This post might’ve come a little earlier in the process, if not for the weight of the process itself. And the first bit of what I want to describe is directly connected to that.
For the first few weeks and months after surgery, I was overwhelmed. The combination of pain, discomfort, fear, confusion, decisions, etc. etc. etc. is a big weight to bear. If you have really really good coping mechanisms and/or tend to ignore stressors in your life, your VSG might not be as heavy. But for me, it took over my life for a few months. Sure, I was able to get back to work and be a good husband, etc. But ALL my extra energy and time was soaked up in thinking about, working on, and addressing my new physical reality. In my opinion, a person should do their very best to not embark on any new big projects, goals, or activities in the months following surgery. You’ll probably be able to get back to work within a week or two, but if you’re anything like me, it’ll take some time to get your mojo back.
Some other observations about the experience of being a VSG patient early on:
- It was painful. If you read back on my posts, you’ll see that I actually had a couple of different surgeries. The story is long so I’ll spare you. But in my experience, the second one (which actually succeeded in removing part of my stomach as planned) was far more painful than the first. Eating/drinking was EXTREMELY labored for several weeks following surgery. For at least 2 weeks, one or two small swallows made me feel nauseous, full to the point of pain, and very uncomfortable. It often took an hour or two just to get my pills down (a three time a day process).
- It was scary. If your clinic is anything like mine, they put the fear of God in their patients to follow the plan. My folks reiterated many times that if I cheated the eating plan, I risked my safety. They said they’d had a couple leaks over the past 10 years – but very few. And each time it was because a person had eating out of plan, too early. Because I live 3 hours away from the hospital where I had surgery, I was especially terrified. Almost more than anything, I didn’t want to have a problem. That fear, for better or for worse, kept me on the straight and narrow.
- At first – for at least a couple months – I really did have no appetite at all. Food for me became strictly fuel. It was utilitarian. I didn’t really find myself craving food all that much; it just wasn’t on my mind. I like that. I am no longer in that frame of mind now almost a year later.
- Once I started being able to eat little bits of even soft food, I had to CHEW A TON before swallowing. The practice that my dietician had me doing before surgery for months, suddenly had a cause and made sense. It’s preparation for what it will be like after. While I can take bigger sized bites today; even a year out, I cannot eat big giant bites of food. And if I swallow something that isn’t very well chewed, it is uncomfortable in my stomach. No good. If you are considering VSG, practice eating differently: Slower, Smaller bites, Chew longer – these practices will necessarily become the new normal after surgery.
- I had 5 small cuts on my stomach where the instruments were used for surgery. Each of these were glued closed with some kind of surgical glue. After about a week, they began to fall off on their own. I had very small scars for a while; but today they’re almost unnoticeable. Especially with body hair (sorry if TMI); females without body hair on abdomens might have more noticeable markings. But really, they’re tiny. And at least for me, I kind of like the battle scars – almost like a tattoo of my journey. These cuts were a little painful for a while; but nothing compared to the internal discomfort.
- Another When I started eating, the floodgates of desire opened if you will. While I was still on liquids, I hardly thought of food. I was on a schedule, every 2 hours I drank a shake, and that was that. But once I started reintroducing food, my mind nestled back into old patterns. This was disturbing to me. Scary. But almost immediately, cravings returned once I started eating real food. I knew I couldn’t have certain things; but I WANTED them. I wrote about this dynamic before – but there was a time in my life when I imagined I’d get to a place where I’d never have to think about my diet again. I imagined just being able to eat whatever, and have it be the right thing where I wouldn’t be at risk of weight gain.
I’ve come to believe that that time will never come. It’s a pipe dream. I will always have to pay attention to my eating. And I will always have to tangle with cravings to one degree or another. Surgery wasn’t on my brain. And my brain still wants ice cream and white bread and junk from time to time.
- A surprising thing for me early on was that I really was able to tolerate most foods very well. Some folk describe having really messed up palates or physical reaction to certain items. I didn’t get that for the most part.
However, I did find that if I ate very dry, very rough meats especially, my stomach revolted and I would vomit. This has only happened a couple times since surgery but both times it was in response to Italian style meatballs. Even after chewing very very well, they haven’t set right with me. But otherwise, I’ve been shocked by the minimal consequences to food choice the surgery has seemed to have.
Despite sampling sweets from time to time, I’ve never experienced dumping syndrome per se (unless that was it after the meatballs) – and all the foods I liked before surgery are still appealing to me.
I wouldn’t bank on NOT having an issue (i.e. if you can’t imagine losing certain foods forever, surgery might not be fore you) – and I wouldn’t bank on definitely having issues (i.e. choose not to have surgery for fear or losing foods). It’s kind of a crap shoot I’d guess, and it’s difficult to predict. Be flexible.
- Vitamins. My clinic checks labs every single visit. The first was 1 week post op. The next was 1 month. Then 3 months, then 6. And in a few weeks I’ll be going up for the 12 month check. some of the things they have looked after so far include: Iron, B12, Vit. D, plus all the normal stuff. I started with a chewable celebrate brand multi vitamin for bariatric patients. I couldn’t tolerate it. I threw up daily for 4-5 days and then quit. Once I was able to eat food, I switched to swallowable Bariatric Advantage multi with Iron. I like these a lot and have had no issues since. It’s about $20/mo and I have no idea how normal that cost is. I wish insurance would cover it since it’s required because of my surgery. No such luck yet.
- Quantities. At first, I was able to eat just a tiny bit of food before feeling uncomfortably full. One small personal container of greek yogurt was very difficult to finish at one sitting. I had to stretch drinking a protein shake out to 30-40min. But over the subsequent months, my volume of consumption has grown from just a few bites – to be able to consume maybe 2cups of volume of food at a time. As one might expect, the nature of the food matters. Salad/lettuce/veggies fill me up much quicker than creamy strained soup or shakes. I can eat more chili than I can cooked, drained, pinto beans. If foods are “lubricated” with sauce, grease, gravy, etc., I can eat way more. This has probably always been the case, but it’s highlighted now because of my new physiology.
At moments, I’ve been scared about what for a while seemed like consistently increasing capacity. “What if I am stretching it out!?” was my fear that has been shared by hundreds of others before me.
Well – so far, I still can’t gorge myself. In moments where I might be drawn to eat out of control (a night a couple weeks back when my family had purchased some big cream-sauce pizzas comes to mind), I still am limited far beyond what I could put down before. In a circumstance like that in the past, I probably could’ve eaten over half of a large pizza, if not the whole thing over the course of a couple hours. Now, I may be able to push myself to 2 slices at ~900 total calories. But it becomes impossible to eat more after that.
While my challenge over the years has been far more about grazing and snacking, my new physiology saves me – and has already saved me – from getting out of control.
I’ll probably think of more initial reactions later. But again, like I’ve said, it’s been absolutely worth every hiccup all along the way. I would choose the same 10x over.