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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

My Lap-Band Life: Five Months In

As we pick up this month's saga, you remember that my weight loss had slowed.  I lost 4 pounds in April and 3 pounds in May, and I noticed that the amount of food I needed had increased.  So, I scheduled myself with the Doctor for a fill.

As you might remember, the lap-band is a plastic frame with a soft plastic bladder that wraps around the upper part of the stomach, just below the esophagus.  A small tube connects the band with a rubber-domed port that attaches below the skin of the stomach.  It's through that port that saline is added or subtracted which makes the band tighter or looser.  In my case, the band was too big, which means the food, instead of staying in the pouch and staving off hunger, was instead falling through too quickly.  Instead of going 4-6 hours before feeling hungry again, I found that I was hungry 2-3 hours after meals. 

After a consult with the PA, we went down to radiology to the flouroscope room.  There, I pulled up my shirt and stood in front of the machine.  A tech gave me a dixie cup full of chalky white fluid, the radioactive barium.  The PA then took a syringe with a large bore needle (gulp!) and after locating the port, inserted the needle.  Initially it did hurt a bit, but once in was painless.  At first he put in 4 cc of saline, then had me take a sip of barium.  On the screen, the barium hit the band...and stopped.  I could feel that familiar discomfort.  He then began to take saline out, a little at a time.  In between these adjustments, the syringe stuck out of my belly looking a lot like a dart on a dart board.  It didn't hurt, but it did look decidedly odd.

He finally stopped when he reached 1.4 cc of saline.  At that point, the barium flowed like it was supposed to.  He took the needle out, and of course it bled (I'm on two blood thinners because of my heart) but it stopped after the second wad of gauze.

I was on fluids for 24 hours, then soft foods for another 24 hours, then back to regular food.  I noticed an immediate difference.  I realized, not only had I been eating too much, but I had been "wolfing it down" entirely too fast.  I had to teach myself how to eat all over again.  It was a good lesson to learn.

The weight loss has come back.  I had been stuck, bouncing between 253 and 257.  Now, a week later, I'm down to 247 and losing again.

I also had another heart incident during this time.  My new cardiologist did a stress test on me and found a problem in the lower part of my heart.  I refused to believe this at first, because I had been symptom free even when exercising hard.  Then, right at the end of April, I had gone up to Erie, PA for some church meetings.  On the way back Sunday morning, I began to feel that old familiar ache in my chest.  Anyone who's ever driven that stretch of I-79 knows that there's pretty much empty countryside between Erie and Pittsburgh.  The last thing I wanted was to have to pull over, call 911 and wait for an ambulance to find me.  So I pushed on, with a continuing prayer "Just get me to Pittsburgh."  Upon arrival, I went straight to UPMC Passavant.  The magic words "chest pain" got me to the head of the list.  Monday morning, I had a heart cath (my fourth) and they put a stent in my right coronary artery (my fifth).  I was released the next day and some friends drove me back to Somerset.  My wife was in Hawaii caring for a terminally-ill aunt and was fairly frantic during this time, but we pulled through.  I took Wednesday off from work but was back at my desk on Thursday, and back on my motorcycle the next week. 

I've had to learn some hard lessons lately.  According to my lap-band friends, they took nearly seven months before they got all their energy back.  I was pushing myself really hard, which had added to my recovery time.  Also, I got some hard truth from the cardiologist.  I expressed my frustration about getting another stent after losing all that weight and seeing all my indicators turn handsomely positive.  He told me that once a person has coronary artery disease, they have it, pretty much forever.  He told me he had done cardiac bypasses on folks much skinnier than me, so even though I had vastly reduced my risk factors, I was going to have to deal with the reality of a sick heart regardless.

That was pretty hard to swallow.

The good news is that my heart med dosage has been cut in half, and if I tolerate this well, it'll be cut in half again at some point.  My blood sugar continues to test between 86 and 95, my BP has averaged 115/60 and my resting pulse is usually in the high 50s.  So everything is looking up.

I've blown through most of my "skinny" clothes from the attic.  My waist size has gone from 52 to 44, my suit size from 60 to 52, and my shirt size from 22 to 18.5.  Now that the weight is coming off again, I look forward to thinning the closet herd pretty soon.  Cheryl went to Good Will where she found some sharp-looking slacks and khakis for next to nothing.  I'll probably make another trip to look for some dress shirts as well.

One more thing.  I've noticed that I'm getting more mileage out of my motorcycle.  Last year, with my weight ballooning up to 315 pounds, I was getting about 42 mpg.  This year, with me nearly 70 pounds lighter, that figure has improved to 48 mpg.  Coincidence? I think not.

I had a bump in the road this time.  But as I look back over this journey, I still have no regrets.  I'm glad I got this done.

If you have any questions, please contact me at Ralph.Couey@gmail.com.
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