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.]