It Happened Again

Once again, I was urged to consider weight loss surgery (WLS). Ann, a co-worker who I’d never met previously, came to my office last week to look at my chair. She needed a new one because she’d broken hers. I have a new chair, which I hate, and the old one is still here too. (More about the chair saga another day.) I pointed to the old chair and asked Ann if that was the one she’d been using. She nodded. I told her that model wasn’t rated for people of “our size.” Ooops, that set her off.

Ann said, “Oh, but you’re smaller than me” and then proceeded to tell me her height and weight. I’m thinking, why is she telling me this? Before I knew it, she was motor-mouth about the fact that she’d decided to have WLS. Ann told me all about a doctor in the area that would perform the procedure, which insurance plans cover it, that she’s waiting until the insurance kicks in to go see the doctor and on, and on. She was very excited, exclaiming, “I can’t wait!” She is a large woman, a little heavier than me but shorter, which makes her appear much larger. Then she says, “You should consider it… don’t you want to do it? Oh, and I’m going to try to talk Bridget in personnel into it too.” I told Ann that I have a friend who’d had it done by a doctor in Ohio last year. That I’d been to the orientation session with her, so I knew all about it and had already decided that it’s not for me.

I am likely a candidate for the surgey, although probably at the lower end of the qualification scale in terms of size. I couldn’t believe that my friend Donna was a candidate because she was smaller than me. She had convinced her doctors though and managed to get insurance clearance. Last summer, Donna begged me to go with her to the orientation session before the surgery. The doctor required his surgical candidates to attend an orientation session with a family member or close friend that could help in making the decision. One of the reasons she wanted so badly for me to go with her is because she wanted me to consider having the surgery too, to go through it with her at the same time. I went to the orientation to support Donna but I’d tried to get her to find someone else to go because I knew by then that I was against it. I’d done some research to see what she was getting into and whether I’d be interesed in pursuing it. Hearing what was said at the orientation just confirmed my decision.

Donna’s lost 85 lbs. so far and looks great. She says she feels well most of the time but I think she is sick more often than she lets on. She now has to have gallbladder surgery and no local doctor will touch her because of the proximity to the site of her previous procedure. So she has to go back to Ohio. Donna also has two hernias in the wall of her abdomen from the surgery that need to be corrected. She recently told me that she’s able to eat more and that we could go out for dinner again sometime. She eats anything she likes. Donna doesn’t exercise – she knows she should but she won’t. When she’s finished losing weight she’s looking forward to going under the knife again to have the excess baggage cut away. Ann is looking forward to this too.

Ann admits to being desperate, citing how uncomfortable she is as the major reason for her decision. She’s otherwise healthy she tells me, has recently lost 65 lbs., had her gallbladder out, and has no medical conditions caused by her weight. To me it seems the surgery isn’t a treatment for anything other than her vanity. Ann asks me if I know Melissa, a co-worker in another building. I nodded. “Melissa’s friend had the surgery last year and died a week later of an infection,” she says. “And you still want to do it? Knowing you could die and that otherwise the best result is losing only 70% of your excess weight?” I asked. She nodded. I said, “I just don’t feel that way about it.” She said “Well, you seem very comfortable with yourself.”

She’s right. For the most part, I am comfortable in my skin. I’m not desperate either, being more concerned with how I feel than how I look. Even if I weren’t comfortable with my self-image and the way I look, I must have some logic that these women are missing. Something about the whole thing just strikes me as wrong. A permanent alteration of your innards, a forced change in your behaviors, much illness during recovery, the possibility for many complications, the possibility of death. All to be thin. What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m all for fixing what ails you. If the surgery were necessary for immediate relief of other medical conditions caused by obesity, then fine. Do it. But neither of these women qualify in that sense, and neither do I. Instead, they are relying on surgery to cure their depression and make them happy. They would never believe they could regret it. Now this might sound strange, but to me the surgery is cheating. They are circumventing the process for achieving a self-awareness and self-worth by learning how to deal with whatever makes them unhappy instead of blaming it all on the weight itself or the way they think they look. Never mind how they got that way to begin with. I took the time to make that journey and I know how I got to where I am. I also know what it takes to change that – if and when I want to. It won’t be surgery that’ll rob me of other choices and pleasures. Or my life.

[Additional reading: Carnie Wilson popularized weight loss surgery, but this woman lost far more than weight.]

11 thoughts on “It Happened Again

  1. Very interesting blog, Bird. <br>I have known two women who had the procedure, and one is riddled with negative aftereffects and the other is fairly large again, even with her stomach’s limited capacity.<br>I think the Carnie effect, i.e. sudden popularity in this procedure, has been unfortunate. Carnie Wilson has the money to afford the best medical care and aftercare. Plus her high visibility encourages her physicians to do their best to avoid adverse publicity.<br>I think this surgery should be a last ditch effort to save the patient’s life, not just an extreme solution so someone can fit into size 12 jeans.<br>I have seen the bodies of large women and the bodies of post-WLS women, and the former are much healthier looking.<br>Any candidate for this procedure should see post-op photos of others and decide then. I think many would reconsider.

  2. Great blog! I have done some investigating of this myself, and while I am generally all for anything that will allow me to have immediate or almost immediate gratification, I would never have this surgery. Like you, I am generally comfortable with my size and know what I need to do should I decide to lose extra weight. I would not trade my fat, but very healthy body, for one that would have a host of medical problems-not to mention the big ass scar! There are too many other, proven, long-term solutions to weight loss and better health. And as you point out, there is no quick fix to problems such as weight, self esteem issues or depression.

