So it’s been a little over three weeks out. Where am I at here?
Today I’m wearing a shirt that previously fit over my ever expanding girth pretty well prior to surgery. Now it looks like I’m a kid wearing their dad’s shirt.
I’m wearing jeans that I stopped wearing a while back because they were uncomfortable. They are slightly loose around my knees and fit just fine.
I’ve lost 44 pounds.
I am branching out, trying little dabs of regular foods and so far it’s worked out fine. I am not great at drinking enough but I’m working on it. I usually get at least 60g of protein in per day which is the recommendation. Calorie wise I’m usually in the 600 per day range, which is creeping up to the recommended 800-1000 daily intake as I am able to eat more foods.
There’s a plateau that’s pretty common at about three weeks and sure enough, I’ve reached it. I get on the scale every day just out of curiosity — the weight loss is often very rapid and I’m interested in seeing how the numbers move, but I’m not worried if they don’t move — and the past three days there has been zero change.
Got the jalopy back from the shop today. She got a new battery and cables. So now she’s a) 1/5 clean on the inside, b) got reasonably clean wheels, and c) somewhat more likely to start reliably.
I got home and had juuuust enough time to do one tiny thing to it this evening before it got dark, so I got out my handy headlight restoration kit and painstakingly followed the instructions on the box. Well, except for the part where I didn’t use a cotton cloth because what I had handy was a microfiber shop rag. But other than that I did. I even got some blue painter’s tape so I didn’t slop any of the patented petroleum product onto the pristine paint.
Anyway I know both of you are interested in seeing the before and the after so here you go:
I mean, sure the paint is flaking off the hood and the interior still smells like Mildewy Eau de Construction Worker Dude, but check out those headlights, amirite??
So twenty years ago this August I bought my first brand-new car, a 2002 Mazda Protege5. They only made this model for two years and I have no idea why because it is a kick-ass car. Cute, sporty, good mileage, handles well, pretty much everything you could want right here.
I drove it around for 14 years and then we sold it to a friend’s son who was 19 or so at the time. We bought a Subaru Impreza and then traded it in three years later for another Impreza. The second Impreza hugely disappointed us when it required new rotors at a mere 34k miles, so we decided to offload it. Apparently the calipers are wider in certain models and that lets gravel get into the brakes and if you can’t hear it to knock it out of the brakes, it will destroy your rotors. Subaru did a one-time goodwill gesture and replaced them for free, but I’m not especially interested in a 800 dollar repair on a regular basis, hence the decision to get rid of it.
We ended up buying a big ass SUV to pull our camping trailer with and I’ll be putting some time/money into my 1965 Chevy BelAir, but in the meantime I need a car. We mentioned this to our friend in passing and she said, “Well, Lucas got a truck so he’s selling the Mazda. Do you want to buy it back?”
So a few days ago we took a small pile of cash over and came back with my old friend.
Friends, this car has seen some USE. Lucas works in construction and between a) thrashing around in crawlspaces and b) being a teen/young adult, he introduced a metric shit-ton (this is a real thing, the internet says so) of filth into the car and rarely (never?) cleaned it out.
Oh plus it developed a leak into the spare tire well in the way-back. So it was moist. And damp. I used the wet/dry vac to suck about a gallon of water out of it and the driver’s side taillight. So that’ll be fun to track down.
So, I rounded up some basic car-cleaning supplies and started The Big Swill-Out. I started with the passenger front seat and environs.
Using my trusty carpet cleaner, I tackled the seat and footwell. The water came out dark brown. Ew.
I wiped down the inside of the door and the dash area. I cleaned around the shift lever console area and cupholders. With a toothbrush and toothpicks. Ew ew ew.
At that point I was out of time/energy so I closed up shop.
Today I assembled my brand-new Blastmaster-9000 pressure sprayer (ok, it’s the cheapest one from Harbor Freight, but my needs are modest) and sprayed the beast down. Then I tackled the extra-filthy wheels.
Originally this car had beautiful shiny wheels that were super pretty, but then one of them actually broke in half and we couldn’t replace it. Well, maybe we could have, but it would have cost as much for one as we could spend on getting all four replaced, and if we’d only replaced one, it would have been all shiny and new and the others would have looked funny compared to it. So we replaced all four with a relatively inoffensive (and not too hard to clean because I have been down that road) set from whatever tire place we went to that day.
Friends, I am doing an unpaid endorsement here. We bought some Dawn Powerwash spray at Costco a while back and that stuff will wash the butt right off of the cat. I tried to wash the wheels using your typical car wash liquid, to no avail. Then I just sprayed them with this Powerwash stuff and let them sit for a while, and it was as though a MIRACLE OCCURRED.
