In 2010 I made the difficult decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery. At only 26 years old, I was morbidly obese and on the fast track to diabetes and early onset heart disease. I had a two-year-old little boy whom I so desperately wanted to be present for and active with. My husband and I yearned for a large family, but I knew I was too big and unhealthy to get pregnant again before losing the weight. I had tried every diet known to man and while I had experienced some success, the hundred pounds I still needed to lose just to have a “normal” BMI seemed so daunting, I believed weight loss surgery to be my last and only resort. After thorough research, thought, and consideration I scheduled a consultation with a bariatric surgeon at a well known hospital in Boston. The consultation went great and within a month I was scheduled for the surgery that was going to change my life and fix all of my problems.
Fast forward six months post op and I had lost 100 pounds! That’s right, 100 pounds in six months. My surgeon was thrilled, I was thrilled, my husband was happy; everything seemed to be working out just the way it should be. Then the pain started.
At first it was just a bit of belly pain, then a bit of nausea. After a few weeks of this and a significant amount of additional weight loss, I contacted my surgeon. She was quick to assume that “Looking as good as you do, you must be pregnant.” When I assured her I was not (bariatric patients are given strict instructions not to become pregnant until one year post op), she insisted, taking a pregnancy test and sending me on my way with no further diagnostic testing or follow up. Needless to say, I was not pregnant and began to adjust to the abdominal pain and now chronic nausea.
It wasn’t long until I found myself back in Boston seeing the surgeon again. This time though, I was being rushed in for emergency surgery for intussusception, a small bowel obstruction, and a perforated ulcer (hhmm remember that belly pain and nausea?). Intussusception is so rare that the Mayo clinic estimates there are less than 20,000 cases per year with most cases occurring in children, not adults. Two weeks before Christmas, all I could focus on was getting discharged in time to be home with my baby for Santa’s arrival. I was home for one week.
One week later I was back in the OR, helplessly laid out on the cold, sterile table at the mercy of my surgeon yet again. This time she wasn’t even sure what she was going in for. She just knew things “didn’t look right,” and so into surgery I went. It turned out I had a pill stuck in the lining of my “new” stomach (often referred to as a pouch with bariatric patients). The kicker here is that she never told me this. After releasing me to recovery she went to tell my sister, whom was waiting for me, that the surgery was done and I was okay. She explained that she really didn’t know why I had so much pain and free air in the scans. She had no explanation. It wasn’t until years later when I requested pages upon pages of medical records did I discover there was, in fact, a pill stuck in the lining of my pouch. At this point we’re still in December 2010 and I’m only 10 months post op. This time my discharge wasn’t quick or easy, as I was sent home with a feeding tube and a visiting nurse. The regret began setting in and hovering over me like a dark cloud that simply wouldn’t allow one ray of sunshine to shine through for even the briefest of moments.
February delivered the ever predictable blizzards and cold. Unpredictable though, was my third operation in as many months. In my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d be back on that stark, cold, metal operating room table; bright lights blinding me as the doctors and nurses rushed about the operating room. This time I had a small bowel obstruction and required my second small bowel resection in three months. My condition was grave. At 5’7” I weighed a mere 112 pounds; so sick and malnourished, my hair was falling out, despite the feeding tube, which had become lodged in my abdomen and would ultimately require yet another surgery to be removed.
By the Grace of God I made it out of surgery and returned home to my husband and son. Having gained 5 pounds, that additional surgery to remove the feeding tube was performed and I was more than eager to get back to my life. I was 27 years old. Twenty Seven.
As the months passed I grew stronger. Though I suffered some devastating personal losses including death and divorce, I continued to push forward; refusing to lose. July brought more than fireworks and cook-outs for me, though. An unexpected appendectomy brought my new job and graduate courses to a screeching halt. Again, I fought back as hard as my weak body would allow.
