Diet or Bariatric Surgery: How I made my decision
My Six Year Journey
Getting surgery to treat obesity is a very serious decision. One not to be taken lightly. Since I am not a medical professional, I wouldn’t begin to advise what someone should do in making this kind of decision. In fact, I researched the subject for nearly six years before I finally took some action. I wanted to know the risks of the surgery. Would my insurance cover it? Which kind of surgery should I get? Would it work? What if it doesn’t work? Would it hurt? How fast would I lose weight? I read a number of books on the subject and I would advise anyone interested in bariatric surgery to do the same. I already knew that dieting was not working for me. See my article How I Lost 1000 Pounds in 50 Years for more information on the diets I have tried throughout time. As I did my research, the following factors influenced my decision.
My Age - At the time of my surgery, most doctors wouldn’t the procedure on anyone over the age of 60. At the age of 56, I knew I needed to make a decision fast.
My Health – Prior to my surgery, I was relatively healthy despite my extra 150 pounds. I did have high blood pressure, back problems and asthma. But nothing that would put me into a high risk category. My cardiologist was concerned about my cholesterol and carefully watching me for heart problems that seemed to be developing. Sadly, many people who can be helped by this surgery are actually too sick to get it. I wasn’t there… yet.
My Insurance – When I first started looking into the surgery, my insurance company would not cover lap band surgery which was my primary interest.
Why I waited so long - One of the reasons I delayed making my decision was that I had a number of friends who had gotten the surgery when it first became popular in the late 1990’s. I waited to see how well it worked for them. At that time I attended a weight loss group where many people had weights in the 300, 400 and 500 pound range. So not surprisingly this group was very interested in anything that could help them. One lady I knew had lost two hundred pounds with a very early experimental version of the surgery. Unfortunately, she also had severe hair loss and odor problems as a result. A couple I knew had the roux en y surgery together. They were the poster children of the good and bad sides of that particular procedure. The husband had no problems at all, lost 130 pounds and looked fabulous. The wife, however, had every possible issue come up, Infections, leakage, blood clots. When all that was fixed she had what she called “room clearing flatulence.” This was a problem since he was in college at the time. But other people I knew did very well losing and maintaining hundreds of pounds lost. The one thing I did decide for myself based on their collective experience was that I didn’t want anything as invasive as the full roux en y or any other kind of surgery that actually rearranged my digestive system. Enter the Lap Band, which is short for the laparoscopic banding procedure. The more I researched this, the better I liked it. It’s a simple band placed around the top of the stomach. The band can be adjusted through a port placed under the skin near my waist. Other than the stitching of the band to my stomach, the rest of my digestive system remained unchanged. If there were horrendous problems, it could be removed and I would be back to normal. The down side of the band was that the weight loss wouldn’t be as rapid. There was also the issue of food getting stuck if not chewed thoroughly. However, according to my research, there seemed to be many fewer problems with the installation of the band as compared to other surgeries. Unfortunately at the time I did my initial research, insurance companies weren’t covering the procedure. So I gave up. Two years later when I attended a seminar on bariatric surgery with my daughter, I discovered that the Lap Band was now covered by most major insurers.
By this time I was 56. After discovering the cutoff age was 60, I knew I had to make a decision quickly. A website, Obesity Help.com supplied me with a great deal of information about how to navigate the insurance process. By August I started the onerous step of filling out paperwork to get the procedure. It finally cleared my insurer by December. In January or 2007, nervous, but excited at the prospect of a new life I had the surgery. One day later I was home. Two days later, I felt fine and one year later I had lost 100 pounds.
Today -The journey has not been uniformly easy, and the lap band is not a magic bullet. I still have to watch what I eat. I still want to eat like 323 pound person. But the band has truly saved my life. I am off blood pressure medication. My cholesterol is normal. All my asthma symptoms are abated. My back is much improved. I can go up and down stairs and walk across a room without being winded. I can shop for clothes in regular stores. I work out now several times a week. My life has changed. I am down 120 pounds and still want to lose about 30 more.
My best advice to someone interested in having bariatric surgery is to do your research. Read. Talk to your personal doctor. Go to some free seminars. Talk to others who have had the surgery. If you can lose weight by diets or exercise, do that first!! This is truly something that should only be considered when all else has failed. Once you are ready to take that step, you will know that you are truly doing what’s best for you.