The Aftermath

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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.

This is the Bad, Forbidden, Much Too Soon Otter Pop, and also my incentive spirometer and kitty cat pajama pants.

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!

This is the Legit Allowed Otter Pop of Awesomeness

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.

Operation

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So the next morning bright and/or early we presented to the hotel lobby bearing all of our luggage and for the last time we with our entire stomachs took a minibus ride across Tijuana.

Once at the hospital we were brought into a room, made to strip down and don voluminous navy blue backless gowns, and had IV lines placed, whereupon boredom set in. We killed the time by having quiet internal panic attacks, as one does.

TLR IS DEFINITELY NOT PANICKING INTERNALLY
I AM SUPER NOT FREAKING OUT

Soon enough The Lovely Rhonda was taken back for the procedure. We locked eyes as she was taken out in a giant bariatric patient wheelchair. Was this the end??

I remained calm, very calmly calming there in my adjustable hospital bed, certainly not reconsidering the fact that I was willingly submitting to having about two thirds of my precious beautiful stomach mercilessly hacked off and discarded in Mexico and was this really a good idea? I mean was it?

Alas, we’ll never know if keeping it was the right thing to do because suddenly it was my turn to climb into the roomy wheelchair and be ferried to the abattoir, I mean operating room. The adorable nurse who pushed me along the gleaming hallways spoke enough English to complain about one corner that was especially difficult to maneuver around.

Presently I was settled into yet another hospital bed in a strangely dim waiting area that shared space, interestingly, with the scrub sink they used to clean the roughly hundred and fifty instruments (I could be exaggerating) used in this procedure. The clattering of long metal items being dumped into the sink and the loud hiss of the sprayer used to clean them made the whole experience a touch jarring. The companionable chattering of the nurses and techs and the familiar music (Journey’s Open Arms, inexplicably) took the edge off a bit. I felt drastically unprepared for this escapade. I wondered if any patient had ever stood up off the gurney and just noped out of there. I wondered if maybe the first one would be me.

Further jarring was when they wheeled my lovely, groaning bride from the OR. I told them that TLR was my wife and asked how it went; they were very kind and let me see her briefly although this was a bit wasted on me since I am hella nearsighted and I was made to leave my glasses in our room. From what I could gather through my Mr. Magoo squinting, she was propped up and out cold. Nonetheless they assured me she was doing well and the operation was uncomplicated.

By and by the surgeon, a distinguished older gentleman, came by to make small talk and assure me that everything would begin soon and I’d be fine.

My turn! They indicated that I was to walk to the operating table and climb aboard. It was rather high and I am springing-impaired (see: missing hamstring, arthritic joints, strictly decorative inflexible non weight bearing feet) so they dragged over a little step stool for me.

Operating tables, even for the Traditionally Built patient, are incredibly skinny, I remember thinking. Also: they won’t even see my amusing Star Wars tattoos because they made me wear these dumb support stockings. And: this is all happening too quickly.

The very nice anesthetist gave me my “shot of tequila” and I was off into the darkness.

The Thing Which We Are Doing

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So now we’re on the World’s Smallest Airplane flying to an Undisclosed Mexican Location (actually Tijuana) to commence the next phase of our multifaceted lives.

I hate to fly and there is turbulence and this is a small plane so you can imagine how much fun I’m currently having. All the other passengers are blithely staring at their devices as if these are merely Air Potholes and not Potentially Crash Inducing Weather Anomalies.

IT’S OKAY, EVERYONE, I’LL JUST FOCUS ALL MY PSYCHIC ENERGY ON KEEPING THIS BE-WINGED ALTOIDS TIN IN THE AIR, YOU ALL JUST RELAX NOW

Anyway, from here we’ll land in San Diego for the arduous trek into Mexico. By which I mean that our assigned shuttle driver Arthur will pick us up in a conveyance (hoping for a horse and buggy, but it’s most likely a minibus) and ferry us across the border. I have already had several text messages from Arthur. We are practically engaged now.

Starting yesterday morning we began the clear liquids only diet. I have learned some things about myself and Rhonda during this phase of the process. Namely: one of us gets hangry and one of us does not. I’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out which of us is which. (Hint: it’s not me)

This morning was a little hectic and we only managed to suck down a little sugar free jello for breakfast. As we passed through the airport we spotted a Vietnamese restaurant in the food court and bought some pho broth from them which turned out to be very tasty. Bear in mind that I haven’t eaten real food in close to 48 hours at this point so you could probably pour cold hot dog water out of an old boot and I’d drink it.

The air hostess has just issued some helpful tips for those passengers who are not fans of “our little rollercoaster ride” so now I know where to find the air sickness bag to hurl my airport Vietnamese restaurant broth into should that become necessary. I am strangely not super comforted by this announcement.

