to have the health problems you would assume would come with such weight. Gout, acid reflux, asthma, and chronic lower back pain were all a part of my daily life.
My mother had gastric bypass the year before and was doing really well and the conversation started that perhaps I should begin the process of having the surgery to save my life. I did the pre-op diet, the psychiatric evaluation, and booked my surgery for February of 2007. I was terrified and had no idea what it would be like being only able to eat a golf ball of food at a time, yet something was pushing me to take the leap of faith. The reflux had got so intense that I was having trouble sleeping and could not wait for surgery to end all this self-inflicted pain.
I flew down to Florida and had to use a seat belt extender as my stomach was too big to fit in the seat. The flight attendant was, of course, a thin beautiful young lady and I felt so ashamed to ask her, but she just smiled and nodded, looking concerned. I hate that look of contempt and concern which implies how could he let himself get so big.
The surgery would be at 8:00 a.m., so I had a night in Orlando to do whatever I liked. Naturally, I went with my mother and family to dinner. I was told I could have one last normal meal before the surgery so I went all out with steak, loaded potato, lava cake, the works. After I ate I felt horrible and sweaty, which is not the first time I have done that to myself. I was ready for the miracle change that would come in the morning.
The day of the surgery I was terrified and shaking. The idea that my stomach would be forever changed and I would no longer be able to eat like a normal person was like a train running off the tracks in my brain. I put on the pair of hospital gowns as one would not fit so they tied two together for me an added humiliation to this whole process and further confirmation this was the right choice. The anesthesiology team came in and went over what the procedure would be like and how they would keep me under and safe. I got on the gurney and was wheeled back to the operating room, tears in my eyes with fear and trepidation, but all the while knowing this is the best thing for me. I mean, my surgeon had done over 7,000 surgeries to date, my mother had the surgery and we doing well, so what could go wrong? I would soon find out.
I woke up to the sounds of machines beeping, oxygen tubes in my nose, and the most intense pain I had ever felt in my stomach. My family was in the room, as was a nurse. They all were congratulating me and telling me everything went well and the surgeon came in and asked how I was feeling and if I wanted to do some walking. It seems after a major surgery, despite being worn out and tired, they want you to walk and walk and walk. This prevents clots and gets you back to feeling like a normal person again. So I walked and was led to a scale, which I got on and it read 321 pounds. Somehow I had lost 19 pounds in 1 da,y a feat I still do not understand. The next few days were pretty rough being on a liquid-only diet while watching others around me eat normal food. I had an animosity that everyone else got to be normal while here I am surviving on broth and such.
I headed back home to Indiana a week after the surgery and had been having some soft food like pudding at this point. I felt dizzy but assumed it was just from lack of calories and my body recovering. This was the first sign of trouble ahead, but I had yet to realize what was coming for me.
Over the next few months the dizziness got worse and my ability to walk a straight line was being impeded. I was struggling with normal tasks and had to stop working as I could not sit at my desk because I would spin and spin. Nothing seemed to relieve the dizziness and I started having extreme nausea for all my waking hours. I contacted the surgeon almost daily to help me and the only advice I was given was to eat more salt. I was told to take a table spoon of salt every few hours to help regulate my levels of sodium in my blood, but at this point my bloodwork all showed my levels to be normal, so this made little sense, but I followed the advice of my doctors.
Another five months went by and I was unable to walk unassisted. I did lose 170 pounds, so on paper my weight loss was a success. I started having other odd symptoms including a bleeding tongue, very swollen midsection, blurry vision, and of course the dizziness. I truly believed I was going to die from this. My local doctors were clueless about my plight and no one wanted to touch me due to another surgeon’s work. With all these complications, they just could not take the risk.
