It has been a WILD 4 days. It seems like a full two weeks have gone by but it really has only been 4 days. This post has taken monumental effort to get out because I am so freaking exhausted. Sometimes lifting the fingers to the keys feels like I lifting boulders. My Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy (VSG) was on July 25th, I was released from the hospital on July 26th, and I was settled back home on July 27th. The experience so far has been exactly how I read it would be…but nothing like how I thought it would be.
The morning of surgery was weird. My husband and I didn’t really talk on the way to the hospital…it was so fucking early and I think we were both trying to wrap our heads about what was about to happen. As we were walking into the building he asked me if I wanted a Big Mac or Starbucks…such a nice guy. When in despair, default to humor. I was checked in quickly and was settled into the pre-op holding zone in less than 20 minutes I would say. It all happened rather fast- I went from street clothes to antiseptic wipe down, hospital gown, MERSA swabbed, hair net, ready to roll patient in 20 minutes I think? The taking of my medical history was interesting because I do not have any major medical issues. No allergies, no removable parts, no metal, no diabetes…nothing. The nurse asked “So why are you here?” jokingly. That question sent me into a bit of a tailspin but before I could rip out my IV and run to the nearest Starbucks, the transfer nurse came in and started talking about the procedure, what was going to happen, who was who, blah blah blah. Why WAS I here? This was stupid…I had made a mistake. I don’t need SURGERY to lose weight! This is just fucking nuts. And then they said it was time to go. Just like that. They wheeled me around to a point of no return, I got a kiss from Grady, and off to the surgical holding pen I went. Once there I saw my surgeon who was busy doing something on the computer I can only assume was related to me and my procedure while the nurses and aids were talking about M&M’s and FOOD of all fucking things! Then the transfer nurse came over to check something and chit-chatting with me…telling me he was proud of me for undergoing this procedure because he could never do it…he could never stick to lifestyle and diet long term. Here was an overweight male nurse telling me HE could never do what I am doing because he could not commit to the bariatric diet! Did he know something I did not? I had read the post-op life was not so bad…low carb…Keto…a sandwich every now and then! Did I miss a chapter? What the actual fuck. My surgeon must have sensed something because he then came over to go over what was about to happen one more time, answer any questions I might have, and reassure me that everything would go smoothly. He told me what I was doing for myself and my health was life-changing. He was happy for me…even though you could tell he had done this 10,000 times before and could have been happy for 10,000 other people before me. He left the room, my operating room nurse introduced himself, told me he was my eyes and ears while I was under, and he rolled me into the actual operating room. It was so cold but they had 80’s pop playing on Pandora- I asked them to play Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted Snake” at least once while I was under. Everyone got a laugh…again…humor in despair. Then they gave me some oxygen and I woke up in recovery.
I had imagined the morning before the procedure to feel like it would take forever, that it would drag on. That Grady and I would have hours to talk about what life would be like for both of us after surgery. But that was not the case. It was a quick and impersonal affair- I felt like people knew just enough about me to not make a mistake but not enough for my experience to be lasting. That makes me mad and happy all at the same time. I mean these people cut out my STOMACH- they saw my intestines and boobs and blood…they could not have been more intimately involved in my life at that moment. But that fact that this major thing I was undergoing was so regular, so normal in their lives it in many ways reassured me that this was all going to be ok. But there was some comfort in that. I was happy my procedure was not some novel event in their lives. The factory model of medical procedures here seemed to be just right in this circumstance.
When I came to I was in SO MUCH PAIN. It was a pain I had NEVER felt and it was awful. I have been in broken bone pain, I have been in scrapes and puncture pain, I have been in sprain and twist pain. I have even been in you tore your skin off and you are bleeding white pain. Nothing compared to what waking up from VSG left like. All I wanted to do was move and twist but my abdomen would not allow it. My legs and my arms were flailing constantly in hopes that that movement would kick something loose or provide some level of comfort. Nothing helped. I have no idea how long I was in recovery but every time they asked me my pain level I told them a 10 and I meant every word of it. They would give me something sometimes and then other times there was nothing they could do. I think at one point a nurse was holding my arms down so I wouldn’t look like such a basketcase.