We’ve landed and are currently having chest CT scans to make sure we don’t have the ‘rona. The cost: a princely 79 bucks each. This place is interesting.

The room where it happens
Random hyperbaric chamber. Deadpool, where are you?

Now we’re at the Baja Hospital, where we’ll actually have surgery tomorrow, for bloodwork and EKGs. This place is squeaky clean and the floors are shiny and probably slippery as hell when wet. Having sacrificed a significant portion of my left hamstring to the Slippery Floor Gods, I am hyper aware of these things.

The nurse was tickled by my Star Wars themed tattoos and admitted, as she emphatically jabbed my arm to extract blood, that she wanted a tattoo but was afraid of the pain.

Then it’s on to the hotel where there is, according to bariatric patient lore, AMAZING BROTH at the restaurant across the street.

Update: the restaurant, Fonda Argentina, did have decent broth. I don’t know that I’d call it AMAZING, but it was pretty good. You know what looked pretty amazing though? The filet mignon that our traveling companion/nursemaid Joni had, and the little basket of bread rolls, and the little cup of garlic olive oil pesto kind of stuff. And the little sandwiches she made out of the leftovers to have tomorrow. THAT looked amazing.

After our broth dinner, during which I also drank a full-sugar Coca Cola that made me almost giddy, we made our way back to the hotel with two more servings of broth to go. There we ordered a few of what they call our “benefits,” which is a special menu of broth, popsicles, and apple juice just for us Traditionally Built ladies and gents to enjoy before and after surgery. (Rumor has it that the hotel broth isn’t as good as the restaurant broth so now we’re snobby about it.) After consuming our broth and a couple of popsicles, as well as the Coke with dinner-broth, I am well assured that I’ll be getting up at least once in the all too brief night.

This hotel is pretty nice and has a lot more amenities on the bathroom counter than I’m used to seeing at US hotels these days. For example, behold the dental care kit and, my favorite, the SHEWING KIT.

In case you get a rip in your TROUSHERS

Now we’re tucked into bed, at 9pm, because our assigned time to be picked up to go to the hospital is FOUR FORTY-FIVE A.M. in the actual MORNING. Joni reminded us gleefully that we’ll lose an hour tonight so there’s that too.

Are we really doing this?

Taste explosions

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One thing I’m noticing about not eating carbs and sugar is that when I eat fresh food, it tastes AMAZING.

Like, I had some stir fried shramps* the other day and they were FUCKING INCREDIBLE. Like, I’m still thinking about them.

Maybe it was the marinade: so easy. A couple tablespoons of soy sauce, some ginger out of a tube, some fresh garlic run through the nifty 4-in-1 garlic press/nutcracker/bottle opener/cherry pitter that I picked up in Soviet Russia lo these many years ago, and a dash of rice wine vinegar. Stir fry that up with them dang shramps, some veg and GOOD LORD Y’ALL, DIG IN!

Buuuuuut like so many things, it turns out we aren’t supposed to have anything fried AT ALL. Not even responsibly sautéed in a little bit of olive oil. So I’m going to have to rethink that. Maybe a dash of olive oil pan spray? Is that loopholery? I don’t know. It feels like it’s not because it doesn’t really add any oil to the dish…

Similarly, we can eat all the non starchy vegetables we want, so salads are a huge part of my life. A salad made with tons of chopped up bell peppers (esp red or orange), radishes, tomatoes, and with the kind of dressing we can have (low or no fat, no sugar) — MY GOD, GET IN MY BOCA RIGHT NOW!

This is all pre-op. Post op, once you have gotten through the healing process and relearned how to eat, the rules are looser. But pre-op they are Not Screwing Around. You have your orders.

Do I miss cookies and cake and chips and all the things? Yes, yes I do, sometimes. But I’m trying not to focus on that because therein lies madness. I just try to turn that part of my brain off. (Like a light switch… you go “click”…)

*re: shramps — went to the meat/seafood counter of the store and bellied up to the case, told the guy I needed to buy some shramps. He said, “Some shramps? Sure!” and I was unreasonably excited by this. My life is good.

Protein shakes make me want to hurl

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So it turns out that so far 3/3 protein shakes that I’ve tried have been barftastic.

It’s not that I don’t WANT to like them, because they often smell delicious, and I want to do this and do it right — but the mere thought of drinking one just gives me the willies and not in a good way. Something about the texture? The weird aftertaste? They way they make my stomach churn?

I’m trying the third variety now, they are definitely variations on a theme but eventually I hope to find one that doesn’t actually made me gag.

