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Bariatric Surgery: My Personal Experience with the Realize Band Weight Loss Surgery

Updated on October 10, 2015

Before and After

Me prior to WLS, 330 lbs +
Me prior to WLS, 330 lbs +
Me after WLS, 245 lbs  Still 70 pounds from goal
Me after WLS, 245 lbs Still 70 pounds from goal

Bariatric Surgery: My Personal Experience with the Realize Band

I was born in the early 80's and grew up being told to finish everything on my dinner plate because "there are children starving in China." I didn't get to pick and choose what to eat, or how much, it was decided for me. Second helpings were considered the normal when it came to dinner, the largest meal of the day. Being as that I was not very coordinated, and very klutzy to boot, I was not signed up for sports or other recreational activities. I was required to play outside as much as possible in the warm months, from after lunch until dinner, then from dinner until sundown. I was the typical child of the 80's.

I was an average baby, born weighing 6 lbs 9 oz, and was a thin to average build as a child. At the ripe old age of seven I hit puberty, and that is where the problem began. As soon as I hit puberty, the pounds began to pack on. It was mostly under control until I graduated high school, mostly. I graduated high school weighing in at 182 pounds. I still had a flat stomach, and just looked "thick" with a toned build.

My parents, biologically my maternal grandparents, were older and not in the best of health. I spent most of early adult life taking care of them; from 2002-2004 I took care of them exclusively, quitting my warehouse job to be home 24/7 to help my Dad care for my Mom, whom had been diagnosed as Stage IV Small Cell Lung Carcinoma.

While caring for my parents I was barely out of the house, unless it was to take them to an appointment, pick up medications, or run other errands such as grocery shopping. I became very depressed, and combined with medications and birth control I was on, ended up gaining over 100 pounds. My weight continued to spiral out of control after the 2005 death of my Dad, and 2006 death of my Mom. I began binge drinking between shifts at work, having an "alcohol-blood" level as opposed to a "blood-alcohol" level. Before I knew it, I was up to over 315 pounds.

After losing approximately 20 pounds from a starvation diet (which I do NOT recommend, and will not give the name of the program I used as it is still advertised today), I discovered I was pregnant a mere one month after beginning to see my now husband. My pregnancy was laden with problems, some of which due to my weight and some of which was due to stress and lack of sleep from my job as a 9-1-1 dispatcher working 16 hour shifts several days per week. I was taken off on bedrest by three months into my pregnancy, delivering my son at 28 weeks pregnant. Luckily, he is now a happy and healthy four-year old.

After 68 days in the NICU, my son was sent home and I was told he needed 24-hour care at home for the first month minimum, in case he were to have another Brady attack, or stop breathing in his sleep. I was also suffering from PPD and Separation Anxiety at the time, not cleared to return to work. I was contacted by my employer and told my FMLA and STD were expiring and I needed to make a decision: Return to work FULL-TIME, or resign.

I contacted my physician to inquire on this and I was told they could clear me to do 8-hour shifts, but I could not return to a schedule of working 12-16 hour shifts several times per week until my PPD was under control. My employer was advised of this and I was told the choice was back to full-time or resign. Full-time to them meant a minimum of 8-hour shifts 5-days per week, which normally turned into a 12-hour shift one day per week, and 16-hour shifts the other four days, unless you volunteered to come in on a day off, then it may be 12-16 hours that day as well. The choice was clear; I had to resign.

My depression worsened, and exercising and diet wasn't cutting it anymore. I was ballooning fast. I dieted often, losing 10-20 pounds and then regaining 25-30 pounds each time. By November, 2009, I had hit my breaking point. Stepping on a scale I topped off at 330 pounds, and the scale could have kept going had the numbers went higher. I cried for days.

After regaining my composure, I talked to my husband and told him that I needed to do something. I needed to see a Bariatric Specialist as my dieting was no longer working and my back, knees, feet, and hips were suffering, I was depressed, and I was unable to even walk two blocks to the park to play with my son. I had hit rock bottom.

The Pre-Surgery Process

On November 11, 2009, I met with the Barix Clinics in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for an initial check-up and to get additional information on the options that would best suit me. I was nervous to attend, but so eager to find out what, if anything, could be done to help me finally get my weight under control. My (now) husband joined me for this appointment, as he is my strength through all of this.