Soon enough the summer was over and the beauty of autumn in New England decorated our fields, streets, yards, and forests. As October embarked upon us, I knew something was wrong. Refusing to “be sick” again, I laid in bed for days and days unable to eat or drink, uncontrollably vomiting. It wasn’t until I was too weak to even yell down the hall for help that I finally returned to the hospital. I honestly don’t remember much after arriving at the local hospital. I remember a wonderfully compassionate nurse who took incredibly good care of me. God I wish I knew her name so I could thank her personally. I vaguely remember the ambulance ride into Boston, and the next thing I remember is waking up full of rage because the surgeon had decided to conduct an “open surgery,” leaving me with a hideous scar from cleavage to belly button. It was not until this new surgeon,(the Chief of Surgery), informed me that I was lucky to be alive because all that pain and vomiting was a result of an ulcer which had perforated in two places. It had been leaking toxic fluids into my system the entire time I had been sick and refused to seek help.
I have to admit, the next few years were largely uneventful regarding my health. I returned to work, and we moved across the country for my then fiance (now husband) to accept a prestigious position in a top grossing restaurant in Las Vegas. Though I suffered with chronic pain and nausea, I was just happy not to have surgery. Not to mention that any attempt I made in seeking medical help was blatantly ignored. Time after time I visited both the ER and my PCP, only to leave disappointed with a diagnosis of gastritis.
This past July I once again found myself being transported via ambulance from a local hospital to a Trauma One Center. Having moved back east just about a year prior, I considered myself very lucky to have access to the hospitals and doctors. Once again I was diagnosed with the rare condition known as intussusception, and once again I found myself in surgery to correct the intussusception. I have now had three small bowel resections.
Since July I have spent more time in the hospital than out. I have been diagnosed with nearly every GI condition possible, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome. A large cyst was discovered on my right ovary (the third in a year) and I’ve been told the ovary, not the cyst, the entire ovary, looks concerning and problematic. I am now faced with the all too real possibility that I may very well lose my ovary. I’m 32.
While some may say I got what I deserved for taking “the easy way out” and having weight loss surgery, I beg to differ. Nothing about this has been easy. My son is 8 now and all too aware that I am sick. He’s gentle with me; refusing to let me lift or carry anything. While his chivalry makes me proud, it crushes me, too. I hate that he knows I’m ill and I hate that I’m not stronger. I’ve been out of work since July, and I fear daily my part-time management position will be filled. I love my job. Again I say, I’m 32 years old.
One of the main reasons I decided to have gastric bypass was because I wanted more children. Since the surgery, I have been rendered “infertile.” I hate that word so much and have an incredibly difficult time accepting the diagnosis. After all, I have been pregnant twice; once ending in an early miscarriage and the other yielding the most beautiful, healthy baby boy a mother could ask for. How can I now be “infertile?” I just don’t understand.
Bypass patients are promised a lot. The surgery is promoted like a magic potion that will correct infertility (oh the irony there), PCOS, and diabetes just to name a few. None of this happened for me. Though I don’t have PCOS or diabetes (I never did), I suffer with chronic pain and chronic nausea. Worse than the physical symptoms though is the dread that looms over me every time I feel the slightest pain, tweak, or discomfort in my abdomen. Today I am back down to about 115 pounds and struggling. An ulcer makes it both uncomfortable and difficult to eat. My hair is falling out again, and I’m keenly aware of the concerned and curious looks I receive on a daily basis from family, friends, and even strangers.
I am resolved to will myself better. No matter what it takes, I will fight for my health and well being. I deserve to be well. My child deserves a healthy mother. My husband deserves a vibrant and healthy wife. While I have made a valiant effort not to let any of my health issues get me down, I’m not sure I will ever fully recover from the infertility. We do have access to IVF and other fertility treatments, but I’m not sure my body could carry a baby at this point. My frail frame can barely support my 115 pounds, and I’m not sure God wants us to have a second child. I believe if it’s meant to be, it will. Sadly, it seems as though it won’t.
Gastric bypass robbed me of more than my fertility. I now live in continual fear that something will go wrong and I will once again be at the mercy of whatever surgeon has my case thrown at him. Bob Seger says it best in his hit song, “Against the Wind,” when he says “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Oh how I wish…