Can I stomach this big change? Yup.

So, how did it go?

Not too bad. Big change. But not too bad.

Last Friday, I was a guest at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center for my bariatric sleeve surgery. I left about 36 hours after I arrived, bearing five war wounds across my abdomen and a significantly smaller stomach.

So many of you have asked questions about my experience, I will share my recollections and revelations here. I hope this openness has sparked some conversations about this tool in so many people’s struggles with weight loss. It’s not for everybody and yes, I have had my moments where I wondered why I wanted to do this. Now that it’s done, I am focused on making the best of this body revision and what it can help me achieve.

First of all, kudos to the nursing and medical staff at Providence; they were friendly, professional, supportive and made my stay very comfortable, despite the frequent wake-ups Friday evening. It’s good to have people around you that are familiar with your procedure and can gently advise life changes that will make your surgery worthwhile. Got a lot of good information from all my visitors.

PuffySuit
The amazing Bear Paws warm air puffy gown. Whoever invented this deserves an award!

Additional kudos to whoever invented those Bear Paws inflatable gowns with vents where they pipe in warm air. No more freezing on the gurney waiting to go to the OR. I didn’t want to take it off. And now I have a whole slew of silly questions for my friend the surgical nurse (at another hospital) about what else happens after surgery. Somehow, someone got me out of the puffy warm gown and into a cloth gown that wrapped around me comfortably so that I could get out of my bed to do laps around the nurses’ station (required before we could go home) without mooning anyone. That’s definitely a skill!

There’s a huge memory gap that starts when I saw the anesthesiologist, a lovely Irish lass with a beautiful accent, after I shifted to the operating table and ends sometime after I arrived at my room. I remember seeing family and friends waiting there, along with bits and pieces of conversations, peppered with a lot of giggling when I dozed off mid-sentence – over and over again. I seem to remember everyone was happy that I was safe in my room, then they all left to get lunch, leaving me to blissfully snooze.

I think.

SarahWalks
Daughter Sarah took one of the first Friday laps

Later that afternoon, I started my laps, escorted by various friends and family, each making special symbolic marks on my white board to signify completion. I continued the laps after they left, our daughters taking their dad out for dinner and leaving me to rest. Walking past the rooms of fellow bariatric patients (there were four of us that night), we bonded and encouraged each other to continue to walk, because moving more is key to us becoming shadows of our former selves.

It was deja-vu, back to the liquid diet, when they brought me dinner, a tray filled with broth, tea, juice (that had to be diluted) and an orange slushy. Broth, juice and half the slushy went down easily, in little tiny sips and spoonfuls, to accommodate my shrunken stomach. I guess I did pretty good, because they took me off the IV saline that night, saying I was sufficiently hydrated.

SquishyInPink
Who wouldn’t be incentivized by this cutie patootie?

Breakfast the next day was more of the same, as was lunch. I dozed off and on Saturday morning, family arrived to chat me up and keep me company as I walked more laps. My daughters sent pictures of my granddaughter playing at our house as incentive to keep walking and late that afternoon, the nurse brought me an armful of paperwork and we were headed home.

 

Other than feeling a little twinge in my middle from the war wounds (surgery was laparoscopic, four of the holes are from where they put in the trocars that accommodated the camera and surgical tools, the last is where the drain was installed), I felt pretty good. Of course, having Sadie at home to cuddle might have influenced that, but I didn’t have any residual aches or pains. I took the pain medicine prescribed because I thought it would help me sleep, but the constant interruptions of the night before assured I would sleep like a hibernating bear.

I did. Clean sheets and a familiar mattress are simply little bits of heaven.

BreakfastYogurt
Protein-enhanced yogurt. Eaten in little, baby-spoon-sized, tiny bites.

In the last couple of days, friends have been generously bringing homemade soups and asking if I need anything. I asked a friend to find some unflavored protein powder (I have to try and take in 70 grams of protein a day to keep up my energy) because most powders I’ve found are either vanilla (gak) or chocolate (doesn’t mix with chicken broth very well). She arrived with a huge container of Isopure, which is flavorless, but doesn’t seem to mix in very well. Maybe it’s my technique – could be like making gravy, takes an expert mixer.

By the time I figure it out, I’ll probably be on to foods that actually have protein in them, like eggs and tuna.

I think most of the people who have come by are amazed that I’m not more tired or sickly. Honestly, I feel great.

I also think that a lot of the credit for that is the positive reinforcement I’ve received from my readers and friends and people on the Facebook page Gastric Sleeve Support Group who unselfishly share their experiences, challenges and offer solutions for whatever anyone asks. I’ve even heard from friends who had the surgery that never talked about it before, reaching out now that we have a common bond.