When we arrived, we checked in and then sat in a waiting room for nearly thirty minutes, waiting on the remainder o the participants for the session to arrive. Once everyone was there, we were taken back to a small presentation room with a whiteboard and a projector. The instructor for the day, Dr. Poplawski, came in and introduced himself and gave a brief overview of the clinic itself, and what procedures they did there. Then, we went around the room and had us all introduce ourselves and tell where we were from. Out of a group of approximately twenty-five potential patients, only two of us were from the U.S.A. I did not realize at the time that many Canadians came to the clinic because it was easier and quicker to have the procedure done in the U.S.A. than it was to wait for approval to have it done, and then to actually get it scheduled, in Canada.

Most of the participants decided to get the Gastric Bypass surgery, as this was the procedure that those from Canada using insurance to have the procedure were told they could get, as Canadian insurance would only cover the Bypass. I was one of three people opting for the Gastric Band, otherwise known as the Lap Band or Realize Band. At the time that I had my procedure done, they were not offering the Gastric Sleeve, so this was not covered with us. They do offer this procedure now.

After we sat through a thirty minute informational slideshow of what the different procedures were, their risks and benefits, and what type of surgery was best for which type of patient, we met with a nutritionist. This was the most eye-opening experience for me personally, and it opened the eyes of my husband as well.

After over twenty-five years of eating large portions, attempting to be a "clean plater" so I wouldn't waste food when there were children starving in China, and believing I was dieting properly when I followed the portion sizes listed on food packages, I learned I was doing everything wrong. I couldn't believe how small the portion sizes really were. I thought for sure I would starve to death if I attempted to eat as little as they wanted me to. 1/4-1/2 cup of food per meal, six times per day. Were they crazy? They had to be!

Then came the worst part of the initial consultation: my weigh in. I had to strip down to my bra and panties, and put on one of those hideous hospital gowns. We were all put into our own rooms, which I was grateful for. My husband took my hand and told me everything would be alright. I stepped onto the scale and cried. After nearly eight months of dieting, I had finally gotten back down to 302 lbs. This was the lowest my weight had been since before my son was born in 2007. However, my weight had been stalled there for three months, and my blood pressure was getting dangerously high.

I was sent home from the initial consultation and told to attempt to diet, following the small portion sizes we were shown during the nutrition class, and discuss things with family and friends before making a final decision on which surgery, if any, was right for me. I felt deflated. I wanted to jump right in and have surgery right away, but I waited.

In February, 2010, after three month of following the diet nearly to a tee with low fats, low carbs, high protein, high water intake, daily walking of a minimum of thirty minutes per day, I had gained six pounds. I called the clinic and told them I needed to schedule my surgery. I still had more hoops to jump through.

I was informed that I would need to fill out paperwork detailing every diet I had tried, which doctor was overseeing the dieting attempts, any weight loss/weight gain, the duration of the diet, any medical issues that I was having and if they had been alleviated at all with the diet, and list any current medical conditions I had. This would need to be submitted to my insurance before I could get approval. I also was informed that I needed to meet with the staff psychologist for a psychological evaluation to ensure I was having surgery for the right reasons, that I did not suffer from any mental illness that may inhibit my ability to follow the diet and exercise plan I would need to be on post-op, and to attempt to discover if there were any underlying medical or psychological reasons for my weight issues. I was terrified.

All I could think of in the next three weeks leading up to my psych evaluation was all of the reasons they might say I was unfit for surgery. Maybe I suffered from some mental illness and was unaware of it. Maybe I was self-defeating and that's why I was overweight. My husband and my friends tried their best to reassure me, but I was so concerned about it and couldn't quite explain why.

On the day of my psych evaluation I discovered I'd had nothing to worry about. My psychologist was very pleasant, and went over my medical history with me, along with my family history. He noted some medical reasons, both directly tied to me and directly tied to genetics, that could be contributing factors to my weight issues. He then delved into my emotional and mental well-being.