When my recovery room was ready I got to at least see my husband and parents for a brief moment, which was nice because it signed I was now on the downslope for that day. I have no idea how many minutes passed between me getting settled into my room and everyone being able to see me. What I do remember is my dad poked his head around the door frame, gave me a big smile, then the nurse bring me my 10, 1-ounce water cups to start drinking. I was SO thirsty and my mouth was cotton dry…all I wanted to do was down those little cups as quickly as I could. BIG MISTAKE. I took half an ounce swig and IMMEDIATELY felt it all coming back up. I was in total shock. I remember thinking, “You have got to be kidding me. I am going to die in recovery from dehydration. I cannot live my life this way forever!” I swear I missed my drama calling. After we all got over the shock of what I could and could not get down, they were able to tell me what the surgeon said about the procedure. It really had gone perfectly. I had no internal issues, I didn’t need any major repairs, and everything was in the places they should have been. He told them that he was excited to watch my transformation and he was confident this would be a successful, lifelong change for me. They all seemed very relieved at that news. I was so tired and so out of it they didn’t stay long and I was happy for that…I just need to pass out. But not long after they left the nurse came in and got me out of bed to pee and what an ordeal that is! They had to unhook the pressure wraps around my legs that are there to prevent blood clots, they had to unhook the blood pressure cuff that was around my arm, they needed to unplug the IV drip machine and make sure that the drip or the power cord were not entwined, and then help me actually got up out of bed and onto the toilet. What a shit show! Because I was on a saline IV I had to pee like every hour…this was not going to get me the rest that I needed. So after the 3rd round of this, I asked them what I would have to do for them to allow me to be more independently mobile. Well…I had to be able to walk one lap around the ward by myself, unassisted. And I would have to walk ever 2 to 3 hours. Ok then…I did two laps unassisted right away and they let me roll into bed without my leg cuffs. The next hour when I had to pee I called them in to help me with the IV drip but I asked them what I needed to do to be able to take myself to the bathroom. So they showed me what to do and asked that I called them when I needed to use the restroom so they could measure the fluids that I was expelling. OK fine, I can do that. Every time I needed to pee, I created a routine and that routine paid off because I was really feeling pretty good by 2am Friday. I would rise to use the bathroom, making sure I peed in the measuring thing. I would notate the amount on my board then head out for my block walk. Every time I went out I recorded the number of laps and the total number of steps I had taken. Then I would get myself hooked back up to the IV drip and work on my deep breathing. Then I would attempt to get in 10 ounces of water in 10 minutes before passing out. I repeated this cycle every hour and a half to two hours the entire time I was there and I am so glad I did. None of that felt good- but the trade-off was that I would feel better the next time I got up to do my routine. Every time I was due for more drugs I accepted them- right on the dot. I asked them to wake me if I was sleeping to stay to the drug schedule because I did not want to let the pain overpower the progress I was making. I was in a shared room with a woman who had the same procedure as I did that same with a different surgeon. She made different choices in her recovery and she paid a price- I was discharged the day after and she was not. I was not writhing in pain at every movement, but she was. Usually, the only way through pain and discomfort is straight through it and if you have to go straight through it, why not take the shortest, most efficient way?
The days since being discharged are a bit of a blur. We stayed at my parent’s house that first night which was so nice because there are just more people around to help and talk and compare notes. You are now taking on all of the nursing duties and it is a lot of information to process and track and take care of. The more eyes and ears around the better. My grandparents and my sister, her husband, and their brand new baby all came over to visit and eat dinner- which ironically I do not remember the dinner part at all. They said they didn’t want to eat in front of me but I don’t even remember anyone eating. I just remember standing up next to a try of 1-ounce cups trying to figure out how I was going to get in all of that fluid.
It has been a real trip adjusting to the 1-ounce life. I am legit HUNGRY…like hunger in my throat and in my stomach- at least where I think my stomach is. But then I have a few ounces of something and I feel this weird fullness either from the liquid or the gas that is still trying to make its way out of me. I want to eat something because I am hungry but I think I really just want to chew something. Popsicles and jello have been my “chewy” friends and for now, that will have to suffice. I am also experiencing some heartburn and chewy Tums are like candy at this point. I can totally see why people get depressed after this procedure. Eating- what was once a huge part of your daily routine- is gone. Even though you know it is gone only for the short term, it is hard to imagine eating something normal again because your insides feel so different. It is hard to imagine that you will feel normal again because your insides have been changed and rearranged. It is hard for me to just sit still and recover. I am not a person who sits still well. I can sit down and read for a few hours but then I have to do something…something physical. Being forced to just sit has been I think equally challenging to not physically eating. I knew I was an active person before…but being asked to be inactive is just straight-up torture.
People told me that the toughest part of this experience would be the time before the surgery. I am not so sure if that will be the case for me. The time before seems like a blur, a very distant memory. I know I was worried and scared and second-guessing but now I am facing my hunger straight on, with none of my coping mechanisms around to help…they have been physically removed or taken away. Before if I was bored or emotional I could eat or I could physically go do something. Now those two outlets are not available and when I try to come up with something else to high the feeling, I quickly exhaust and fall into a chair on the dock to rest. This has just been one big mind fuck. I am frustrated, annoyed, and cagey. I have reached out to people who are on the other side of VSG and they have nothing but encouraging and wonderful things to say about their lives now. Bitches. I am done feeling shitty. I am done being uncomfortable and immobile. I am on the verge of wanting to go back to before VSG and try Keto one more time. I am just going to stay mad and pissed off because I am not ready to just move through this with grace and dignity yet.