One year ago today, December 11, 2009, I was on a gurney, being rolled into the operating room for the surgery that would change my life. Tipping the scales at a morbidly obese 353 pounds, I was a walking (or, more likely, sitting or sleeping) time bomb. At 35, it had become a genuine question whether I would see 50, or even 40. Severe obstructive sleep apnea left me exhausted as I awoke several times per night, gasping for breath. It also meant that each night I lay down to sleep could have been my last, as the ever-increasing risk of congestive heart failure threatened to kill me in my slumber.
Like so many overweight, unhappy people, I had tried numerous fad diets, pills, & exercise videos. I bought exercise equipment that saw vigorous use for a week, a month, even a few months, then ended up as bad pop art sculptures upon which I hung clothes. I went through the spirit-crushing cycle of weight loss & regain over and over again. I had all but given up. I had seen some celebrities like Carnie Wilson & Gil "Buck Rogers" Gerard have tremendous success with early bariatric bypass surgery, but I really didn't give it much thought until, in 2007, my mother had this amazing, revolutionary procedure.
I watched her go through the classes, slowly using what she learned to make changes to her diet & lifestyle. Then she had the surgery, and I got to watch her literally transform over the succeeding months. Her physical transformation was matched by her emotional transformation. She was able to fit into normal size seats and normal size clothes. She wasn't ashamed to be seen or photographed. Her energy and joie de vivre grew day by day. By Thanksgiving of 2008, I was convinced.
In the movie "The Shawshank Redemption," Morgan Freeman's character Red has a saying: "get busy living, or get busy dying." In December of 2008, I made the choice to get busy living. I signed up for Kaiser's "Options" weight loss program, a six month regimen of classes designed to educate participants about nutrition, weight loss, the psychology of eating & weight loss, and, most importantly, prepare candidates to undergo bariatric bypass weight loss surgery. You can read all about the class, the surgery, and my journey toward the operating table here.
Clearly, going under the knife is a pretty drastic solution for weight loss, but drastic problems require drastic solutions. There is some risk to any surgery, but I believed then, and believe now, that the risk of not having this surgery was far, far greater. Sure, I could die on the table, but in so many ways, I had already died. I was chronically exhausted. I was depressed. I had withdrawn from friends; I had withdrawn from life. I was so depressed and without hope for a real, happy life that I no longer cared if I died in my sleep. There were days that I would have welcomed it. Compared to those feelings, surgery suddenly didn't seem so drastic.
Well, it's been one year to the day since that fateful morning. One thing that I can say about it unequivocally: I have no regrets. Having this surgery has been the best decision I have ever made in (and for) my life. I look on December 11, 2009 as my re-birth. This surgery was my baptism, the ritual that symbolized my desire for, and commitment to, a better and more fulfilled life.
I knew that what I was doing was going to lead to some big changes, but I could scarcely have believed how big. A year ago, I was wearing 4X and 5X shirts & 60" waist pants from the big and tall store. Today, I buy XL off the rack at Walmart. A year ago, it was all I could do to walk to and from my car when I went to work. Today, I jog three miles, six days a week. A year ago, I didn't sleep though the night, being jarred awake, choking for air, several times a night. Today, I sleep like a baby through the night. A year ago, I could sleep for twelve hours, be awake for a couple, and turn around and sleep several hours more. Today I average 6-8 hours per night, and it is sometimes hard to fall asleep because of excess energy.
This surgery has helped me to change my life in countless positive ways, but it is not a magic pill. It is a tool. It has given me a leg up, but it does not do the work for me. This transformation has been as much about the transformation of my habits as it has been surgical prowess. I am almost entirely vegetarian now (I still eat dairy and fish). I rarely eat out or have fast food now, and I order healthier choices whenever I do. I snack on veggies instead of potato chips. I get out there and pound the pavement six days a week, no matter how much I may dread it some days. I make a dozen little choices for my health everyday--be it parking further out, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking to the store or instead of driving.
I have changed my life by changing my lifestyle, and I couldn't be happier for doing it. Every single day, often several times a day, I smile to myself, so happy that I did this. Every time the numbers on the scale go down, or I buy new clothes, or buckle a seat belt, or squeeze between two parked cars, it is a validation that makes my heart soar.
One year ago today, I was 353 pounds. At my all-time high, I was 385 pounds. Today, I weigh 233 pounds, and am still losing. I hope to get under 200, and I am confident that I will. I cannot even describe all the ways that this feels wonderful and has uplifted my whole life. For the first time, I feel good about how I look, and I can actually foresee a day where I will feel great. I look forward to waking up, to buying clothes, to going out with friends and talking to girls, to seeing my niece & nephew go to high school and college. I look forward to my life.