The car looks totally different with clean wheels.
Of course, they are chewed up from a teenage boy developing his parallel parking skills for six years, but at least they’re clean?
I also spent some time scrubbing gunk out of the various exterior nooks and crannies with a toothbrush. Because I’m anal-retentive.
Next up: Washing and waxing the exterior. The paint may be oxidizing/peeling, but it can be shiny and water-repellant once more.
Oh and several more episodes of cleaning the interior spaces, and finding the trunk leak and repairing it.
Tuesday it gets a new battery and cables, because the battery that’s in it is from 2013 and has started sending acid down the cables and corroding them. At least that’s the theory. Anyway sometimes it doesn’t want to start until you get out and jam the cables up into the housings on the battery so off to the shop it goes.
But 40 pounds gone and today I fit into some pants that I ordered a while back. I was going to return them but forgot and now they fit. And my rings go on and off my fingers more easily — I used to have to soap up my wedding ring to take it off.
In other news, ate a jumbo shramp tonight. Just the one.
So yesterday I mowed the lawn. This may not seem like a big deal but I actually had the energy to go to the gas station and get gasoline for the mower, spend a bunch of time trying to start the mower, and then mow the backyard, which is not very large but still. And this was at the end of the day.
Starting to think this could be a really good thing, losing a bunch of weight and having energy to do things again.
So the deal with this tiny stomach is that the first couple of months are about healing and learning to eat again. The first week is clear liquids, then after about a week you can add liquids that are not clear (cream soups, runny mashed potatoes, etc) but are low in fiber and easy on your stomach. Slowly you progress through the stages of soft foods until you reach regular foods like anybody can eat, albeit in small tiny bites that you chew forever.
Right now, a little over two weeks out, my diet mainly consists of protein shakes made into smoothies via the Ninja blender. Protein shakes on their own have a weird texture, kind of slippery and just unnatural, and I’m not up for that. Like, atall.
One time when I was high school I was given Maalox for an upset stomach and the texture alone was enough to make me vomit. I stayed home from school that day and have never taken Maalox since. Then when the kids were little one of them picked up pinworms at the germ farm elementary school. The whole family had to take banana flavored medicine that turned out to also have the slippery texture. We stood in a circle of Family Solidarity when we took it, all at once like we were doing shots at a sports bar, and I almost didn’t get it down and the children almost ended up wearing my little cup of yellow anthelmintic. We were supposed to take a second dose a week or two later, but after nearly throwing up from the first one I decided I’d rather take my chances with the pinworms. (I’m happy to report that I dodged that bullet).
Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of the protein shakes largely because of this, so imagine my delight when I tried throwing half a banana, a few frozen blueberries, and some ice cubes into the Ninja with one and the result was halfway palatable!
This morning I tried a caramel shake with some PB2 peanut butter powder and it wasn’t bad. I think I’m on to something here! Which is great because on our pre-op quest to find protein shakes that I could stand, we tried a bunch of different brands and flavors and still have a shitload of them in the pantry fridge. Smoothie fodder for weeks!
In other news, the five fun new scabs on my belly itch like hell. I’m not tempted to scratch them because I don’t need an infection but dear God, I can’t wait for this part to end.
So the deal is that you spend a night at the hotel, then move to the hospital for two nights, then spend two nights in the hotel (where a nurse is on duty all day) before heading home.
When we arrived back at the hotel we were told that when we showered we should peel the bandages off in the shower, get soap on our hands, and wash our bellies with “just the bobbles”. Then we were to contact the nurse who would come bandage us back up. The nurse used giant swathes of paper medical tape which have left adhesive residue all over my belly. My new hobby is peeling it off when I’m on hold. I work alone in my home office so this is somewhat less repellant than it may sound.
The last day in Tijuana we went to a salon belonging to the practice owner’s brother and had our nails done.
The Lovely Rhonda and Joni had massages — they can do a modified version that doesn’t involve laying on your stomach for post surgical patients — while I opted for a facial.
I’ve never had a facial before. I think I might have enjoyed it more if the tiny woman who gave me the facial had not had extremely cold minuscule doll-like hands, but it was still enjoyable and I gotta say, my face was extra smooth for days. I didn’t even know it was so crenelated until it was relieved of all of its crömsty bits.
Also: I am lotion-impaired. I hate the smell and texture of nearly all unguents and resist using them unless absolutely necessary, so this involved possibly more goopy products being smeared on my visage than has ever cumulatively been smeared on it in all my considerable years.
