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Weight Loss Surgery: A Cautionary Lap-Band Tale

Updated on January 16, 2012
That's me from the back in August of 2008.  You're just going to have to trust me.
That's me from the back in August of 2008. You're just going to have to trust me.
Yep, that's what it looked like only - you know - less cartoony.
Yep, that's what it looked like only - you know - less cartoony. | Source
05/31/10: -71lbs = good, damaged esophagus = bad
05/31/10: -71lbs = good, damaged esophagus = bad
Oh, nothing much... just getting stabbed in the stomach with a big pointy needle.
Oh, nothing much... just getting stabbed in the stomach with a big pointy needle. | Source

In the Winter of 2008, I made the choice to have weight loss surgery. At that point, I tipped the scales at about 305lbs. My reasons, as any person faced with this decision will agree, were my own. I also made several mistakes at this point and those I think need addressing.

The biggest were: my choice to have the surgery in my hometown and the surgery I chose.

I live in a town of 100,000+. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area is approximately three hours away.

There was an office of physicians in my town newly announced as doing weightloss surgery, but only two: the Lap-Band and Gastric Bypass. I researched both surgeries and had some ideas about each, but wanted to consult with a doctor in this office before making my final choice. I did think the Lap-Band would probably be it for me though as it’s reversible and a less severe choice than the bypass (as far as having my anatomy cut up and re-sown together and experiencing complications like the possibility of needing gallbladder surgery, “dumping syndrome,” and malabsorption problems.)

My step-sister chose to have a bypass in the metroplex area right before I had my procedure and was happy as a clam about the whole thing - I wish I’d followed her lead.

I met with the doctor. I was asked what insurance I had (Federal Blue Cross Blue Shield) and what procedure I would like. I told them I’d like to discuss my options and the doctor did a brief run down of each, but the attitude of the visit was very much “Why did you come here if you didn’t already know?”

I opted for Lap-Band… when I really should have opted for another doctor, but the Lap-Band requires frequent follow up visits for fills (injecting liquid into the band via a port under the skin in order to maintain the band’s tightness around the stomach and induce weight loss.) I wanted to be able to seek this maintenance in my hometown and not drive for three hours every time I needed to be seen. I was ok with the prospect of slower weight loss because - after spending most of my life in Weight Watchers - I knew slow weight loss was more likely to equal permanent weight loss.

The next time I saw my surgeon was the day of the procedure.

I was later told this is what’s called being a “heartbeat with insurance.”

I had the procedure 01/14/09. There was no psych consult, no diet beforehand, no meeting with a dietician or exercise specialist - I was told “eh, if you don’t like it, take it out!“. My last solid food and carbonated beverage was 01/12/09.

The surgery was a day surgery. I was put under, the band was placed, I was taken to recover, gently smacked awake, taken to radiology, made to do an upper GI and swallow contrast material so they could scan me and make sure everything was ok. This made me start to retch which caused one of my surgical sites to reopen. I bled all over the floor - I still have the blood-stained socks.

I was patched back up and sent home.

For the first twenty-four hours, I was floating. I was still high on whatever they gave me at the hospital plus the Twilight sleep patch behind my ear that was put there to prevent the inevitable nausea I get after being sedated.

After that? I was in hell.

I always joked about needing a Clockwork Orange Diet - one where I experience physical pain or discomfort at the idea of eating because I figured that’s about what it would take to get me to change my ways because I love eating THAT much.

Well, be careful what you wish for…

I vomited constantly. I was more nauseous than I have ever been in my life. I took my pain medicine and that made it worse. The worst part? I was still ravenously hungry. The Lap-Band had no effect whatsoever on that. I wanted nothing more than to eat and even the broths and soups I ate made me throw up. The whole time I was throwing up, I was terrified I was about to slip my band (cause the band to move which would cause the wrong kind of constriction - tales I read about this on the Internet said that people who did this couldn’t even swallow their own spit afterward.) Band slippage often requires additional surgery to correct and I was already in enough pain to not ever want surgery again.

I can remember my Mom coming to visit me at this point and me crying and just saying something like, “What have I done? If you were even considering this, don’t do it.”