Now to make a schedule for all of those offers to walk. Gotta get those laps in, before I need another nurses’ station. And figure out how to mix that damn powder.

 

I love to hear from my readers – feel free to comment and of course, to share!

 

 

 

 

 

Engaging in some voracious mind games

It’s nice to know I have a few supporters on this interesting journey!

Day 11 of my two-week liquid diet, part of my journey to better health, or as it has become to me, “Better Living Through Chemistry.”

I swore I’d never eat some of the diet things I’ve consumed in the last week and a half, but I have and they didn’t kill me. In fact, I believe they might be working on saving me.

Speaking of saving me, I want to start out this blog post with a giant hug of appreciation and love. I’ve heard from an amazing number of people who shared their support, curiosity, well wishes, enthusiasm and just plain “you go, girl” since posting my first steps into this surgical adventure.

My operation (yes, I’m giggling and thinking of the funny looking guy in the game and wondering if a buzzer will go off if my surgeon touches the wrong thing) will be done in just over three days. When they are finished, my stomach will be more tubular with a tiny pouch that looks forward to little bits of Things That Are Good For Me instead of a giant receptacle of More Than I Need.

shrimpI ate my last fried catfish two weeks ago. And kind of hated it.

Same with the shrimp, prepared by cooks who knew their stuff. I’m sure it was perfect.

But I was disappointed. Kind of disgusted. And happy that it was my last deep fried morsel.

The next day, my final, final big meal wasn’t a go-for-broke belly buster. It was my favorite sandwich from Jersey Mike’s, with chips and a soda. A simple end to a changing habit.

I truly believe that the brain is stronger than we think.

I mentioned that I’d lost about 30 pounds already, most of that just from cutting back my portions. I know some people think if I just keep that up, all the weight will fall off. It might. But I know it would not stay off.

Over the last year, I’ve been doing the bariatric prep dance. Apparently, most of the stuff I learned in class has been sticking and the little voices that say “I’m full” have gotten louder. I have more patience with myself.

I can do a liquid diet. I can do the clear liquid part, too. And even though I swore I’d never do it, I am gleefully dropping scoops of protein powder in a glass of orange juice and enjoying it. I see a gloppy orange drink, but my brain actually thinks I’m drinking a Creamsicle.

And those sugar-free syrups that are so popular at the coffeehouses are not too bad when I’m sick of vanilla anything. Current faves are English Toffee and coconut.

The mind games are quite entertaining.

spaghettiI’m also pretty darned proud of getting through two major food events, one of which my husband and I host and I make my special spaghetti sauce and pasta for about 100 close personal friends. I didn’t even taste the sauce (that’s what daughters and Italian friends are for) and when my husband asked me if the first pot of pasta was ready, I instinctively picked a strand of spaghetti off the spoon, bit it to check if it was al dente and promptly spit it out.

What’s happened to me?

When I was at my highest weight, I was also taking steroids for muscle aches. I looked more like the Sta-Puft marshmallow man than myself and my husband said he missed my face. That might have been the toughest thing to hear, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and quite possibly the reason I decided to be serious about this.

I’m happy to say that I have my face back. I don’t have to hide from cameras anymore and it’s just going to get better.

nicewordsWhen my house was filled with people this weekend, it wasn’t just the crock pots of bubbling marinara and meat sauce that were overflowing. That night was a banquet of support and, as I sipped my apple juice and downed a chocolate protein drink, I drank in a lot of love and approval, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful.

Excuse me now, I need to go make my list for the drug store. There are some stronger chemicals required for the final stages of surgical prep. I’m looking at it this way: from here on out, getting ready for my periodic colonoscopy will be a breeze!

 

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Taking the Not-So-Easy Route

real unicorns have curves

I told you there was another life-changer lurking in the shadows.

Here goes nothing…

I’ve always been a big girl. My mother frequently referred to me as “pleasingly plump” and I remember shopping in the “chubby girls” section of the local kid’s store.

In high school, I was kind of average, my favorite lunch a bag of barbecue chips washed down with a chocolate milkshake. I played tennis and field hockey (yes, I know it’s shocking, but I did participate in informal team sports) and that probably helped keep the fat at arm’s length (but clearly waiting in the wings).

In college, I walked everywhere and when I was a cadet for LAPD, I had the distinction of being the first female in that role – the spotlight and pressure of trying to get into the academy requiring some running and semi-regular workouts. I wore a size 9. That didn’t last long.