Once we were all oiled up etc we were delivered back to the hotel and, after another broth meal at the restaurant across the street, spent the rest of the evening crocheting and watching Despicable Me 2 because it was either that or a crime show about murders. There isn’t a lot in English on Mexican TV so I was thrilled to find something than wasn’t a crime show.
In the morning we crossed the border in the program’s minibus (still no horse and cart, more’s the pity) where we were constantly implored to purchase genuine Mexican knickknacks from the many street vendors as we inched forward in a long line of vehicles. It took about an hour of waiting in the van and then thirty seconds of having our passports scrutinized to actually cross, then we were driven to the airport where we had missed our flight due to a misunderstanding about what time we were to be in the program office at the hotel vs. what time we would actually be departing for the border crossing. We got onto another flight and finally arrived home around 6pm.
It was the last flight we’ll ever need seatbelt extenders. Which is funny because we only just gave in and bought them earlier this year, right before we decided to get the surgery.
So we were allowed to take a companion to Mexico for this ordeal surgery. The deal is that the companion stays in your hotel room and unless you pay extra to keep the room, stays with you in the hospital as well. Technically we could bring a companion each, but we really didn’t need two people to witness this spectacle.
We chose our friend Joni, a stalwart friend from nursing school who was present the night The Lovely Rhonda and I met at an informative dinner about leukemia and lymphoma. (Ah, romance!) Joni was happy to get out of town for a bit and we were more than happy to pay airfare so it was an agreeable arrangement all the way around.
Joni basically got me started crocheting a few years back so it is to her that I owe my enjoyment of this hobby that now consumes a fairly comprehensive amount of my living space. She also is the reason it takes up so much of my living space, what with the giant boxes of yarn that she brought us recently. I’m not complaining but gosh darn it, it’s a lot of yarn. And yarn is hard to store.
At any rate, Joni spent two glorious days in the hospital with us, making us get up and shuffle the zombie walk up and down the corridors, nagging us to do our inventive spirometers, fluffing our pillows, handing us things. Rhonda was sick once or twice and it’s a true friend who handles that for you. The sleeping arrangements for the companion consists of a blocky hospital chair that, by way of a cunningly incomprehensible mechanism, becomes flat. Despite these Spartan accommodations she appeared to sleep well. This just attests to the durable sort of woman that she is.
It wasn’t all toil and tribulation. She accompanied us on the shopping excursion and the shop keepers plied her with the tequila that we couldn’t drink, and she had some quite nice meals. She bought the most enormous purple bag to tote yarn around in. This may have compensated a bit for the heavy lifting she had to do periodically, as we are unable to lift more than twenty pounds for the next six weeks. Luckily we have rolling suitcases so we were able to handle our own bags most of the time but when it came time to lift those bags the six inches onto the scale at the airport check in, Joni was there for us.
So here’s to Joni, without whom the experience would have been far less comfortable. A true friend and most excellent traveling companion!
So the next morning, dear reader(s), we were sprung from the joint. We put on Real Clothes, packed up the suitcases, and got our IVs taken out in preparation for the full day ahead of us: back to the hotel, a shower because we were getting pretty ripe by now, and a trip to the farmacia and city tour.
In Mexico you can buy pharmaceuticals over the counter that are not available here without a prescription, and in some cases are controlled substances. Our purpose for going to the Interestingly Lax Mexican Drug Laws Drugstore was, alas, none of the more exciting options such as Xanax, Viagra, or Toradol. We were there for omeprazole. We will have to take 20mg twice a day for months, or possibly forever, and it’s much cheaper in Mexico. As an example, at Walmart you can buy omeprazole 20mg in a multi-pack of 42 tablets for about 15 bucks. In Tijuana we bought bottles of 200 capsules (same diff) for about ten dollars.
But if it’s medically necessary, you may wonder, won’t your insurance maybe cover it?
Oh honey, that is just so cute. Our insurance won’t cover anything related to bariatric surgery. We have to be careful to have our medical providers to code things such as follow up labs for other (equally valid and correct) reasons unrelated to having had bariatric surgery or it’ll get rejected and we’ll be on the hook for the costs. As an example, I will set up a follow up appointment for medication adjustments related to the weight loss I’m already experiencing from pre-op and the surgery itself, and I could be paying full price for the appointment if my provider isn’t willing to work with me about it. She’s pretty cool so I’m hopeful that I won’t have to find a new provider.
Anyway, a shitload of omeprazole and vitamin B-12 shots later we boarded the bus for a touristy shopping area where we made a few purchases. The Lovely Rhonda relishes the bargaining whereas I find it stressful, so she generally handles this part. As we left the shops we stopped at a restaurant where we enjoyed delicious broth (it being the Broth Tour of Tijuana, after all) and the highlight of the day, pineapple agua fresca — basically fresh pineapple juice and water with ice, so refreshing! It took me all the rest of the evening to drink a 16oz glass.