My life had become torture and I seriously contemplated suicide. My surgeon and I talked many times and eventually he offered to reverse my surgery free of charge if I would travel to a different hospital in Texas. I was told to tell no one of this and that the hospital would not charge me, nor would they fully know what procedure I was having, so I was to keep quiet. This was so strange and raised so many flags, but I had no choice, so I headed to Texas and had the reversal. My surgeon said that reversals are rare and in his history of being a surgeon he had only done three, and two of those individuals had not survived 5 years post-reversal. I was not deterred and had to do something as I was slowly dying. The surgery took two hours and I was put back together the best they could, he would later say. I stayed in Texas for a week with my family who had come with me and within a few days, the dizziness had gone.
I returned home and was gaining some energy as I could eat soft foods instead of liquids right out of the gate, and within a month was eating solid food. Not a big quantity, but enough to feel satisfied and much more than what I had been able to previously. I thought I was out of the woods and would be fine, but then it happened … I got my first bowel obstruction.
If you do not know what a bowel obstruction is, imagine swallowing a bowling ball, then being punched in the stomach while trying to pass it in the restroom. The pain is unlike anything I had ever experienced, and I was rushed to the ER when I collapsed and my girlfriend at the time freaked out. The entire drive to the ER, I was clutching my surgery scar and screaming in pain. I was rushed in and told them what was going on with me, and that I had gastric bypass and a full reversal which blew the minds of the nurses as they had not even heard of it being reversible.
They did a CT scan after giving me some pain meds, and a young doctor said your small bowel has a partial obstruction. They fed me more pain meds in the IV and told me they would monitor me for next few days to determine if surgery was appropriate. I freaked out. How in the world would I need another surgery! The obstruction passed on its own after being without food or drink for three days as they pumped me full of fluids and nutrition through my IV. I was released and told that these can be recurring and there is no real diet or changes I could make to prevent them.
My next obstruction would come six months later and just as intense as the first one. I head back to the emergency room and the same protocol followed. After my release, I realized this could be my life now and an ongoing battle. I was lucky enough to own my own business at the time and had enough of a staff to keep us afloat when I would be gone for a week at a time in the hospital. I started gaining weight and soon crested over 200 pounds again which felt like I was failing and returning to my old ways. I visited a few specialists, all who are unable to help me and give me varying advice such as eat less fiber, eat more fiber, try this laxative, don’t use laxatives etc. I spent the next few years just walking around with a time bomb in my gut at any time knowing it can be set off and I ended up in the emergency room in severe pain.
I have had 13 bowel obstructions since the reversal in September of 2007. I have near constant anxiety about what may happen next with my stomach. Nearly every single week is a mixture of constipation or other bowel upset along with stabbing pain. I lost my business due to the medical bills, which was a big embarrassment. I am still a medical mystery and have had every test you can have to determine why this keeps happening, and the best they can come up with is “once you break a lamp you cannot just glue it back together and think it will work normally … it’s always going to be a little screwed up.”
For those who think gastric bypass is the easy way out, or that the other side of the coin that believes gastric bypass is the answer, I am proof of how difficult and dangerous this can be. If I had the ability I would go back in time and never go under the knife to begin with, but now I just have to find the most out of life with this body makeup I have.
I reached 340 pounds again which was devastating last year. I have over $300,000 in debt from all the hospitalizations and cannot work a normal job, so I write for a living. Nine months ago, I got an endoscopy and it was determined that I had celiac disease and was essentially allergic to wheat. I started eating 100% gluten free and eliminated all the bad carbs and sodas again from my diet. I have dropped 80 pounds so far and plan to keep on this path. I had a bowel obstruction last week but it corrected in only 24 hours so perhaps I am on the mend for the last time.
I hope all of you out there with body issues, weight issues, considering gastric bypass, or who are going through complications from the surgery, heed my advice and just keep plugging along and keep fighting for your life. I am proof you can survive this and that I never took the “easy way” out. For this man, a strict high-protein, low-carb diet with some good cardio and lifting is the only thing that has ever truly worked. Stop looking for the miracle bullet to solve your problems and become the miracle yourself.
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