Winning the Losing Game
By Susan Harvey
When my orthopedic surgeon told me to lose one hundred pounds, his words sent me into a state of panic. Joint problems had reduced my mobility, and now I faced the requisite hip replacement. I trusted this doctor, so when he told me without the surgery I would soon be unable to walk, I believed him.
For thirty years, I had played the losing game with every diet known to womankind, but the weight crept up five, ten pounds each year. How could I exercise and lose a hundred pounds when every move was painful? When I expressed my concern to the doctor, he suggested bariatric surgery. I felt sick. A gastric bypass involved body-altering surgery. Although I had several major health issues, including diabetes, I feared the surgery and said so. He pointed out that bariatric surgery could save my life and eliminate most of my health problems.
Reluctantly, I took the name of the bariatric surgeon he provided. “You aren’t the first patient I’ve sent for this surgery,” he said. I assured him I would attend an information session about the bariatric surgery. Of course, I didn’t intend to attend the session, but I did attend. The compassionate doctor allayed most of my fears. In plain English, he explained the options, the procedures, the benefits and the dangers of bariatric surgery. He told the assembled group of grossly overweight men and women what to expect before, during and after surgery. I talked with my family; everyone supported my decision to have the surgery.
Completing the pre-surgery tests to qualify me for the operation took approximately six months – a physical exam with blood work, a stress test, x-rays and a psychiatric evaluation, which I feared I would fail simply for agreeing to this surgery. I passed all the tests and moved on to nutritional counseling.
Then came surgery. My surgeon required his patients to stay within a fifteen-minute drive of the hospital for seven days, so my mom and I reserved adjoining rooms in a hotel a few blocks from the hospital. In pre-op, the anesthesiologist told me that inserting the required airway in my trachea could break my front teeth. Too much info! I wanted to disconnect the IV and the massaging leg pumps and run screaming out of the cubicle, but the hospital gown didn’t cover my butt, and exposing my butt was more traumatic than missing teeth or death. At this point, I doubted the psychiatric test results, but I stayed put on the gurney and eventually survived the ordeal with teeth intact.
Confined to my hospital bed with IV tubing, an oxygen cannula, an oxygen-level monitor, a morphine pump, a drainage tube attached to what reminded me of a transparent, deflated hand grenade, and those damn massaging leg pumps, I couldn’t move by myself. Every three hours I had to walk for fifteen minutes, so Mom and I walked back and forth in the hallway – me rolling the IV stand in one hand and holding the hand grenade against my body with the other, and Mom holding my gown closed in the back.
My meals consisted of an ounce of Elmer’s Glue-flavored Ensure served in a plastic medicine cup every two hours – perfect for quelling anyone’s appetite. Finally, darkness descended on my first day of life with only half a stomach. Mom went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. The hospital grew quieter. By quieter, I mean the construction equipment outside my hospital window sat idle.
Each time I dozed off, the oxygen monitor alarm jolted me out of much needed sleep and triggered the need for a bathroom break. Nurse had to unplug me from the leg pumps, the oxygen cannula, the oxygen monitor, and the morphine pump. Each time I settled in the bed with all equipment reattached and reached the first stages of deep sleep, either the oxygen monitor sounded or Nurse awakened me to eat, to check my hand grenade, or to take my blood pressure, temperature or blood sugar.
On the morning of the third day, I wanted to throw everything, including Nurse and her bottle of Ensure, out the window and into the midst of the construction jackhammers. My blood pressure and blood sugar soared. Hum, wonder why? No sleep, powerful drugs and unbelievable stress round-the-clock for forty-eight hours. Sounds like a torture scene from Burn Notice.
Each time the surgeon came in, I whined; he listened. Then he assured me that everything was going as planned, and I would soon be in my own bed. Finally, he removed the massaging leg pumps, the oxygen-level monitor and the hand grenade and released me.
Mom and I set off for the hotel. Since I had only several small incisions, I had very little pain, so I asked Mom to drive to my house to pick up a few items. Once inside, I sat in the ugly green La-Z-Boy I purchased four years earlier when I had shoulder surgery. Think Frazier’s dad’s recliner, minus the duct tape. I slept in it for nine weeks after that surgery because getting in and out of bed caused the most pain.
Suddenly, I wanted to stay in my recliner and sleep for hours but feared I would be too far from the hospital to get help in an emergency. Mom gathered up the items I wanted and took them to the car; meanwhile, I slid the back off La-Z-Boy and rolled it end-over-end to the front door. Mom almost had a heart attack when she saw what I had done. I wanted La-Z-Boy in the hotel room, and I was not leaving the house without it. A neighbor loaded the two pieces into Mom’s Cadillac.
We pulled up to the hotel lobby door at prime check-in time. I grabbed a luggage dolly. A man two cars away came to our aid and lifted the bottom of the chair onto the dolly and slid the back into place. I rolled La-Z-Boy through the lobby; the desk clerk stared at me as though the Beverly Hillbillies had invaded her domain.
“Okay if I take this in my room?” I asked without stopping. Speechless, she motioned me through with a sweep of her hand. “Thanks,” I said cheerfully and turned the corner into the hallway. I rolled past the indoor pool, where I garnered more stares, and down the hallway to our rooms as open-mouthed people watched in disbelief. Mom trailed in my wake trying to explain. “And I thought my wife packed everything,” one man commented as we passed.
I spent seven days sleeping in La-Z-Boy or walking the hallways of the hotel with Mom by my side. The following week, I had lost ten pounds, and the doctor pronounced me well enough to return home. I left La-Z-Boy for the housekeeper; she was overjoyed.
For the first two weeks, I drank only liquids. For the next four weeks, I ate only pureed food, giving me new incentive to floss twice daily. In sixteen months, I lost more than one hundred pounds.
Bariatric surgery is not right for everyone, but it gave me a new start in life. After losing the weight, I no longer need the hip replacement, and my life-threatening health issues disappeared. Occasionally, I miss foods I once loved – namely KFC and Krispy Kreme donuts – but what a small price to pay for mobility. Five years after winning the losing game, I’ve kept the weight off, but I still miss my La-Z-Boy.
About this writer
- Susan Harvey is a humor writer who teaches college English. She lives in Murrells Inlet, and in her spare time enjoys cooking and reading mysteries.