My husband called the doctor to report how nauseous I was to the point we thought something was wrong. They shrugged it off.

We called again. The doctor finally admitted maybe it was my pain medicine. Sure enough, I had codeine sensitivity and things were a little better after I stopped taking the medicine, BUT instead of offering to replace it with something else, I was told to take liquid Tylenol… which I gave up on because it didn’t help a bit. So pretty much I did the majority of my healing without any pain management whatsoever $6.

Besides being physically sore, I was suddenly also faced with a very real sensation like mental torture.

Unable to rest or get comfortable, I resigned myself to the couch and watched TV all day. You don’t realize how much food there is on TV until you can’t have any. My husband would come home from work and I would just cry. I’d list everything I watched and what everyone ate: a detective show with sandwiches, a sitcom with delectable cereal being nonchalantly eaten straight from the box. It was anguish.

I don’t honestly remember the post surgery diet I was on. I believe it was a week of clear liquids, two weeks of full (milky), two weeks of soft and then normal food as tolerated. I’m not 100% sure though.

I was scheduled for my first follow up. I believe this was the first time I left the house, wore clothes, etc. I still felt like death. I presented myself in the surgeon’s office, looking and feeling like death and he said ‘well done.’ I wondered if he was even looking at me.

A friend got me out of the house after week two, but I still felt horrible. Basically it was just a couch vacation, from languishing on my couch to languishing on hers for an evening.

I took two weeks off from work total. “They” will say you can probably return to work after one, but just in case there were complications, I wanted extra time to feel better - boy, am I glad I took that much. Even if I was physically strong enough after Week One, psychologically was another story - I would have gone ballistic on everyone the first time someone brought in a take out hamburger for lunch.

I continued going in to see the surgeon for band fills. We didn’t discuss my treatment plan or how many fills I might need - at first I didn’t even feel any difference as the band tightened. He just kept telling me to come in.

I will try to sum up since I don’t really remember in what order things happened after this point.

The almost three years I had the band were the most miserable of my life. My band never slipped or eroded, but I still experienced pain, discomfort and almost constant vomiting. Anytime I am asked now about what I went through, I reply that the band is “medically controlled bulimia” - and I have the deteriorated esophagus to prove it.

Here are some things I wish I had known:

1. The band doesn’t make sense

Your stomach is not a sealed container. It’s more like a sieve. The whole reason the Lap-Band is supposed to work is because the area of your stomach that triggers feelings of fullness which it communicates to your brain is near the top. The band cinches up your stomach to create a small pre-stomach pouch that you are supposed to fill with food that will trick this area into early feelings of fullness.

My surgeon told me the whole goal of eating is to take pencil eraser-sized bites and wait MINUTES in between each. You should get so “bored with eating, you get up and go do something else instead.” (Yea, tell someone who feels like she is starving to death to sit in front of food and take pencil eraser-sized bites. That will surely work.)

So tell me this: you either follow this method and pulverize your food to the point that it slips straight through the band and defeats the purpose or you take big enough bites that you do fill up your pouch, but are then in agony as you feel each piece of poorly chewed food try to pass through your stoma (your new opening from stomach pouch to regular stomach. I call it having “food babies.” The very first time I experienced the feeling of eating something too big to comfortably pass through this opening, it felt like the worst ice cream headache ever.. in my stomach!)

2. To most surgeons, you are what I was: a heartbeat with insurance

Surgeons get paid for doing surgery NOT for aftercare. Chances are really good your doctor is going to LEAVE YOU. Hey, if you go have surgery in Mexico, you probably won’t get any aftercare at all! Which leads me to the next fun fact I wish I would have known:

3. If your doctor leaves, NO ONE WILL TOUCH YOU.

My surgeon left town and took his whole office with him within a year of my surgery. This left my town high and dry. There was no one in town who would even go near me. This made it extra fun when I ended up “obstructed” (the band squeezed my stomach completely shut for no reason at all - I was unable to eat or drink anything) and in the ER about a week after he pulled up stakes. The initial reaction of the ER was “go away, we don’t know anything about what you have,” but it was a three day weekend and I literally had nowhere else to turn so I actually had to walk them through how to take fluid out of my band so I would have some relief.