Meanwhile the sugar and carb cravings can get intense but today I feel much clearer in my brain (no more “brain fog”) and kind of more energetic and able to focus than I was last week, and somewhat less nauseated over the course of the day. So far, anyway…

Day Two of Being in Hell

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So maybe it’s no secret to both of you, dear readers, that I have become a bit … plump over the past twenty years or so.

About 15 years ago there was a Something That Happened and it was hella stressful yo, and there were two things that got me through it: food, and World of Warcraft. My life was coming unraveled and I had a sweet precious one-year-old for whom I was suddenly the sole functioning parent, and I couldn’t lose my mind. So I made an actual conscious decision that whatever I could do to get through this that was a) legal and b) would not jeopardize my mental health, was fair game. And that included eating whatever I wanted, an any sufficient quantity, to dull the anxiety and emotional pain. I slept with the lights on, when I slept at all, and I had the TV going day and night, and I played WOW far into the night after the baby was in bed, and somehow we got through it all.

But, you know, not without a price.

Now I’ve shot past overweight and as any fat person can tell you, once you’ve put it on it’s really difficult to take it off. I’ve tried many approaches and it turns out that if the thing that keeps your brain from freaking the fuck out about literally everything is food, and lots of it, bad food with sugar and carbs all over the place, well, changing your relationship with food is going to be key and it’s also damn near impossible. I’d go into a bunch of different reasons/excuses/rationalizations but it’s on par with an addiction to drugs or alcohol. People with healthy relationships with food do not eat the way did.

Did I mention that I have anxiety? And then I found a medication that has been like a miracle, and while I still think a lot like an anxious person, the anxiety-brain part speaks a lot more quietly these days. So at least I have that going for me.

So a few weeks ago The Lovely Rhonda mentioned to me that she had decided that she was going to have weight loss surgery (WLS), namely a gastric sleeve procedure, and would I please go with her to Mexico for this? And I opened my mouth and what came out was, I’ll do it too.

(Backstory: she’s been thinking about this for years and I was not interested last time we talked about it, and then fast forward several years: we are both still struggling, and a friend of ours went to a very nice place in Mexico and for a very reasonable price got her procedure done, and now has dropped a significant amount of weight and is feeling great and off most medications. I am knocking on the door of diabetes and have been on blood pressure and cholesterol medications for some time now, and it’s all due to my weight and eating habits. Also: our medical insurance does not cover bariatric surgery and to do this in the US would cost at least five times as much.)

So we got in touch with the clinic in Mexico and went through the screening process and now we’re both scheduled to have this surgery on March 14th which is less than three weeks away.

I’m likening this whole thing with having a baby. You can read all about it, you can watch videos and documentaries, you can talk to friends and watch what it’s like. But until you have a baby yourself, you don’t really know shit about it. There’s no way to experience it ahead of time. It’s all encompassing and your entire life will change.

Preoperatively they have you go on this diet that is designed to shrink your liver down to normal size, because if you’re fat your liver is most likely fat as well. They have to go up behind your liver to get to your stomach so they want it to be as unobtrusive as possible. This diet is no fun. It’s basically no sugar, no carbs, no fatty foods. It’s lean meat (chicken, fish, or turkey), it’s non-starchy vegetables (so no potatoes, peas, corn, etc). It’s gallons of soup and mountains of fresh vegetables, all you can eat, and sugar free jello and popsicles, all you could want, and two or three protein drinks per day. Low carb protein drinks. So not like hey make a milkshake and add protein! And no fruit. Oh man, fruit is my friend. I love fruit. But no. Not now.

At my BMI I’m supposed to do this diet for two weeks before the surgery, but we decided to go with about three weeks. You do tend to lose some weight on the diet and why not make sure the liver is really in great shape? It’s not an unreasonable diet in terms of nutrition, no worse than your basic keto although more restrictive (no fatty steaks or bacon etc).

But now I have regrets, do you hear me? REGRETS.

I went to the grocery store this morning to pick up some odds and ends — pro tip, you can use a vanilla protein drink in place of that delicious sugary vanilla creamer you usually use in your coffee and it will almost but not quite fail to suck — and literally every single aisle I went down, and all the end caps and seasonal displays, were loaded with sugar and carbs. LOADED. And I’m not saying I was unaware of this before, because this is not my first go-round with quitting sugar, but hey is it ever thrown into sharp relief just now. It’s that pre-Easter time where they have all these Easter themed candy items in the seasonal aisle, that you are totally buying for the kids’ Easter baskets weeks in advance because you’re just that well organized and definitely not to furtively eat in the car or your office, and I walked through that aisle like it I was a death row prisoner, taking that last walk through the general population on my way to the electric chair.

