About Me

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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.

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Lap Band Update - 15 Months Down a Rocky Road


                                            Old Me                                          Current Me


Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Couey
First off, I want to apologize to those readers who visited this blog to read about my experience with the Lap Band, post-surgery.  I went through some months of upheaval and change, which not only affected what had been regular reporting on this issue, but my ability to produce any essays.

I had the surgery in January of 2011.  My recovery and subsequent new life was uneventful, at least from a medical stand point.  Of course, I lost weight, as the stark difference between the two pictures above attests.  For the raw numbers, at my worst point prior to surgery, I had ballooned up to in excess of 390 pounds.  After yet another heart incident, I dropped about 35 pounds pretty much on my own, but gained back 10, then lost another 40.  Prior to the surgery, I was put on a "prove you want to really lose weight" diet which got me down to 320  Once I had the surgery, the weight fell off rapidly for the first 60 pounds or so.  Then, my world turned upside down.

My day job, an intelligence analyst with a small Justice Department unit went away when the agency was closed for budgetary reasons.  Fortunately, the Department stepped up big time and eventually I signed on with another DOJ organization which neccesitated a move from Pennsylvania to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC.   In the process, we sold our home in PA, taking a huge monetary bath in the transaction which pretty much wiped out our savings.  We moved into an extended stay motel in Virginia for a few months while we searched for a permanent place to live. 

That search involved looking at (by actual count) 73 properties, which were either too expensive, too old, or in need of way too much work.  We were shell-shocked by the prices of some of these places which could only have been described as dumps. 

So, we decided to buy into a new neighborhood of townhomes.  It was a good decision because (once we had adjusted our financial glasses) it was within our budget, we could get the features we wanted, and it was in an area that was experiencing significant growth.  That process, though, was fraught with tensions and stresses, as we learned quickly that we had to keep a close eye on what was going on at the site because the builders were "forgetting" to install and build things we had ordered. 

My new job was turning out to be a difficult one to digest and execute, and while they have been more than patient, dealing with the less-than-perfect results of my work in an arena where errors can be measured in human lives gave me many a sleepless night.

We had some family crises during this trial, with which I won't burden you here. 

This sequence of events left both of us stressed to the point of exhaustion.  I found that I was unconsciously going back to my old habits of stress eating.  Now, I didn't gain any weight back, mind you, I just wasn't losing it any more.  I got stuck bouncing between 245 and 250 pounds.  It was during this period that I developed an exquisitely painful pinched nerve in my back which left me unable to do much other than lay down.  I started taking liquid ibuprophen, but developed a sore spot in my "new" stomach. I underwent six months of difficult physical therapy before the pain eased to the point where I could begin to function again.

This past Christmas we spent in Denver with two of our daughters and their families. It was a great holiday, one of those increasingly rare moments in time when we're all together.  But a few days after Christmas, I woke up in the middle of the night, ran to the bathroom and literally exploded.  I think everything I had eaten for the previous week came out at both ends.  Once that part was over, I ended up collapsed on the floor, semi-conscious.  As it turns out, I had fallen victim to some kind of gut virus that was making its way around Denver at the time.  It took a few days to recover from that ordeal, and upon returning to Virginia, I was amazed to discover that I had lost 10 pounds.  I vowed then and there to get ahold of myself and get back on the wagon.

I'm now down to 228 and the weight is coming off at an expected and reasonable 2 pounds per week. 
And I'm exercising again.

Last June, I woke up one morning and decided it was time for me to start moving.  Two things prompted this decision.  My neurologist cleared me for exercise, and me looking in the mirror and assigning full responsibility for my condition to that face that stared back at me.

I started simply, walking on the treadmill.  Gradually increasing distance and speed, I began to drop in some running during the walks.  By September when the incredible heat of the summer of 2012 finally broke, I moved outside and started to run.  By Halloween, I was running 3.5 miles four to five days per week.  This past week, I cracked the 5-mile barrier twice.  Now my pace is slow, perhaps a glacial 4.5 to 5 miles per hour.  But it is running, even if I may never get back to the '80s when I was running 10K road races twice per month, averaging 9 to 10 minute miles.  Again, somewhat glacial.  To that regimen, I added exercises, like a reverse sit up for my lower back and crunches for my belly.  I do 100 of each twice per day.