I searched doctors within a THREE HUNDRED MILE radius and was either refused as a new patient even though I could produce my operative report which showed there were no complications with my surgery, or was quoted a ridiculous “New Patient Fee” of anywhere from several hundred to several THOUSAND dollars.

4. Your insurance means nothing

If you find yourself in the position I did, abandoned by your surgeon and with no one else in your town or out who will help you, congratulations: you have now entered the world of cash-for-service!

It doesn’t matter that I have incredible insurance that paid for pretty much anything I needed, with no doctor to take my insurance, I was SOL. I resorted to go-between. A ridiculous middleman service that required cash up front and then contacted a network of providers near me (I used Austin mainly - the quack in Irving hurt me worse trying to give me a fill than I’ve probably ever been hurt in that position before) to secure an appointment to get me a fill. I had to use this service several times to secure fills to get me back up to the level I was at before the ER had taken some out when I was obstructed.

5. You are at the band’s mercy

Your Lab-Band follows no preset rules. It is also affected by things completely outside of your control like atmospheric pressure.

I am very much a creature of habit and might take the same identical Lean Cuisine meal to work for lunch every day. I may have no trouble whatsoever eating it or -two to three days out of five- I might throw it up.

I was also told swelling and water retention during my period could and would make the band cinch itself up.

The band is an implanted medical device. Think very carefully about all the ads you see on TV: “Call 1-800-fat-sttlmet4u if you have had any of the following… Lawyer Steve will fight for you!” If something goes wrong with it, you face more side effects or surgery. My band actually had a recall put out on it not too long after I got it: a little piece used to clip the port’s tubing and keep it from getting kinked up could come undone and cause said kinkage to happen. The best part: the recall was for bands not already inserted. For me who already had it? “Don’t worry. Take no action. You’re probably fine.”

The worst thing I worried about was getting obstructed again with no one to help me. Because my favorite thing to do is worry and panic, I immediately thought of one of my favorite books/movies: “The Stand.” There was a whole chapter in the book devoted to people who would have survived the plague if they hadn’t done x/y/z (ruptured appendix, fell off bike and cracked skull, etc) and gotten killed. I immediately put myself in this category: the world ends, I survive, except my stomach squeezes spontaneously shut and I starve to death.

6. You can still make all the wrong choices

What no one told me and I failed to uncover in my research about the band is: the band is a tool for weight loss, yes, but it’s a poor one. Since your stomach is intact, you can still stretch it. The quack I mentioned before in Irving mentioned a patient he was seeing who managed to stretch out his pouch so far that an upper GI revealed that his pouch just mirrored his intact stomach BELOW the band (one stomach, then lapband, then the other stomach.)

There is also something called “soft calorie syndrome,” where your band may actually be too tight (a state my surgeon had me perpetually existing in before he left.) You are physically unable to make the “right” choices when it comes to food because the right choices hurt. It never ceased to amaze me how I was suddenly limited in this respect after the band. I got to where I had endless cravings for salad because I hadn’t eaten a salad pretty much the entire time I was banded. The vegetables were a no-no for me and would get stuck and irritate me until I threw up. This kind of irritation is also what would cause potential obstruction because I’d get swollen. You start making choices that are easy and not right - high calorie, creamy, fatty soups, milkshakes, ice cream - things that are easy to eat because they slip through the band and don’t cause any pain or discomfort.

7. You can still gain it all back

I guess I knew about this potential, but I didn’t want to think about it. All in all, I lost about 70lbs with the band all together. The thing is: since it didn’t affect my hunger whatsoever, all it did was delay the inevitable. Every single food and eating related desire was still there, I was just physically unable to express it. The month the ER did a partial un-fill because of obstruction? Yea, I gained 20lbs. I lost it again after I got re-tightened, but it showed me the score.

I was probably only about 10 or 15 lbs up when I finally decided to make a change. I joined Weight Watchers for the thousandth time and started counting and tracking - something I should have done since Day One with the band. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was told a lot of things about what the band was supposed to be and there were also a lot of things that I should have done that I didn’t.