When I got married, I remember thinking that I was fatter than I wanted to be, but I was concentrating on being happy. Kids came along and I gained and lost baby weight, losing nearly 50 pounds after my youngest was born because my employer brought Weight Watchers onto the studio lot. But the weight came back.

I hate gyms. I hate the culture, the sweat, the pain, pretty much everything about them. I don’t run, don’t lift, don’t spin or Zumba. (For the record, I tried salsa dancing on a cruise once, which is just like Zumba, right? Damn near killed me.)

I do like singing and dancing and when I was in musicals, I felt pretty good about the dance workouts I was getting with the rest of the cast. Bless those choreographers who overlooked my clumsiness or worked that lack of coordination into a comedic dance break. But I haven’t been in a musical for a few years.

Being a reporter doesn’t require a lot of movement, and meals are eaten either in the car or at your desk, usually on deadline. Twenty years of that and it took me a little longer to sprint to the front desk – who am I kidding, I’d send an intern – than it did when I started as a columnist.

challengeI’m at the age where groans mean more pain than pleasure; I completely understand the concept of ”warming up the engine” before making any drastic moves. I take caution when stepping up a curb. I have rented a scooter – once – to get through a day at Disneyland.

It hurts when I move sometimes and I’ve been brought to tears more than once when I had to walk a long way, gasping for breath, my arthritic knees screaming for mercy.

And there was that time when I got kicked off the carousel on the Santa Monica pier for exceeding the weight limit. I thought I was hiding it well.

My self-image is an old picture and when I look in the mirror, I just don’t see the extra me in the frame. I’m amazingly good at justifying my fluffiness by looking at people around me, noticing their fluffiness and thinking that I just blend in with the herd.

But lately, I’ve decided to come to terms with the situation and what I can do to fix it. I look harder at the 61-year old woman staring back from the mirror, perplexed, but determined. Things have to change and there is no day but today.

And there’s that little Squishy that I want to play with, encourage, inspire, see graduate and get married and welcome her own little Squishy.

My doctor suggested surgical intervention a few years ago, but I rebuffed that idea. I could lose weight and watch what I ate. But I argue with myself and find reasons why things won’t work and sometimes, it just seems like my brain can’t handle working hard on trying to lose weight while I have so many other things going on that need my attention.

There were a lot of other things going on in my life. Kids were getting married, I was going back to college, there were financial challenges, we were trying to establish ourselves as artists. I was trying to learn new skills that would keep me solvent in the job market. It was just overwhelming.

But when I went to the doctor again and again complaining of aching muscles, painful knees and being short of breath, he would make sure my heart was fine and remind me that my weight could be part of the problem. Losing a significant amount of weight might remove stressors on my bones and muscles (which completely makes sense) and if there really was a problem, it would be found much easier without the extra pounds.

easyquoteSo I started asking around. I had friends who had undergone bariatric surgery and were living better lives because of it. I found a mentor who has been an amazing angel of encouragement and support, answering my stupid questions (because they seemed idiotic to me, but she answered them patiently). I found Facebook pages with people who were either pre- or post-surgery and read their suggestions, successes, challenges and advice.

And I started the process. My insurance company required a six-month series of classes that covered nutrition, psychology, movement, life changes and the surgeries we would have to choose from (the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, vertical sleeve gastrectomy and gastric banding). Every month, I would go to class, meet with people facing the same demons as I in a non-judgmental, safe place that offered a real solution.

But the solution, they warned, did not come easy. There was a lot of work and commitment involved. I was ready.

I chose the sleeve gastrectomy (veterans say they’ve been “sleeved”) because it offered fewer side effects and allowed me to retain the traditional absorption of nutrients that a complete bypass would eliminate. In about a week, I will undergo laproscopic surgery that will leave me with six tiny “battle scars” and a smaller receptacle for any food I consume.

One of the questions they asked us repeatedly in class was how we would respond to those who suggest I am taking the “easy way out” of my weight problem. Let me tell you, this is not easy. I have been restricting my portions for the last several months, which has resulted in the loss of about 30 pounds. I am almost through the first week of a two-week liquid diet, which is bringing about more weight loss (the purpose of the two-week liquid regimen is to shrink the liver, which sits on top of the site where the surgery will work). The surgery will be followed by four more weeks of liquids and soft foods, as my smaller stomach and I make our peace.

I have the potential to lose 100 percent of my excess weight, which means my evil twin could indeed disappear. I’ve been carrying her a little too long…

I think I’m going to do well, because my appetite has significantly decreased since I made the decision to have the surgery. I think that’s partly because of my senior status – both my husband and I have smaller appetites since we’ve crossed the sixth decade bridge. It will help me avoid foods that are bad for me anyway – fried foods, while they might taste great, are really everyone’s enemy. After the surgery, my body will not tolerate them, so best for us to say our goodbyes now.

