97. Surgery Isn’t the Easy Way Out

97. Surgery Isn’t the Easy Way Out

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Surgery Isn’t
the Easy Way Out

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
 ~Beverly Sills

I wanted a new start in life when I retired from the Army Nurse Corps 20 years ago, so I moved my family from California to Texas, bought a house, and started law school. All went well except for one thing—in the process, I gained 70 pounds, going from a size 10-12 to a 16W-18W in one year.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way. I’d had problems controlling my weight all my life, but I’d convinced myself that the Army had ruined my metabolism by forcing me to weigh in every six months for all those years. The consequences of being overweight in the military included missing out on promotions and even being asked to leave the service, so I managed to masquerade as a thin person at the weigh-ins by starving for a week or two beforehand, then rushing home to stuff my face with pizza. Running and working out helped a little, but my weight fluctuated by 10 to 15 pounds between weigh-ins, and with age it became harder and harder to drop it. So, I reasoned, retirement would allow me to stabilize at my “natural” weight. Who knew that would be 212 pounds—and climbing?

I was raised to be a problem-solver, so I became my own favorite project. I joined weight loss programs, lost a few pounds, then gained them back. I tried walking, yoga, swimming, weight lifting, all with dismal results. During this time, my husband’s career required us to move every year or two, so it seemed that every time I found a fitness routine I liked, we’d get the news we were moving across the country—again. I even tried medication and counseling after a physician told me that I must be depressed if I had to look at myself in the mirror every day! (He was fired for that remark, but his hurtful words stayed with me for years.)

When my older daughter announced her engagement, I panicked at the thought of shopping for a dress for the wedding. Plus size shops seem to cater to the “big-all-over” but there are few resources for women who are 5 feet tall and weigh 235 pounds. I settled for stretchy black pants and an ivory silk overblouse that I thought hid my fat pretty well—until I saw the wedding pictures. Next to the slender wedding party, I looked like something from another planet where short creatures with small heads and bowling-ball bodies were bred.

At fifty-five, I was squarely in the “morbidly obese” category, but I felt powerless to change. I was always hungry, and I fed that hunger with huge portions, lots of snacks, and sugar, sugar, sugar. I’d attended a 12-step program for overeaters for several years, and understood the concept of “stuffing” my feelings, but that didn’t stop me eating like—and weighing the same as—a football linebacker.

Then I read an article about a woman who lost more than 100 pounds after praying for God to take away her overeating problem. That approach surely couldn’t hurt, I thought, so I gave it a try—but nothing happened. I believed that God wanted people to be healthy and that He could intervene if we asked for help—I just didn’t believe that He would want to help me. I was still hungry all the time and I was still fat, but I still prayed every day for a miracle—or at least just a couple of hours of feeling full.

Months later, I was still praying for a miracle every day when I happened to glance at a newsletter from my health insurer that I’d stuffed into a basket weeks before. Among the usual advice about flu shots and blood pressure checks, I noticed a brief paragraph about new benefits for weight loss surgery. I’d always thought of surgery as the easy way out and had never considered it for myself, so I threw the newsletter away, never thinking about it again until I heard myself at my next doctor’s visit asking for a referral to a weight loss surgeon.

From that moment, I became obsessed with reading about bariatric surgery: books, magazines, on-line forums—I’d had no idea that so many resources existed. And I had plenty of time to read because it took eight months for my insurer to approve my first visit to a surgeon. After that, though, the process moved swiftly, and within a month I was being wheeled into the operating room for a laparoscopic gastric bypass operation.

I’ve learned since then that bariatric surgery is not the easy way out at all. Surgeons’ guidelines vary, but most patients are restricted to a liquid diet for weeks before and after surgery. After a month or so, tiny meals of soft foods are allowed, but alcohol, sugary foods, and fizzy beverages are forbidden. Every bite must be chewed thoroughly, and the smallest miscalculation in texture or amount can cause digestive problems for hours.

Exercise was mandatory, too. I mostly walked and occasionally swam, but didn’t do strength training as I should have. At first, I struggled to walk a couple of blocks, but after a few weeks I was able to add distance and speed.

And the weight dropped, which shocked me because I was convinced that I would be the only gastric bypass patient who actually gained weight. Unlike some patients who drop weight quickly, I lost 13 pounds the first week and 5-10 pounds each month after that. But I was losing inches, sometimes at a shocking rate. I looked at myself in the mirror one morning during the second month and realized that for the first time in many years, I had only one chin. There was a little wattle leftover, but during the night my double and triple chins had vanished.

And for the first time since I could remember, I no longer had that hunger that I’d never been able to satisfy. My itty bitty meals left me feeling full, and I even became something of a picky eater, passing up the high calorie foods on a buffet for lean meat and fruit.

Fifteen months after the surgery, I weigh 137 pounds and am just a few pounds from a normal weight for my height. I wear size 4-6 jeans, and medium tops. I have some saggy skin on my upper arms and thighs, so I’m not comfortable wearing shorts or sleeveless dresses, but I’m hoping that those areas will tighten up with exercise.

If not, I won’t complain. At fifty-eight, I feel happier and more energetic than I did when I was forty. We moved to Hawaii six months ago, and every time I try something new—snorkeling, hiking on the volcano, exploring rain forests—I thank God for granting me the miracle of this new body, even if the way He made it happen wasn’t quite what I’d expected.

~Marcy Brinkley

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