recover(y)(ing)

I’m four weeks post-op from my brachioplasty today and it sort of feels like I just got home from the hospital, but also like it was last year.

The day itself is blurry, I remember us leaving around 5 am to get into the city without too much traffic, which is kind of impossible no matter when you leave, and then having to wait for three months until they took me back.

I remember being hungry – “staaaaarving!” – anxious and freezing.

Despite it being my fourth surgery in the last five or so years, I questioned the anesthesiologist about the likelihood of my waking up during the procedure, I made jokes that a tired nurse laughed at, and someone put my nose ring in a biohazard bag. Three different people promised to go out and get Steve for me, but didn’t.

I remember feeling more anxious but simultaneously relieved when my doctor came in, by the time he finished measuring and drawing on me with a sharpie, his pocket tape measure unraveled and he laughed and he tossed it on the table in a way I remember being so funny – a la Andy Samberg throwing a piece of cake on the ground, but underhanded and not so aggressive – I’m a little high. He told me about his favorite nurses and his excellent intern that would be with him, we talked for a few more minutes since we’re old friends now, and he got Steve and we basically all said goodbye.

Rubbery plastic Bane-esque mask over my mouth and nose that smelled like a beach ball, “You can talk to us, it’s fine, just take a deep breath” …. “This things smells kind of like a bea….”

…four hours later …

My head is heavy, my arms are tight, like really tight and the cutest older nurse is trying to get me out of the bed into a chair. Steve’s back and my doctor and his intern are in jackets in front of me – I remember saying “Are you guys wearing jackets?” and them saying they went to lunch or something – and then my doctor said a bunch of things I misremembered for the following week.

I could barely stay awake on the drive home, and kept nodding off and then waking up asking very specifically for a “Java Chip Frappuccino” from Starbucks. Of course he got it for me, dropped my prescriptions off, took me home, went back for my prescriptions and some Gatorade and stool softener. (Maybe that’s TMI for you, but if you’re ever going to have surgery and be on pain medication you’ll be happy to have it!) I fell asleep sitting up on the couch and eventually moved to the bed where I still slept sitting up.

One drain in each arm, ace bandages tight around the tops and a compression bra/garment over that. Two days later I got to peel it all off (except the drains) and shower. The whole process took over an hour, drains pinned to a lanyard around my neck, and required a nap almost immediately after. But by the next day I’m taking Tylenol, instead of prescription pain pills.

I could wash my own hair, didn’t need any help in the bathroom and had free reign over the kitchen since I had no restriction on range of motion, so cooking (and eating!) was slower, but doable. I just couldn’t lift anything heavier than my coffee pot.

The drains remain the worst part. Hanging from above each elbow from what are basically puncture wounds and keeping me from being able to move as freely as I felt I could. At my two week follow up, my doctor greeted me with a goofy smile and “How are those drains?” To which I replied “I hate you.”

He took them out, examined his work and said everything was healing nicely.  What I didn’t expect, was for him and excellent intern to each start ace wrapping one of my arms starting at the hand and going all the way up to my armpit. Wouldn’t have been half as bad if I wasn’t told to leave them on constantly until the following week when I was to come back.

With the intention of transparency, that day was the only time I experienced any pain, and it was when me got home and I could feel the wrap rubbing against the incision and I cried a little.

Surprisingly, I have yet to ask how much skin and fat he removed, how many stitches might have been used or to see a photo.

And to be super transparent – my mood was totally dampened by the now constant wrapping and the itchy, tight feeling it gave me almost non-stop. I started getting crabby more frequently and “turding out” as we coined it. (This is basically acting like a turd). I would turd out occasionally after my panniculectomy too; when I couldn’t do something, or had to do something that was impeded even slightly by the wrap or binder or inability to flail around fluidly. At one point last week I violently shimmied my body against the doorway while shouting “I’m just so fucking itchy!” and until a few days ago, these swollen, scabbing, wrapped up arms didn’t look any different to me.

I knew they were but I couldn’t fully see it.

One hot shower and photo shoot later I got my brain together and am obsessed with them.