  3. great blog! I am so against any unnecessary surgery, especially this one…now there are extreme cases out there…a friend of mine’s father had to have the surgery done because his weight had put him in the hospital more than a few times, so i can see that in that case, it’s a good thing, but when people start doing it because it’s the new quick thing to do, that’s gross…I have a medical condition now due in part to weight, and I acctually have been asked if I would do that…no friggin’ way…I mean, if I had not gotten this condition, I would have gone on with my life quite happy thank you very much…now that i have it, I’ll go on with my life still, but now I’ll exercise more, and eat more green leafy things and fruits instead of KFC…<br><br>oh geez…i’m ranting…I’ll probably end up writing in my blog about it…the diet industry really pisses me off…thanks for a great post Greybird! 🙂

  4. That surgery isn’t bariatric it’s barbaric! And I’m impressed at how honest you are. Go, Birdy, go!<br><br>I hope you don’t mind me mentioning this here, but I noticed that you belong to the Queerwomyn webring. A friend and I were discussing the other day how women who love other women are so much more accepting of women of any shape and size when they fall in love. A feminist professor I had in college used to say "If the world was full of only women, there would probably be a lot of fat, happy in love women."<br><br>I admire what "the girls team" has going on the body acceptance side of things. there’s just something about five o-clock shadow and a penis I like too much to switch sides.<br><br>I’m glad you found my site and led me to yours.

  5. Some time in the last six months or so, _The New Yorker_ ran an interesting article on this surgery and its psychological effects — written by one of the two doctors who writes for them. Very well-written (natch) and fairly unbiased. Still, it’s scary, scary stuff.

  6. I’m so glad to know you’re confident within yourself and decided to do some research and think about this surgery before actually DOING IT. I have two friends who are, right now, losing weight after having the WLS. I will tell you that both of them began at over 300 lbs. and one is already down to about 180. This surgery is very dangerous if you aren’t continuously under a doctor’s care. You can only eat a tablespoon of food to begin with and if you’re like me, that’s almost impossible. I also know of someone who has died after having this surgery. <br><br>That’s a serious decision Grey. I myself went under a doctor’s care to lose weight about 5 years ago. I took injections and pills and to be totally honest with you, I lost a lot weight (45 lbs.) in only 3 months. It did a lot for my self-esteem and I got tons of attention, but the dark truth is I GAINED IT ALL BACK..AND THEN SOME. That period in my life was almost to the point where I wanted to end it all. Kill myself because I could not believe I gained the weight back. I saw myself as a failure and a let down to all of my friends who were, then, so proud of me. Yes, I wore a bikini for the first time in my life. Yes, I didn’t have to cover my body or wear tunic shirts. But NO! It did not make my self-esteem problem go away. It was a false sense of fabulousness, of sorts. <br><br>I’ve never seen you. I’ve never met you. But since I’ve known you as a fellow blogger, I’ve come to realize one thing about you (and I’m not just saying this). You’re a pretty cool person. So much that I think of you regularly and try my best to read your blog. Why? I just told you. You’re cool, girlfriend. If a person like you can keep a person like me reading about your life, that should tell you something about yourself. You’re fine the way you are. People like you.<br><br>If you decide to change what’s on the outside, do it because you want to do it. I’d be the last person to talk you out of it. Just make sure that your health (mental, physical, emotional) aren’t damaged during the process.<br><br>Hang in there, pumpkin!<br><br>Nona…

  7. Saw that article, Elaine. It was very good and the man the story centered around _needed_ the surgery. The author had a ‘wait and see’ attitude about the long term successes for the type of procedure he’d had.

  8. Robin said: "…"there’s just something about five o-clock shadow and a penis I like too much to switch sides."<br><br>Girl, you can have that shadow with a woman over 40, and the penis thing can be arranged as well. You can even order different sizes to fit your mood! ;)<br><br>

  9. can i recommend that you put a copy of the book FAT?SO! on the edge of your desk so if anyone else comes in to discuss this they can get the hint and might even pick it up and enlighten themselves? its a great book.. and btw, by marilyn wann.

  10. After over a year of research, attending weight loss surgery support groups, and meeting with several different surgeons, I am having this surgery. I always giggle a bit when people say it is the ‘easy way out’ – not realizing that AFTER the surgery you pretty well have to teach your new ‘baby’ stomach. Yes there is the possibility of complications (less than 10%) and death (less than 0.5%) — both of which are the same complication/death risk of any major surgery. <br><br>As for the ‘big ass scar’ – yes, if you have the OPEN (laparotomy) procedure – you will have the scar. But if you find a surgeon who does is laparoscopically (like my and Carnie’s doctor, Dr. Wittgrove @ the Alvarado Clinic in San Diego), you are left with almost *no scars*.<br><br>Excited about the surgery? No – nervous beyong belief. Excited about the thinner life it will enable me to live, once I have dealt with the 1-2 years of weight loss? You bet. Easy way out? Do some research (which is sounds some people already have) and you won’t think it is so easy.<br><br>And no – this surgery is not for people with a little bit of weight to lose – and I agree that Carnie’s complication-free recovery doesn’t show some of the bad cases that are out there. But from the research I have performed, most complications are due to lack of expertise on the doctor’s side or the patient’s lack of following post-operative instructions.<br><br>Sorry I’ve gone on and on here… glad to have re-found your site tho!

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