* * *

So I was un-banded (disbanded?) on Dec 6th (RIP Lappy 01/14/09 - 12/06/11) and opted for the gastric sleeve. I knew that if I didn’t get another form of surgery - for all my exercising and good intentions - without that safety net, I would still be back up past 300 in a year.

My experience was the exact opposite of the Lap-Band in pretty much every way. I feel fantastic and wish I got the sleeve to begin with and didn’t waste almost three years in misery, but what’s the cliché? Hindsight is always 20/20. The sleeve was still being refined as a technique back then so I may not have been as happy with it then as I am now so - here’s another one for you - everything happens at its own time and for its own reason, I guess.

I started off writing this as a comparison of each experience (hence the extended URL), but I realized I had far too much to write so the gastric sleeve will have to have its own hub later.

I do very much acknowledge that this is ONLY one person’s experience. There are lots of other people out there who love their Lap-Bands and have had fantastic experience with them. I just wanted to let you know what happened to me just in case you are making a weight loss surgery decision right now and need a con to weigh against the pros, etc.

I was very secretive about my surgery in the beginning. I felt a lot of shame - like getting surgery was cheating (and now I know that’s crap since it was one of the hardest thing I’ve gone through), but I don’t feel like that at all anymore so please - if you have any questions at all, ask away.

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    • profile image

      Excitable Gurelle 3 years ago

      I agree with just about everything you said (I'm even having revision from a band to sleeve at the end of this month) except that I was able to find a surgeon to take me after having to switch a year out in 2011 due to insurance changes. I tried to work with the band for three years with the new surgeon. We filled, we unfilled, we filled again, we unfilled some, I got chided, I got bolstered, I cried, he patted me on the back, I starved, I gave up ... my health history is so messed up (I have a rare disease and I'm lucky enough to have a surgeon who said "Somethings not right here" I also got diagnosed with a form of Cushings). While, yeah, eating is an issue, it's not my only issue. So we do the surgery, but we keep looking for why my metabolism is so messed up.

      If we think about it, the band on paper is a great idea, in reality is doesn't work. Think of a sink drain. Try to get even tiny bits of meat or salad down a sink drain. It clogs. When the day before banding, my first surgeon said no leafy greens I looked at him like he was nuts. I can eat chicken in small amounts provided it has , literally, JUST been cooked. If it sits for a few minutes, nada. Without "food lube" (gravy, ketchup, etc) meat, poultry, fish, etc, wont go down. That defeats the purpose of dieting. I could live off fake food (protein shakes, gelatin and all that) but is that my penance for daring to have gotten fat? Eating chemical foods? I'm allergic to so much. I take a lot of steroids. How dare I have gotten fat. I bought a juicer and that was best I've felt since getting the band. That's a lot of dedication. It requires a HUGE chunk of your day just to preparing your meals for the day, but I finally felt better.

      Is this any way to live?

      No.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I'm looking to find out exactly what happens during the revision, as I'm actually nervous this time around. I was bold and brazen the last time. I'm wiser, gun shy this time

    • profile image

      Masala 3 years ago

      Girl, you hit the nail on the head. I can't believe we have lived such mirror lives. I'm now going through the same things, except I had all the pre-surgery things you missed. Trust me you didn't miss a thing because it ends the same way. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I'm now going for a removal & will take your advice about the sleeve.

    • profile image

      Rose Boory 3 years ago

      Dear Liz, I too have had an awful experience. I went to one of the best doctors in Sugar Land. Laugh. I paid for my surgery. After my 3rd fill adjustment I never went back. He was so rough with the fill that I experienced intense pain from the needle and I was bruised in the fill area for 3 weeks. He scared me. It was day surgery but my oxygen levels were not where they were supposed to be by 10 that night so they released me anyhow. That was the most excruciating pain filled night ever. I had pain in my left lung, every time I took a breath it was painful. I went back to their surgical hospital the next day, and I was told my left lung was not worked to capacity and was given a breathing exercise and charged 150.oo dollars. And all this from a Sugar Land prestigious Lap Band Doctor. I do believe if I was a "Sugarland" woman of means or was covered by insurance, I would not have been treated this way. This was in 2009. But today, I am starting a smoothie juice fast:) PS I did lose 12 pounds before the lap band and 10 more after, but that was not worth 10000 dollars and abusive aftercare!!