3BAF0C2E-3D8B-4787-9122-02B209E5AAAE

I’m still tired and wrapped from hand to pit, but I can sleep laying down, on my side even! I can do everything I need to except comfortably wear a normal shirt over my garment – I’m glad that the pile of tank tops I never wore and had in a goodwill pile never made it there. Partly because I’ve been living in them and partly because I might actually wear them now.

My bank account and my mental health need a little time to regroup, so the thighplasty I have scheduled for April is getting pushed until the summer. I need time to mentally prepare for potentially swollen calves and toes and who only knows what type of compression garment!

Plus, recovery from surgery, no matter how elective or exciting is exhausting and can be depressing. I need some time to be back in a routine and move my body before putting it on the bench for another few weeks. Please remember that if you are considering any procedure, weight loss wise or plastic surgery.

I’ve only been back to work for three days and I’m exhausted, but my skin is looking less like that of a shut in, I put makeup on and wore shoes that aren’t my slippers, and I have a follow up next week (I should probably bring him a treat for saying I hated him – because I so don’t) that should alter my current wrap situation, so my mood is up.

Swollen arms and hands, misshapen and uncomfortable forearms, temporary limited movement and drains aside; I almost can’t think of a better decision I’ve made in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

armed.

In the midst of a seven thousand step Zumba class last year I took my zip up off to avoid certain death, but the slapping of my arms and the fear that everyone could see it and hear it was enough to take the fun out of it and get me back into my sweat soaked jacket.

I can count, maybe on both hands the people who have seen me in something intentionally sleeveless or short sleeved in my lifetime. That list basically includes my mother, my boyfriend, any doctor I’ve seen and the occasionally friend or family member. Oh – and a nice older lady measuring me in the Victoria’s Secret dressing room.

I barely own anything with short sleeves, and what I do has a coordinating layer. I haven’t owned a bathing suit in at least ten years (save for last summer when I crashed my parents beach vacation) and aside from a handful of unfortunate bridesmaids dresses, business casual tops for funerals and interviews (again covered) my wardrobe is all long in the sleeve.

I used to harass my mother about an outfit that wasn’t long sleeved repeatedly from the time I put it on until I would walk out the door, sometimes even going back in to ensure that she “wasn’t lying” about how I looked, or worse, that she “wasn’t lying about lying”.

I wore the long sleeved shirt or the optional uniform sweater practically every day of my high school career. I’ve had to wear promotional or uniform t-shirts for restaurant jobs that would make me so uncomfortable that I would consider calling out sick, or saying I forgot it knowing they might not have another one on hand in my size. I would sweat my way through bbq’s, push up the sleeves of things to make them more weather appropriate and ‘throw something over’ almost anything I wore.

I may have single-highhandedly kept Old Navy in business with my cardigan purchases over the years.

I have fantasized about upper arms toned enough for tattoos and tank tops or dresses. I have had more people that I can remember offer to take my jacket or ask if I was hot, or comment on my layers.

I’ve gotten better over the last few years, mostly since my smaller body makes me feel less bad about my not smaller arms. I’ve worn things outside of my comfort zone to avoid extreme discomfort or sweating to death. But I still cloak their soft, flabby hanging skin in jean jackets, zip ups and long sleeves. Winter, summer, spring and fall. Not (always) in the privacy of my own home, but for the most part, all day every day.

You would think (I know I did) that losing nearly ninety pounds, having your protruding folds of abdominal skin and fat removed and being able to grab things off the rack in size medium and large I’d be living the good life. And I am, but have also been unable to buy things that otherwise fit because they constricted my upper arms to the point that the sleeve would roll up and practically cut off my circulation, or expose so much of my arm flab that it would double on itself and look, for lack of a better word, gross.

I assumed, even as recently as last year that I would spend the rest of my life in a long sleeved prison, unable to muster the confidence it would take to expose my arms or to find clothes that fit me as well in the body as the arm  – uncomfortable with the skin pinching itself or slapping when I move too quickly.