This past January, I had a bout with a significant lung infection.  After two rounds of anti-biotics, the worst of it went away.  But in mid-March I had another heart scare.  I was about two miles into a four-mile run when I developed pressure and tightness in my chest.  After trying to run through it, I stopped and went back home.  I cleaned up and laid down for an hour or so and the feeling went away.  The next morning, though, it was back and after calling the cardiologist and describing the symptoms, I went to the hospital.  I was admitted overnight while they ran a battery of tests.  The next day I had another heart catheterization and received the first good news.  All the stents were wide open and there were no new blockages.  It would appear that the pressure in my chest is related to the illness in January and I will go back to my regular doctor this week to work on that.

So as you can see, it has been quite a ride over the last 15 months.  But through those trials certain wisdoms have been imparted to me, some of which I will share with any of you thinking about weight loss surgery.
Having been morbidly obese, I understand the challenge many of you have faced. I also understand that for a lot of us, our shape is only the obvious sympton of some more serious issues.

We all have a love affair with food. It's not the happy-go-lucky romantic fling, but a dependency brought on by our reactions to ourselves and how others treat us.  We try to cover it up with increasingly larger pieces of clothes, and avoiding mirrors at all costs, but while we may be able to fool ourselves, nobody else is fooled.  Food is our friend.  It welcomes us, makes us feel good, and gives us a place to go where nobody laughs at us, or lances our heart with hateful words.

But food is also killing us slowly.

Getting weight loss surgery, whether a lap band or a full-blown gastric bypass, is only the tool.  There are way too many people who have failed because they were unable to tame their food demons.  Even a quarter cup pouch of a stomach can be stretched back out again.

In these past 15 months, my demons came back to haunt me.  I found myself eating when I wasn't hungry, and what's worse, eating the worst possible things.  My portion sizes were increasing as well, again not because I was hungry, but because I was reacting poorly to the stresses in my life.

I'm getting my demons back in their cages where they belong. Exercise has given me an outlet for my angers, fears, and senses of failure.  I'm  deliberately reducing my portion sizes back to what they should be, and listening to my stomach.  When I'm full, I stop.  Period.

If food is your best friend, I have to warn you that you're going to have to file for divorce before you have the surgery.  Because if you don't, those weaknesses will always be there, waiting to spring upon you in your worst moments.  And you will have worse moments. If you have fat friends, once you start to get thinner, they will be less willing to hang with you.  Skinny people will still think of you as fat, even when you're not, and will resist bringing you into their circles.  For a time, you'll be caught in-between those groups and will have days where that induced isolation will wear on you.

If you have a fat spouse who won't go this same route, be ready for some emotional distance in that place as well.  I'm running into a lot of stories of, particularly women, who when they got thinner and began to get hit on by skinny guys, divorced their fat husbands.  And vice-versa.  When they tell you that this surgery changes your life, they're not just talking medically but socially as well. Your emotional world will be knocked sideways and now you won't have food to fall back on for solace and comfort.  You must be ready for that.  Giving in to your emotions will set you on a path for failure.

Fortunately, I got myself back on the wagon before losing complete control.  And I also rediscovered my motivation and pride, key elements in this process. 

Where am I at now?  I think in another 30 pounds or so, I'm going to have to think seriously about plastic surgery.  I have a lot of extra skin sagging around my middle now which is causing some problems with chafing.  If I don't get that extra hide whacked, I could be setting myself up for some serious skin infections.  But recovery from that kind of procedure is long and painful and I'm going to have to be prepared for that as well.

The illness in Denver that got me that 10-pound loss was a gift, in a weird sort of way.  I was pushed off that plateau and sent down the road with a new sense of momentum and commitment.  I'm feeling much more positive now, and that really makes up for a lot.

Even if I had known what was going to happen, I still would get the surgery.  The benefits to me now, and down the road are simply too many to ignore.  If you are in the boat I was in three years ago, and you're reading this out of a sense of curiousity and latent hope, I would recommend it to anyone -- as long as you realize that defeating your food demons is every bit as importent as committing to the surgery and the lifestyle that follows.

Now, of course, I have to take retirement planning seriously.

Especially since I know now I'll survive to reach it.
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