He inquired on stress levels, of which he noted I had extremely high levels in my life from multiple sources. He asked about any tragic events in my past, of which I informed him of the loss of my parents and the blame placed on me by family members who refused to be in the picture in the time of need. I broke down sobbing, saying how I felt so much guilt over their deaths because of the things that were said to me, and that maybe these family members were right and it was all my fault because I should have done more somehow. He reassured me that I had gone above and beyond and that these family members were trying to place blame on me because they themselves felt guilt over having not been around. He really took his time and let me talk about all sorts of things I needed to get out in the open.

By the time the session was over, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted. I realized that not all of my weight issues were my fault. Yes, I love food. Yes, I have not eaten the healthiest a majority of my life. No, I was not fully to blame. He explained how some of my previous health issues, as well as ones I was still struggling with, would cause me to gain weight or have difficulty losing it. He explained to me how many of the medications I had been on over the previous ten to fifteen years of my life can cause dramatic weight gain and difficulty losing weight. The stress levels and the production and release of Cortisol can trap fat and cause one to gain weight. And that, yes, loving food is an addiction and that many doctors are trying to get it the list of medical issues, just like an addiction to heroine or crack cocaine. It causes spikes in the same areas of the brain and releases the same hormones.

I felt a renewed sense of self leaving the appointment. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn't completely my fault, though I still blamed myself for allowing it to get as out of control as I had. I also placed blame on our educational system here in the U.S., because teaching how to read a nutrition label was not something we were ever taught in school. We were never taught was a true portion size was. We were told that certain foods were "free foods" and we could eat as much of them as we wanted to, without any guilt or worry of gaining weight from it. Had we been mislead? No. We had been deceived, lied to.

I again went on with the diet from that point up until the day before my surgery. During that time I lost nine pounds. The day prior to surgery, I went to liquids only, which I was told would be the way things would be for one week post-op. It was difficult, and I didn't think I could make it for a week post-op on liquids only. I was glad to arrive at that day, though I couldn't hardly sleep the night of April 13, 2010. I was too excited, and too nervous. April 14, 2010, would be the first day of my new life.

April 14, 2010 vs April 29, 2010

Me, 4:30 a.m., April 14, 2010.  Just before leaving for surgery at Barix Clinic.  Size 26/28 (tight fit)
Me, 4:30 a.m., April 14, 2010. Just before leaving for surgery at Barix Clinic. Size 26/28 (tight fit)
Me, 6 a.m., April 29, 2010.  15 days post Realize Band surgery.  Down one entire pant size. (size 22/24, comfortable fit)
Me, 6 a.m., April 29, 2010. 15 days post Realize Band surgery. Down one entire pant size. (size 22/24, comfortable fit)

April 14, 2010: Time for Surgery

I can remember thinking I didn't want to really do this. Somehow, I was certain I would get to the hospital and talk myself out of having surgery. That, or I would get there and somehow they would have gotten a refusal from my insurance company and we would need to cancel the procedure. Something would go wrong that day, I was certain.

I arrived at the clinic at approximately 5:30 a.m. Husband and Mother-in-law in tow, I checked in at the desk, still certain something would go awry. I was taken back to my prep room pretty quickly to find one person ahead of me for surgery. I was scheduled for 7:20 a.m., and the person before me for 6:30 a.m. They drew my blood, checked my blood pressure, took another weight, started an I.V. drip, all the things any other surgery most likely would entail.

Laying back in the prep room, watching the clock tick time away, I began to panic. This was really happening, and I wasn't ready. I tried desperately to talk my husband out of me having the surgery. "Please take me home!" I pleaded over and over, tears streaming down my face. Luckily, he was a lot stronger than I was at the time, and he refused to let me leave.

I remember him talking to me, reminding me of why I was having this surgery. Our son, nearly three years old, needed a Mom who could be active in his life. A Mom who didn't always have to sit on the sidelines. A Mom who would live to see him grow up and have a family of his own. A Mom, not the fat blob I had evolved into over the years.

I was still crying when they came to take me back to surgery. Dr. Schram, the doctor performing my surgery, prayed with me prior to me having my anesthesia. Not necessarily praying to God, but just asking me to find strength and peace within myself to go through with this procedure, and all of the lifestyle changes that would come with it.