I’ve been mostly okay with it given everything else I have gained as a result of my weight loss journey. Turns out, I don’t have to be. I am being freed this week.

So soon, in fact, that forty-eight hours from now I will likely be out of surgery and on my way to being discharged to the comfort of my couch.

I’m in a state of excitement mixed with anxiety; I’m not afraid of anesthesia or hospitals, I’m a surgery junky by this point. I am however unable to imagine a body that has ‘normal’ arms – nondescript, average sized arms – since for dozens of years I have pulled, poked and flapped them in frustration. I probably won’t be able to picture it, no matter how many times I pinch it or pull it back in the mirror, until I see it with my own eyes.

armedI’m not one for New years resolutions; not on my fattest day or in my saddest year, but I am armed with complete confidence when I say that I will be leaving my arm flab and related anxiety in 2017 and braving some short sleeved tops in 2018.

 

super fat.

I have been fat my whole life.

It’s not an exaggeration; I was an almost eleven pound baby, and according to a recently consulted baby book I was eighty-four pounds when I was six years old.

I come from a family of celebrators; someones birthday or a holiday, expect a gathering, with more than enough food, invitations extended beyond the family and of course a dessert or four.

In the happy and loving upbringing I have had, the main negative is just that I was fat. Not counting that pesky obesity gene I was predisposed to, there wasn’t any one thing or person that made me that way either. It was just who I was and I (mostly) accepted it.

I accepted it in that way that you know something can change, but you’re not sure how to do it or what the outcome will be but you try until it’s too much. Like when you string all the lights up on your Christmas tree and two strings don’t blink, or light up at all. You want a beautifully lit tree, and you have the equipment for it, but it’s out of sorts so you unscrew a bulb here, or there … then you unplug the strings and re plug them into other ones … you google it, you make three trips to two different stores for new strings, you dismantle the whole thing and start over and finally, eventually it works and you have your lit tree. Or maybe you say “Fuck it, it’s my tree, this is how it is” and accept it dead bulbs and all.

I lived in a hazy sort of middle ground between the two.

I was obsessively counting calories, taking fat burners or prescription diet pills, cutting out entire food groups, worrying about how I looked, counting points, weighing myself twice a day, overthinking how I looked, how I felt or feeling bad about something I ate or sorrowful over something I didn’t …. or none of that at all.

When I reminisce about fat me, or refer to my former self as fat, or obese people scoff. When I share a comparison photo of an obviously morbidly obese me next to a normal sized me, people say things about how pretty I always was, or how hard I am being on myself. Comments like “You were heavy, but you were tall” or that laughable “…but you have big bones” or just brushing it off as though I only carried around an extra twenty pounds.

I assume it’s because people don’t want to hurt my feelings, or come off sounding rude, but let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. I’m not woe as me, I don’t think I was ugly, or useless, and I’m not looking for compliments, I’m just telling it like it is.

When people look back and say “I was ten years old” or “When I lived in California” or “That was in high school”, it’s the same thing to me. I was large.

Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m crazy. Like I am the one who is inaccurately remembering myself.

I am two or three glasses into a bottle of wine, half eaten tortilla chip in one hand while my other hand is knuckle deep into some goat cheese with a cracker. I am siting across from one of my favorite people telling her a story about I don’t even remember what, but I say “I mean I was a super fat miserable bitch back then, so…” and she cuts me off.

“No way, you weren’t a miserable bitch…” I lick cheese off of my hand as she continues “…super fat, definitely, but…”

We erupt in laughter. She goes on … “What? You were … (she motions with her hands)…super fat. But also, super cool, super funny and I instantly loved you.”

She popped the rest of a cracker in her mouth and took a swig of her wine. She shrugged as if to say “just the facts, ma’am” and we peppered it in to conversation for the rest of the night.

I kept bringing it up and feigning hurt feelings. Honestly though, of all the conversations I have had with people about my weight, of all the the times I have referred to my former fat self and been reprimanded for using so called “bad” words to describe myself, this time was the most refreshing. It was the first time anyone was like, ‘Yea you were, but you were also X, Y and Z’. She didn’t try to talk me out of it, or pretend it wasn’t that way – she just reminded me that it was just a part of who I was.

