Why I Chose To Have Bariatric Surgery

Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

It started in April of last year. It was just after my son’s tonsil surgery. My son had been struggle with chronic nasal drip, light snoring, and constant ear infections. We first did tubes for his ears and it helped, but his sinuses were just drowning into his lungs.

My ex-husband and I, frustrated with the ongoing health problems in our 5-year-old son, went to a specialist. This particular Ear, Nose, Throat (hereby referred to as ENT) doctor seemed very in-depth in his questions and examinations. He had a good reputation, and very quick in getting to the key of the problem.

The ENT determined it was my son’s naturally large tonsils that were blocking his sinuses from properly draining. With nowhere to go, the drip went out through his sinuses and through the nasal passages. With that knowledge, we decided to have his tonsils removed.

It worked — and worked well. My son, after he recovered, no longer needed constant medication, no longer had the sniffles, and no longer snored. Seeing this incredible improvement to his life, I approached the ENT about myself. You see, my son inherited his problem from me.

I sat down with the ENT and explained my problems. Chronic nasal drip to the point I was carrying tissue packets with me; severely obstructive sleep apnea that was barely dealing well with the CPAP; and possibly more that I’m unaware of.

He ordered a CT Sinus scan and discovered problems that other ENTs never caught or never shared with me. I have a severely deviated septum, and some mysterious gunk in the right sinus cavity. Not an infection, but there’s something. It’d be easier to discover what it was once I was under surgery. And yes, my tonsils were quite large, likely creating obstruction for both the chronic nasal drip and sleep apnea.

I thought: “Great! Let’s get me into surgery!”

But no.

I was too fat.

My insurance had a guideline. No approval for such invasive surgery unless the patient was under 250 pounds. When my doctor shared that, I was stunned. At the time, I weighed about 410 pounds. My doctor, kindly, thought I was 300 pounds. (I carried the weight well.)

I never heard of such a guideline. I asked around a few Health At Every Size groups and the answer was the same: “We never had that kind of restriction.” So why me? Why my insurance? I couldn’t even appeal. It was a flat “no”, with no room for discussion.

I asked the ENT what I could do. He suggested bariatric surgery, something I was reluctant to consider. Too many bad stories of complications, regain, and of course, death. He gently urged that I try to listen to the seminar hosted by the bariatric surgeon. The one he referred me to was the one his own sister had seen and had great success.

After lengthy thought, I went.

The doctor was very thorough, concise about his information, the benefits and negatives of both gastric sleeve and gastric bypass. They no longer did the lap band due to on-going evidence of extreme issues plus the body rejecting the band.

The seminar was two hours long and I was the one who asked the most questions. I considered it and decided to give it a try. My insurance demanded 6 months of pre-surgery consultation, to test my willingness to stick to all the requirements that bariatric surgery would expect of the patient.

6 months to lose 10% of my weight, meaning 40 pounds. I would have to learn to eat 6 small meals a day. No coffee, no straws, no soda. If I smoked, I would have to quit. I would have to try exercising as much as possible. I would have to completely change my diet — cut out all carbs such as rice, pasta, bread, and pastries. More protein, more vegetables, no fruit, no seeds, no nuts.

The first month I lost almost 30 pounds. I was stunned. Even the doctor walked into our first month meeting staring at my file, surprised. It was hard the first two weeks to quit carbs. I felt a powerful craving, like I was addicted and had to break the addiction. Every time I looked at bread, pasta, or rice, I wanted to shove it down my throat.

The first four months I followed the dietary guidelines. I tried to exercise. The strength was easier than cardio. My breathing problems, related to my sinuses or not, made it hard to do a lot of cardio. I felt good. I slept better, more deeply. Once the craving was broken, I rarely turned to carbs and loved the meals I was making.

But did I want the surgery?

All those horror stories… they haunted me. I didn’t want to die on the table and leave my son motherless. I didn’t want a complication that would force me to depend on a feeding tube. I didn’t want to endure some malabsorption problem that would strip my body of vitamins and minerals, pre-age me and kill me decades before I was to pass naturally. I didn’t want any of them.

But there was no guarantee.

I could die under surgery over my tonsils. I could be hit by a car tomorrow. Someone could break in and kill me. There were always the unknown; the question was “Was I brave enough to cross this one?”

Five months in, I posted in a Facebook support group with my indecision. I just didn’t know what to do. The feedback and responses were all positive, supportive, and understanding. Then one member dropped a bombshell that completely changed my stance.

The gastric bypass — also known as the Roux en Y — was reversible. Yes, in extreme cases, it could be done. After all, unlike gastric sleeve, the bypass does not remove 80% of the stomach. It would be possible to reconnect the bypassed section and alter the intestines again.

It helped… so much. I entered the program fully, signed up for the surgery, met all the requirements and got approved in December. January 7th, I had the surgery, full of anxiety and fear. I just did not want to die.

Just before they took everything away — my personal items — I burned the photo of my smiling son into my memory. I wanted my brain to remember this, to remember to live, to fight to survive. Then I was wheeled into the operating room.

When I woke up, I felt a relief in my heart and soul. I survived, there were no complications. I am two weeks and change post-op.

I did this for my health. To have the much needed tonsil surgery, to fix my sinuses and septum. To slim down enough to be healthy and active for my son. Being slender, smaller, maybe happier in my body, is just icing on the cake.

Bariatric surgery is not for everyone. I need to stress this so much. Being fat in itself is not unhealthy. It is so possible to be healthy and fat. It is possible to be skinny and unhealthy. Doctors, too often, look at weight as the cause without ever stopping to think it may be a symptom of some undercover health problem. Or maybe, they need to look past the number on the scale and look at the person.

I made this choice. I accept it. I accept the consequences of it. But I picked it as my last resort — for me.

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