    • Liz Green Berry profile image
      Author

      Liz Green Berry 3 years ago from TX

      Lady T - do what you can to find someone to get that thing out of you. It's no good if it's not helping you and it's a liability as far as slipping or eroding and causing major health problems. I don't know where you are located, but start googling "lapband revision."

    • profile image

      Lady T 3 years ago

      Hi had lapband done 2 years now no weight lost at all can't get bk to doc for check up. No transportation I'm am now experiencing constant nausea and slight punching pain on left side of stomach. I don't oj what to do .

    • profile image

      rebecca 3 years ago

      Also was banded on Dec 8, 2009. I started at 227lbs at 5'1". I was a slow process but I lost at one point 100lbs. I took up exercising 6 to 7 days a week. I did ok with the diet for a while; however, eating was a task. I threw up quite a bit when teing to eat high protein meals. I was good for about 2 years. At about my 3rd year I began have extreme pain in my shoulder and constant vomiting. It was horrible. I switched doctors and I was constantly going for upper GIs. The doctor would loosen my band and put me on liquids. After about 1 year of excruciating pain i had to have emergeny surgery to have my band removed. I was told that I would have revision to a gastric bypass if possible. Well coming out of my surgery I found out my stomach was severely damanged and revision was not an option at that point. I was heart broken. At that point I was about 150lbs an athletic build which I had never been before and was doing crossFit 5 days a week faithfully. I came out with the mindset that I could continue and maintain my weight. Well here I am still doing crossFit 5 days weekly and I am back at 205lbs. I have been back to the doctor and I am hoping my insurance approves me for the sleeve.

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      Felicity 4 years ago

      Your story is exactly my life, I am so glad you posted this and even more happy that I found it!! I still have my band but wanting it removed this year. X

    • profile image

      SUSAN 4 years ago

      MY NAME IS SUSAN SHACKA AND 3 YEARS AGO A BRILLIANT IDEA TO GET HEALTHY AND LOSE WEIGHT BY GETTING A LAPBAND SURGERY DONE, ACTUALLY IT WAS THE DOCTORS SUGGESTION TO BE HONEST - I HADN'T EVEN THOUGHT OF IT. LONG STORY SHORT, I HAD TO LEARN TO STAND 3 MIN. AT A TIME AND WALK ONE FOOT AT A TIME TO REACH THE 9 FT. MARK - WAS PAULA BEHND ME CONSTANTLY YELLING JUST IN CASE I FELL. BUT JOSE AND OLIVER WERE MY ANGELS AT THE 2ND SKILLED NURSING. I HAD TO DO MY OWN LAUNDRY AS I HAD NO ONE TO VISIT ME. THAT'S WHY IN MY CHURCH TODAY VISITING NURSING HOMES ARE MY PASSION AND A GIFT I CAN GIVE BACK.

      I ENDED GETTING 5 DIFFERENT DIAGNOSES, INCLUDING GUILLAIN-BARRE, MS, BACK TO GBS, THE WERNIKIE SYNDROME AND THAT IS THE FINAL DIAGNOSES - A BRAIN INJURY, THAT INCLUDES ATAXIA, FINE MOTOR SKILLS, WALKING IS UNBALANCED, STIFFNESS IN BOTH FEET AND MY LEFT HAND, TREMORS IN MY VOICE AND HANDS. WHERE DO I FIT IN THIS LIFE? I WAS 51 AND LIVED IN 4 SKILLED NURSING FACILITIES, 2 AWFUL ASSISTED LIVING WITH 70-90 SENIORS AND 3 BAD BOARD AND CARE WHERE I DIDN'T GET HELP IF I FEEL WHILE LEARNING TO WALK.. AT FIRST I HAD TO LEARN TO WALK AND STILL NOW IT IS HARD FOR ME AS I HAVE A BRAIN INJURY CALLED WERNIKIE-KORSAKOFF SYNDROME. HAVING FINE MOTOR SKILLS MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO WRITE AND TYPE WITH 1 FINGER - NOT BAD AFTER WORKING 30+ YEARS AS A SECRETARY, WHERE I TYPE WITH 1 FINGER. I USE EVERYTHING FROM A WALKER, WHEELCHAIR TO A CANE AT TIMES.