Maybe I leave that out sometimes, maybe I come across as though I forget who I was, or maybe it seems like I think I was just a fat person with nothing to offer or that I let that define me.

I don’t. I know that I have been many things to many people.

I know who I am; I know I have always been smart, and funny and well loved.

I’ve been kind and nurturing and crass and creative.

I’ve been happy and supportive and a dozen other adjectives, and if we’re all being honest; one of those was super fat.

 

nip // tuck

Earlier today I was trying to figure out how many remaining vacation days I have that may pay out when my current job ends in a few weeks.

In a conversation with a friend, I say “Aside from my sick days, I’m pretty sure I only took one day off this year, the day after I drove to NY. I also took a half day when I went to see my plastic surgeon, but I stayed late a few times to make up for it.”

Possibly the most bizarre sentence I ever uttered.

My plastic surgeon.

I guess it’s not that weird, but the way it just rolled off my tongue like you would say “my mechanic”, “my hairdresser”, or “my mailman.”

I’m like “Hey, you need something nipped or tucked? I know a guy!”

I let him mark me up, knock me out and cut off seven pounds of flabby excess skin and fat on my abdomen; we have plans to do it on other parts another time or two as well.

I’ve questioned my decision a few times, as I never thought of myself as a vain person, and I don’t care so much about how I look, but how I feel.

Last year I had a panniculectomy, which removed the flap of fat that, even after losing 80 pounds still disrupted any outfit I tried to wear, got in the way when I attempted running, hung around haunting me like a scar that wouldn’t fade –  and I was damn sure it almost flung off my body during Zumba once. Add in the rashes and general discomfort and I don’t feel so so bad about it.

Now that it’s gone though? My thighs are in plain sight to me and WOOF. Doughy, flabby, hangy; a little painful and a lot keeping me from shorts and too far above the knee skirts or dresses. Slapping and rubbing together eighty percent of the time.

My upper arms have been a source of frustration, sadness and severe sweating through the summers for as long as I could remember. I think I single handedly kept the production of Old Navy cardigans going because I was always buying them, in every color, year round. As they became smaller, they surprisingly only got worse; loose and hanging, getting pinched during hugs, noisily flapping doing almost anything and I merely traded cardigans for light zip ups and jean jackets.

I’ve thought about it, I’ve put off getting the surgery dates in the books but I’ve decided I’m not vain. I’m not trying to look like anyone else, or impress anyone. I’m just trying to be as comfortable as possible in the skin I worked so hard to deflate.

shhh!

I think everyone has what I refer to as situational anxiety on occasion. Some of us more than others, some of us more severely, or less severely than others. But, I definitely think that everyone experiences mild anxiety sometimes.

Like one morning a few weeks back, when I had to put air in my car tires and my brain played a scenario is which I over-filled the tires and one popped in my face and I died in the Speedway parking lot.

You can laugh, but I’m not kidding.

The whole drive over I was pep talking myself, like ‘Okay, but if you don’t put air in, one could pop while you’re driving on the highway today and you could die, or kill someone, so you really don’t have a choice…”

Or almost any time I use a sharp knife, I visualize accidentally cutting my finger off right before I use it. (Maybe that’s just weird, not anxiety)

I was prescribed medication for my not so situational, more like constant anxiety in 2014 and I took it for about a year, at which point I had lost a good portion of my excess weight, was on the verge of quitting my less than thrilling and somewhat stressful job, and my occasional depression was also under control.

In the first few days that I was taking said medication, I had my first visit with the surgeon who would eventually perform my gastric sleeve. In advance of the appointment, and really with any appointment you have with them, they encouraged you to bring a “support person” if that would ease any tension, or help you stay focused on any concerns or questions.

I never dragged Steve along to any of them, except the actual surgeon appointment. So he could ask any questions, and meet her prior to her removing half of my stomach.

In the days leading up to the appointment, I replayed the routine. Every appointment I had was the same, they weighed you.