Some realities about post surgical life with a gastric sleeve – there’s not that much pain, just soreness from the procedure. They poke you full of holes and inflate your belly so they have room to work, then use clever little long-handled tools to reach inside, cut about 2/3 of your stomach away, and sew what’s left into a little banana-shaped sleeve. Needless to say, your belly is not a huge fan of this process. We got pain medication, anti nausea medications, and antibiotics in our IVs in the hospital and were sent home with some oral medications as well. One week later I am able to do most typical household type things without much discomfort, like do laundry and get in and out of the car, and bend over to pick something up off the ground or get out of a chair, but my belly is covered with bruises and adhesive leftover from all the tape they plastered on me each time they bandaged up the little holes. I have five cunning little laparoscopic incisions, including the one from the drain. I’m fortunate in that my lowest puncture is above my belly button and my highest is below the bra area, so my clothes don’t really rub on them. I ended up with dermabond on my incisions which was interesting in that we are instructed to bring it with us if we want to have it applied to our wounds and I didn’t bring any. The nurse later told me sometimes people bring extra and it doesn’t go home with them, so they may just end up using it on random patients. I still put band-aids on them because they are rough and catch my shirt and it’s unpleasant.
Gas becomes the enemy after a sleeve procedure. Who knew that my ability to belch like a longshoreman would become my superpower! I mean, you give it up from both ends, but it’s the gas in what’s left of your tiny little stomach that causes the most distress. The Mating Call of the Redheaded Lesbian serves me well to this day.
At this point I’ve lost about thirty pounds, twenty from the pre-op diet and another ten since leaving for Tijuana. My jeans, which were recently getting pretty snug, are fitting better and even starting to get baggy by the end of the day.
So the next thing I recall clearly was being back in the room. I don’t remember getting there and I hadn’t seen Rhonda being brought back in so I am personally unsure of the methods used therein. Here is the lore according to the wife:
TLR recalls that they wheeled me in in a wheelchair, stopped it by my bed, and just told me to get into bed. She is very protective of me and was so disturbed that they weren’t helping me that she got up from a dead sleep, got out of her own bed, and coached me into bed (“Grab the rail honey! Go toward the light!” Etc) at which point they started assisting me. I am told that once I was safely in bed I immediately conked out, which I find entirely believable since I don’t remember anything until a while later and nothing at all about the process of returning to the room.
The first day was pretty much a blur, lots of sleeping and having vitals taken and IVs swapped out. We were forced to march the halls twice by our friend/nursemaid Joni because she is mean. And didn’t want us to get pneumonia. Whatever.
At some point we were told we could have a Popsicle, which was incorrect, and this made TLR sick.
I had some nausea at one point and definitely some wicked bad heartburn, but otherwise felt just sleepy. As long as I didn’t move any part of my body, it was as though nothing had happened. I slept that night like a dead body thanks to the anesthesia drugs that were still working their way out of my body.
In the morning we were given a very small amount, perhaps an ounce, of very dark purple beverage and told to sip it down. (They encourage sipping, not gulping, with the new tiny stomach situation.) If any purple color appeared in the surgical drain dangling at my left side, this would indicate a leak in my stomach. I studiously avoided looking at my surgical drain at all times so I have no way of knowing myself whether any purple appeared there, but one assumes that it was noted by the nurse who emptied the drain. No news is good news, amirite?
A bit later that morning we were taken to have a fluoroscope of our stomachs which was taken standing as we consumed a bit of contrast medium. This was the more definitive leak test which we both passed. Cleared for popsicles for real this time!
Passing the leak test also means you get your drain out. If you’ve never had a surgical drain, they aren’t especially nice. They don’t really hurt, per se, but they don’t feel nice. Getting them taken out is quick and also not especially nice. Imagine a small tube bumping up against your tender organs as it is yanked away. Or maybe don’t imagine it, if you’re squeamish. TLR said a Bad Word when hers was removed which prepared me for the fun times ahead. I did not say a swear but I wanted to.
The remainder of the day passed in a slow motion blur of shuffling up and down the halls, failing to use the incentive spirometer quite enough, and learning how a swollen, healing brand-newly-tiny stomach responds to minute sips of various liquids. The answer: it twitches, and gurgles, and lurches strangely. Then if you’re lucky you’ll burp up a gas bubble and things will settle down, until the next time. Which should be every few minutes in order to get enough fluids into us.