When I was a kid, we used to play a game where we’d put on a blindfold and spin around a lot, getting really dizzy. Then we’d try to pin the tail on the donkey.
That moment you stopped spinning, when you realized you had to get started pinning the tail, was very confusing. Everything was spinning around, you felt like you couldn’t stand up, and although you had some general idea that you wanted to do something called “walk”, you had no idea how that was going to work out. Things didn’t work like they were supposed to. Spinning did something weird to you. You couldn’t trust your instincts.
Getting out of gastric bypass surgery is like that, only on your insides of your gut. The rest of you is zonked out of it with pain medications.
I wish there were some nicer way to say this — perhaps I could remind you of the whole point of the exercise. But any way you slice it, this sucks. It’s the “Oh shit!” time of your experience, so be prepared.
The first three days are especially bad. When I came out of the operating room, I remember the nurse asking me how I felt.
“Cold, shocky, and nauseous,” I said.
Didn’t really improve from there for a couple of days.
The weird thing was how many people told me that I was doing great. “Hey, you look like you’re doing great!” they would say. Meanwhile I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Looking in on some of the other patient’s rooms, they weren’t hitting on much either.
There are a lot of reasons for this misery. First, they give you some serious drugs to go inside ripping your guts around. That plays havoc with your emotions. Second, most people are very comfortable with their abdomen — after all, you’ve had it your entire life. Waking up post-op, you suddenly realize that everything about your stomach does not work the way it used to. That’s a pretty freaky experience. After I would do something simple like sip water, then I would burp and then wince in pain. Not fun.
Finally, for some people, this is the first time they really realize that now they’ve gone and done it — there’s no turning back now! It’s the “Oh shit!” moment.
I didn’t have any buyer’s remorse, but I was very emotionally confused about just how my new body was supposed to operate. Combine that with the drugs and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. When I went down for my barium swallow, for instance, I remember thinking that it was very likely that the exercise could end in projectile vomiting. (It did not)
You just don’t know what to expect. It’s very stressful, and it’s also very disorineting. It’s unlike anything else in life you’ve experienced.
I ran a low-grade fever the entire time I was in the hospital — between 99.5 and 101.1. To this day I have no idea why. But I remember looking at that thermometer reading and being able to picture in my mind catching pneumonia, or some other secondary infection, and then being really screwed. I found myself catastrophizing, taking events and imagining terrible consequences, even when I knew that was what I was doing.
I think the first 3 days are the worst. That’s when everything is out of whack and you’re stuck in the hospital. After I broke out from the hospital, I figured out that I was not going to die in that place. There was a tiny bit of stability. The next three days were a different story.
Once I made it home and realized that the end was not near, I spent the next three days slowly coming out of the haze and trying to get a bearing on what kind of new body I had received. Of course, the first thing to do is blog! After that, I was really unsure.
Everywhere I went, I carried around an automatic external pain pump. It wasn’t a narcotic. It just constantly sent numbing agent into the places where they cut. It was about the size of a canteen and hung around my neck. A tube from it went into a bunch of tape and then into my abdomen.
When I tried to get up from a sitting position, it hurt. A lot. The best I can describe it is that my lower abdominal muscles felt as if I had done situps to the point of complete exhaustion. I was okay walking (although pretty wobbly at first). I was okay lying down. Sitting was iffy depending on how much I moved, and moving from sitting to standing sucked quite a bit. When I was still, my lower abdominals would tighten up. Then when I went to flex them to get off the bed or move to standing, there’d be quite a bit of pain. Lots of wincing and groaning.
The big change in the second three days was that I realized that slowly, bit-by-bit, I was getting better. Yay! I wasn’t going to wake up all at once and be dancing a jig, but every day when I woke up I was a little better than before. The fever went away. On day five I was able to pull out the tubes to the pain pump. (Let me tell you, it’s a weird feeling to be pulling 3 feet of tubing from a hole in your abdomen!)
So the second three days were better than the first. Not hugely better physically, but psychologically I was able to start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
The next week went by quickly. Every day I would go out walking — the doctor said I couldn’t lift anything or drive, but I could walk “as much as I wanted to”. I found that the more I walked, the better everything else worked out. It helped slowly heal my abdominal muscles. It got me out of the house. It got me to begin thinking about what was coming next. If there’s one thing I can tell people who are going through this, after doing everything the doc says, be sure to get out and move. Don’t just sit on the couch.
From an “eating” standpoint, there wasn’t any eating going on. I’m on a liquid diet. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on a Syntha-6 shake in the morning, followed by a large glass of water. In the afternoon, another big glass of water followed by an Isopure pre-made drink. There’s also a bit of chewable and liquid medicines and vitamins. I can have sugar-free jello and popcicles if I want, and I’ve been having some off and on, but frankly it doesn’t seem worth it.
I’m just not hungry anymore. Thirsty? Sure. Nauseous? Most definitely. When I see a big meal on TV or something, I feel sick. All-in-all, I’m probably consuming around 500 calories a day.
The best I can describe it is like this: have you ever had a really bad stomach virus, where your intestines completely empty out and you have this terrible churning and bubbling in your gut? You’ll drink a bit of water and hear your stomach growl for the next 15 minutes. You may pass a lot of gas. You break out in a cold sweat. Your pulse is feeble and rapid. You’ll try a little piece of a cracker thinking “Wonder how THIS is going to go down?”
At it’s worst, that’s how I felt all of the time. Now, at the end of the two weeks, 85-95% of the time I don’t feel like that, but not always. Sipping, I can drink 20 ounces of water in 45 minutes or so. My Syntha-6 has a very small amount of sugar, though, so when I drink it I feel terrible for the next hour. (Sugar is not-so good for folks with gastric bypasses) After that I feel more energetic, because I have a tiny bit of carbs in me.
When you learn to walk, you learn that you can do certain things and certain things don’t work. This is the same thing, only with your stomach. I’ll make peace with my Syntha-6 over the next couple of weeks. It’s no bit deal — it’s nothing like what I’ve already been through. Heck, after Thursday I’m going to actually be eating meals! Woo Hoo!
On the plus side, it looks like I’m evaporating. That’s the best I know how to explain it. Daughter Katrina had me stand sideways last night and just couldn’t get over how I looked. Over the last three weeks I’ve lost over 30 pounds, and I can almost feel the pounds leaving me each day. I’m looking forward to more of that to come!
If you decide to go this route, learn all you can about the options. Know what to expect. The first little bit after surgery is going to really suck. Be prepared for it. Find something that motivates you and hang on to it. I’m still very happy for the decision I made and I’m looking forward to a really cool summer ahead, but it’s important to remember that there’s a sucky part too. This is not something you do on a whim.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.