Every time.

Every office.

Every appointment.

When I had back to back appointments I would sometimes be weighed multiple times in one afternoon.

I immediately tensed up.

He would be there.

He would see them weigh me.

He would see the giant digital output on the scale.

He can’t come with me.

He can’t see.

He can’t know.

I mean, in retrospect the whole thing was ridiculous, because we had been living together for a few years at this point and it’s not like I was head-to-toe Spanx all day every day and he didn’t know I was overweight.

Also, uhhhh, he was coming to a doctor’s appointment about having weight loss surgery.

Still.

The number.

The fear.

The shame.

The anxiety.

I sent an email to my surgeon’s physician assistant who I had met with before, and expressed my concern.

“I know this is going to sound silly…” I started out

“Don’t worry, it’s more common than you think and we will take your vitals privately” she noted in her response.

Whew.

The day of the appointment we go into the office an I go up to check in. I fill out the usual updates to the paperwork, and again, tell the girl at the desk about my concern regarding Steve learning my actual weight.

She laughs comfortingly, and tells me that they’ll take me in first for vitals, and then for the actual appointment they’ll call us both in.

Relief.

A few minutes later we are called in to meet my surgeon for the first time. I remember how perfect she looked; almost flawless with her pin straight hair, glossy manicure, all smiles and gold iPhone in hand.

We were fast friends, and Steve even teased her about her off the cuff drawing of a stomach. After our getting-to-know-you session, we got down to the facts and planning.

She reviewed my chart, almost gave me a heart attack before clarifying “something that is really concerning” (high a1C, indicative of future diabetes) and said that everything looked great and there were no red flags, so she was approving me.

“You’ll have a forty-eight hour liquid diet before surgery.”

“Not a problem”

“And I see here you have been working with Jill (my nutritionist) and have lost about six pounds, which is great”

Sweet, I thought, this is happening.

Steve and I nod approvingly at each other.

She continued, “Really just another pound or so should do it …”

“We have you at 271 today, so …..”

I cannot tell you anything she said at the end of the sentence because I was probably bell pepper red and if you touched my face it might have singed your skin while I was trying to figure out how to slide all two hundred seventy one pounds of myself off the couch onto the floor and out the damn door.

We walked eighty-seven miles to the parking garage, midway through he said “Are you psyched or what? You don’t seem as excited now that it’s happening”

I’m all “Bro (yea, I called him bro) she outed me! I made sure everyone we saw today knew not to say my weight out loud”

Walk, walk, walk.

“You were worried about that? Pffft, I didn’t even hear her, what’d she say?”

He heard her, he had to have.

I laugh.

“What, 171? I really didn’t hear”

“Yea, 171”

“Who cares, you’re approved”

We high five.

He opens the passenger door for me and kisses my forehead.

Thanks, bro.

 

 

 

CTS

I can’t remember the occasion but at some point there was a conversation with my mom where I was telling her that I was too excited to sleep, in anticipation for something the next day. She told me that a similar thing happened to her sometimes and that she vividly remembered it happening when she was growing up, specifically the night before a class trip. She was anxious that she would fall asleep and not wake up in time, and miss the trip. After that, we explicitly refer to the inability to fall asleep for fear of oversleeping and missing something as ‘Class Trip Syndrome’ or CTS for short.

The last time I remember having a bout of CTS was a year ago yesterday.

I was trying to relax in preparation for my panniculectomy the next morning. I was not allowed to eat or drink anything past midnight, so naturally I was starving with a mouth as dry as the desert at 12:01. I had to check in at the hospital at 6am – I set my alarm for 4:45, so I could shower since I wasn’t sure how many of the following days I wouldn’t be able to. When I finally was able to settle down and decided on the couch for sleep, it was going to be more like a nap and I think it was after 1 am.

I slept though.

Right through my alarm.

I woke up at 5:20, the time that we were supposed to be getting in the car!!

I freaked out, I froze. I ran into the bedroom like a maniac startling Steve awake.

“We have to go! I didn’t shower! They’re going to cancel my surgery!”