Okay, probably some of my detached-weirdness about it was probably due to the keto brain fog that happens when you quit sugar. My entire body is screaming for sugar in all forms, and carbs in any form, and this is making me irritable and foggy. And headachey.

Once we get through the pre-op, which comes to a delightful head of three days of clear liquids only (and a laxative!), we will have surgery and receive sleek new stomachs that hate us, so it’ll be more clear liquids, followed by tiny dabs of pureed foods, and endless oceans of protein shakes until eventually we eat more or less like a normal person, i.e. in modest amounts and of nutritious foods, until death which at this point feels like it can’t come soon enough.

Yellowstone is pretty big, yo

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So we drove through part of Yellowstone the first day and saw gorgeous things, like so:

We spent another day driving through other parts of the park and still didn’t see it all, because it turns out that this park is rather larger than The Lovely Rhonda initially thought. So it goes!

Final score: 10/10, highly recommend.

Desperately Seeking Carwash

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So once we made our way out of beautiful Kellogg, Idaho, home of the shittiest motel rooms very little money can buy, we made our way to Bozeman, Montana.

“Why Bozeman?” you may wonder. I did also wonder that myself, but it turned out that we needed to visit the Museum of the Rockies. It’s quite a nice museum there at the university and it features a lot of dinosaur fossils. And one of the sprogs is way into paleontology.

The anonymous (middle) child takes a medication that has been upsetting her stomach. This, along with a tendency to get carsick, and further combined with a proclivity to have her face buried in her phone, led to an unfortunate incident the occurred as we made our way East, an incident that we shall call: The Pukening.

So if anyone needed an explanation of why the passenger side exterior of the Rental Minivan of Justice suddenly featured a plume of chunder all down the length of it, there you go.

Naturally we sprang into action, largely motivated by self preservation as we drove with all our heads out the window — except the poor unfortunate youngest child, who was trapped in the back seat of the RMoJ. The windows back there do not open. And she was downwind.

I’m pretty sure we defied the laws of physics getting into the nearest gas station where Barfy was able to go wash up and the rest of us dealt with the aftermath. Well, some of us did. Some of us scrubbed vomit off the side of the car with the window washing squeegee while others pumped gas into the car. But some of us aren’t bitter.

(Narrator: some of us are bitter.)

After some comprehensive scrubbing of the inside of the van door with disinfecting wipes, we motored cautiously on, and in due time we arrived in Bozeman where we stayed at a really perfectly adequate Comfort Inn.

Road Trip!

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So TLR and I packed up the young’uns into a rental minivan and took this show on the road yesterday morning. TLR has been in a frenzy of repressed plannage owing to the pandemic and the pressure has been intense, so one might have thought that everything would have been meticulously arranged down to the minutest of details, but we decided to take a different tack this time. So we really only know what we’re doing up to the day after tomorrow, and after that we have barely an inkling of what could happen.

We departed The Swamp a mere 25 minutes later than the ridiculously insane 8am that TLR demanded we leave. We first observed the traditions of our people and bought enormous lattes so that we’d have to stop at least hourly, thus fulfilling the recommendation that we stretch our legs frequently while traveling. It’s science!

Eventually after about seventeen million hours of driving (narrator: probably four hours) punctuated by at least two pit stops we reached Snoqualmie Falls, which as you might guess is a waterfall. We watched the river plunge majestically over the cliff for about thirty seconds and then we all had to pee again, so after a visit to the Little Road Trippers’ Room we forged on.

We made a pit stop in Spokane during which we had dinner with my dad at a newly opened Texas Roadhouse Restaurant. There we watched some deeply unpleasant people come unglued because their giant party could not all be seated together, in accordance with current regulations. We then drove on to the first of our painstakingly chosen accommodations, the T-rail M-otel.

Friends. You know that saying, “you get what you pay for”? Please take that saying to heart, because if you’re referring to a certain motel in Kellogg, Idaho, you’re going to want to remember it.

As an example, take a look at the highly technical and expertly installed television setup that greeted us:

State of the art home theater!

From here we move on to the luxurious sitting area, featuring a minimalist theme so authentic they have eschewed even the plebeian constructs of electrical outlet covers. Daring!

Fashionably austere!

Of course what’s a high end suite without a richly appointed bath?

The grunge look has come back in.

The view from the w.c. was inspiring as well.

Lavish!

The room also featured an art installation of taxidermied local wildlife.

Pretty sure this is a Chihuly.

Crooked = Bohemian

Also see that notice about “smoke free room”? It’s so accurate! Our rooms didn’t smoke at all! … the dudes next door did though.

And boy did we feel safe! Especially after we saw the three police officers patrolling the parking lot.

Up next: why we urgently need to find a car wash in Bozeman, Montana.