      I JUST WANT SOMETHING TO MAKE ME FEEL GOOD AND THAT THERE IS HUMANITY AND CARING IN THIS WORLD. AT ONE POINT I HAD TO FIGHT FOR WHEELCHAIR THAT WOULD FIT ME, NOTHING SPECIAL BLUE OR PINK, BUT THE CORRECT SIZE - THE OTHER ONE WAS TAKEN AWAY - I JUST WANT ONE THAT THAT FITS ME - NOT A WANT BUT A NEED.

      I FOUND AN ATTORNEY THAT IS WILLING TO TAKE MY CASE AND IS 'EXCITED AND OPTIMISTIC' AND KNOWS ABOUT LAPBAND SURGERIES AND NEED FUNDS FOR THE COLLECTION OF MEDICAL RECORDS AN EXPERT WITNESS.AND COLLECT MY MEDICAL RECORDS AND AN EXPERT WITNESS. MY PASTOR HAS TALKED HIM AND I NEED PRAYERS OR HELP!!!

      PLEASE TAKE THE TIME TO CONSIDER ME. I WANT TO FIGHT THIS BATTLE......I CAN BE REACHED AT 712-256-5141 OR IOWASUE57@YAHOO.COM http://www.kptm.com/story/19369140/woman-suffers-f...

      Franque Thompson

      KPTM Fox 42 News

      News Reporter

      (402)926-1477 (c)

      (402)554-4284 (w)

      fthompson@kptm.com

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      onYourside 5 years ago

      I found this post to be very insightful, I also had lap-band surgery, or as they (doctors) call it the realize band, and i too have considered getting it taken out because i feel like it didn't do what i thought it was supposed to do, i got it back in 09 luckily i didn't have the complications you had, i actually had a good team of drs but as for the points you made in #'s 1,6,7 i completely agree, now im left with scars on my stomach and will have to go through yet another surgery if i decide to have this removed and choose another tool to use. Even though i did my research on the band, now having it i feel like i feel completely different about it

    • profile image

      Cheryl in California 5 years ago

      Im a believer in any tool that assists you to lose weight and be healthier. I has RNY in 2001, 4 revisions, anemia treatment and just recently has band over bypass in Mexico. I was hoping someone could share there operative report with me as my pco wants it for record. I've tried obtaining it from the hospital in Mexico however I've had no response. You can email me at Cher.cook@gmail.com or fax to me at 5302737462. My cell is 5102740818

    • profile image

      B.b. 5 years ago

      Wow, I had the lapband put in about 5 years ago and have had the EXACT same misery have you have described. Anyone reading this should opt for another source!!!!

    • profile image

      Carol 5 years ago

      So sorry with the bad exxperIence you had with the Lap Band. I also had 4 months of pre op education that included 3 nutrition consultations, psych evaluation and physical fitness evaluation. I had my Lap band inserted 7/2007 and could not be happier. I have lost 95 lbs and have maintained the loss. Yesterday I has the access port replaced secondary to a crack in the port causing a leak, even with this I would highly recommend the surgery. It sure sounds like you had the wrong surgeon, sounds like he did not give a dam. My surgeon has post op support group meeting for those who feel ten need. Sure do wish you would have had the right surgeon, it makes the world of difference ..Good lick to you......

    • Peter Leeper profile image

      Peter Leeper 5 years ago from Londonderry, New Hampshire

      I am sorry you had such a horrible experience with your lap band. It sounds to me it is more an issue with who and where you had the proceedure than the lap band concept in general. I myself had the lapband in october 2010. It was a 4 month process of education, pre-surgery weight loss, and more education. I had lost 40 lbs beforet the surgery even happened. Happily enough I have lost over 100 lbs to date and am very happy with the results.

      You look great by the way. Congrats on your progress!

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

      Oh, yuck! I didn't know a person had to go through all of that for lap-band surgery. Thanks for getting the word out. The television shows don't do us any justice, do they? People go get surgeries done, and that's only half the story. You'd think the surgeon would throw in a psychologist to help you through the pre and post surgery. That's a lot to go through--physically and emotionally.