Fastest and least relaxing shower of my life. I cut myself shaving, because you obviously have to shave your legs at 5:30 in the morning when you’re already running late.

Groggily putting deodorant on while I’m conditioning my hair Steve says “Why are we rushing if they’re cancelling your surgery? Why are they cancelling it?”

As if he has asked a thousand questions in the eleven minutes he’s been awake I shout “I have to be there in half an hour, they will cancel if I’m not checked in on time! My insurance approval is only good for today!”

I slip and slide my way into the bedroom where I put on a pair of lacy granny panties from Target for what I dream will be the last time, followed by a baggy tank top and loose shorts that I live in over the next eight weeks, alternating with the same top in white and the same shorts in pink.

I’m so excited and nervous that I can’t leave the house until I make sure I’m not going to crap my pants.

We are barely on the road and see brake lights. I’m almost in tears.

“I can’t believe I slept through my alarm, I barely even slept. Stupid Class Trip Syndrome”

He assures me that they’re not going to cancel my surgery “If anything,” he says “You’ll just have to wait until later in the day”

Comforting, yet not. “I can’t wait, I haven’t eaten since yesterday and I am soooooo thirsty”

When we finally pull into the hospital parking garage it’s about 6:20; I am relieved but still anxious, now because someone is about to draw on me, knock me out and make an incision in my body that practically cuts me in half. While I am cut open? Another doctor is going to root around in there and repair a hernia. You see why I might be crapping my pants, right?

We get to surgical check-in and wait in line, they’re backed up! HA! When it’s my turn to fill out paperwork, it’s actually the time my surgery was scheduled for. “Don’t worry,” the woman says, “we’ve been behind since before 6.”

Sigh of relief.

Followed by another wave of anxiety.

Healthcare proxy form, check.

Emergency contact info, check.

We walk down three hundred hallways and into a large room full of beds where I will be prepped.

Multiple people come and introduce themselves to me, check my vitals, prick my fingers, inject heparin, ask me a ton of questions and stroke my ego by telling me how funny I am and how they never would have guessed I had weight loss surgery, that my face shape recovered well from the loss.

I’m calm.

I’m the star of the damn show.

Holy crap, here’s my doctor.

Six months prior I would have said the most humbling moment in my life had been when I had to stand in front of this attractive, and probably younger than me man I had just met in my bra and underwear discussing my floppy belly and letting him photograph it. On this day I would have said it was this; this moment in which I had to stand, NAKED in front of my boyfriend and this man who was still basically a stranger and let him push and pull and lift and adjust my skin and fat, all while drawing on it in that purple marker.

“Can I have a picture of what you cut off?”

He stared at me. “Uh, I guess, if you want one”

“Yea, I do! I never got a picture of my removed stomach, or my gallstones ….” I trail off the way that you do as those drugs kick in.

I swear he rolled his eyes as he said “Sure, you can have a picture” but weeks later when he gives me the picture he says he didn’t. He’s probably right.

My last words in the operating room before they put me out are to a nurse “Please make sure he gets me that picture, you can text it to me” She agrees, probably to keep things moving, and I began slowly reciting my phone number.

Next thing I know I am being wheeled through the doors of the recovery floor saying hello to everyone. I’m happy. I’m alert. I’m starving.

I order food and Steve and I talk on and off, I pick at my food – I am in great shape.

My doctor stops by to check on me, to show us a picture of the removed fat and skin, which weighed just about SEVEN pounds. He says I did great.

Everyone who checks on me is impressed with my energy, I get to see a little of my incision, the nurse tells Steve to take a picture with my phone so I can see and I cry a little and then tell everyone I meet for the rest of the day that I saw my vagina.

I have a brief dizzy spell on my way back from a loosely escorted trip to the bathroom and pass out before Steve even got back home. My binder is opened three to four more times, nurses check on me, doctors check on me, students study me.

I recover. I eat eighty seven ice pops, watch some Friends and go home at noon the next day.

So glad I didn’t sleep later and miss the whole trip!

 

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