When I awoke some four hours later, I found that I was having minimal pain. Looking down at my abdomen, I had three bandages. Beneath these bandages, I would later find, were five tiny incisions from the procedure. I had opted for the Realize Band, and was therefore having an outpatient procedure. Little did I know that as soon as the nurses caught wind of me being awake they would have me up walking the halls, preparing to go home.

After consuming some very tasty lemon water, liquid pain killers, and practicing breathing to show lung function was at an acceptable rate, it was time for my tenth and final lap around the recovery ward hallway. Walking was slow and uncomfortable, but it was hardly painful. I wasn't certain at the time that I had even actually had surgery; the pain was minuscule compared to what I had envisioned. By 2:00 p.m., I was being loaded into my Mother-in-law's car for the 45 minute drive home. I left with my new "WLS Bible", a 32 oz. water jug, a prescription for liquid vicodin, and a pillow to hold against my tummy with the advice that if I should feel nauseated, take a deep breath in through my mouth and let it out slowly through my nose as this somehow counteracted the urge to vomit. As I found out about twenty minutes into the drive, this works wonders.

The remainder of the day I didn't drink much. I sipped water all day, not wanting anything with any flavor in it at all. I was still nauseated, but not in a tremendous amount of pain. I remember walking into the apartment with every intention of getting onto Facebook to update everyone about my surgery, only to fall asleep in a chair in the front room. I do believe I did update at some point that evening, but I am not certain it made any sense. I was slightly out of it from what my husband tells me. I'm sure I provided a lot of comedy for him that evening.

The First Few Weeks Post-Op

The first week post-op I was on a strict "liquids only" diet. Nothing that was not an actual liquid could be consumed. I drank a lot of water, 1% milk protein shakes, bouillon, chicken broth. Basically, if it was liquid, that is what I consumed. There were only a few items in the liquids category that were off limits to me; anything carbonated, anything alcoholic, anything with more than 2g sugar if sugar (dextrose, sucrose, fructose, etc.) were listed within the first five ingredients.

After the week of liquids, we moved to purees, which was anything the consistency of baby food, including baby food. Again, we had to stay with less than 2g of sugar. The more substance there is to the item you are eating, the harder it becomes to stay within the 2g sugar threshold. By the end of this week, I had my first checkup with the clinic, and was already down a little over 20 pounds. I was ecstatic.

The third week, we moved to soft foods, such as mashed potatoes, small portions of whole grain pasta cooked extra mushy, jello, pudding, yogurt, and of course protein powder shakes and lots of water. I also began drinking the Protein Shots to supplement my protein intake goals since I was working full-time and was finding it difficult to get in my six meals per day.

The fourth week and beyond, I'm back to normal foods. Lots of water, which does not have to be straight water. It was recommended to me by my physician to flavor my water with natural lemon, or with protein powders and mixes to make it easier to get the water into my system, since drinking in excess of 96 oz. of water daily gets a little monotonous.

Some things will forever be out of my diet, such as normal breads, sugar-filled foods and drinks, anything requiring a straw to drink, anything that turns doughy when chewing (such as cinnamon rolls and most donuts). I have learned how to make many of the items I love in a way I can continue to consume them though. Homemade cookies or cakes made with sugar alternatives, such as Splenda or Stevia, will still help curb the cravings for sweets without killing my diet and weight loss goals.


Submit a Comment

  • live-business profile image

    live-business 6 years ago from Somewhere in the USA

    I admire your courageousness and determination. Voted up!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    A very interesting and moving experience for you. It just goes to prove that gaining weight is not always an eat food factor, there can be many reasons why people put on weight and very often its emotional and genetic as much as food.

    You've got guts and I admire you for it. Great hub + voted up!

  • DravensMommy11 profile image

    DravensMommy11 6 years ago from Honolulu, HI

    Very moving so far. I completely understand where you are coming from. I also was raised by my maternal grandparents. So far, they are still living, but they are both having more and more health problems all the time. I had a similar problem, but mine was actually the reverse. When I get depressed, I lose my appetite. After a very bad break-up with my ex, who at the time I thought was "the one", I lost down all the way to 90 lbs. I still struggle with my anorexia daily, but I'm trying my hardest to stay healthy for my 6 month old son. Best of luck to you for your future, and I look forward to reading the rest of your story soon :)