I will miss carbonated water – not soda so much, because I hardly drink any of that, but I do like a Perrier and have had to mothball my Sodastream machine. After the stomach heals, I will be able to eat what I want, but just in tiny portions. I will never be able to finish a restaurant meal again, but that’s OK. I have a card that I can show at restaurants that explains my new stomach status and asks them to allow me to buy smaller portions at a reduced price (aka, kids or senior meals).

Right now, I really miss scrambled eggs. And pickles. Crazy, I know. But I get to have them later.

My hardest change might be my habit of eating at my desk – something that is just convenient since I work at home. I will try my best to take a break, move to the dining room table and make myself concentrate on my meal.

My mentor told me that when she started on her weight-loss quest, she didn’t want to exercise or move because it hurt. Once her weight was gone, she wanted to move because she could.

DMVweightI’m looking forward to that. I will be back in the pool doing my water exercises and will walk a bit more (and a little bit more and a little bit more as my endurance grows). I will try (but I know age and gravity might be against me on this one) to work on my flying squirrel arms. Saggy skin is something I’ve been warned about, and I’ve got plenty of time to figure out how to deal with it. I’m not going to worry about that now.

At any rate, I plan on sharing this journey so others might know it’s OK to talk about it. Obesity is the biggest health problem in America right now and if this solution would be the best for you, then let’s help each other. Everyone is different, but we can all be healthy. I’ll try and write every few days for the next month or so and let you know how I’m doing. Thanks in advance for your support.

A Little Squishy Changed My Life

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. I really have to work on that. Sorry.

It’s been a little busy in my universe.

We became grandparents. I watched my granddaughter come into the world with my very own eyes and am still in amazement of the miracle. Grandparenting is everything my friends told me it would be – and then some. Holy crap, what an adventure!

The day she was born was crazy enough, starting with a 6:30 am call of “time to ride” and her arrival around Starbucks time midafternoon. Our oldest daughter spent 8 hours on the freeway making the normally 5-hour trip between Sacramento and Orange County to get to her sister’s side. I watched her anxiety melt away as she sat next to the new mama’s pillow and held her swaddled niece.IMG_0006

My “Free Gift With Purchase Son,” the new uncle also known as my son-in-love’s brother, proudly wore his Mickey Mouse ears that read “Uncle Travis” over his Kings cap as he strode proudly into the room.

Two of their friends who I consider my children from other mothers fought the traffic as well, arriving just soon enough to spend an hour before it was time to tiptoe out to the parking lot. One great-grandmother, four grandparents, two siblings, two friends – good thing it was a big room.

Have I mentioned Sadie Jane is just peaches? We call her Squishy.

What a day. What a whack to the normal orbit.

Along with the world-changing event of her birth, we had holidays.

Her first Thanksgiving was less than a week after she came into the world, surrounded by family. Preparing for her first Christmas. Decorating. Cooking. Getting work done so I could kick back for a couple of weeks. Feeding a house full of people, more than once, during that magical week.

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Sadie’s first Christmas turned out to be the most perfect Christmas our family has ever experienced. All my cubs were home – our son from Virginia, who fell so hard in love with his niece that I saw his heart blossom right before my eyes, our daughter from Sacramento making it  home in the normal 5 hours this time and of course, the sleep-deprived, but blissfully happy new parents, my youngest daughter and son-in-love and Sadie.

Group (85 of 100) copyAfter the dinner dishes were cleared, the guests departed and it was just the principal cast left in the living room watching a Christmas music concert, you could feel the love. Seriously.

Thick enough to envelope all of us. Strong enough to make every motion hesitant. Nobody wanted to be the first to get up, because it would bring the inevitable round of endless goodbyes.

And tears. We are shameless criers.

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What magic. What a great visit. And what a welcome new beginning.

 

Running quietly beneath this was a subplot, something I’ve been working on all year that was finally coming into focus. But that’s a story that I’ll unfold on another page. This one is too perfect.

 

Politics: I used to love you, but it’s all over now

Because in 1968, Nixon was a rock star.......
Because in 1968, Nixon was a rock star…….

In the late ’60s, I was an impressionable high school student, fascinated with politics. I learned about caucuses and electoral votes and campaigning during my high school’s presidential year mock convention. I helped elect a “governor” at Girls State, volunteered to make phone calls and sign up voters at the local campaign headquarters for Richard Nixon and embraced the democratic process.

I became a tireless volunteer on the campaign of Larry Fargher, a Republican who was challenging then-powerhouse Don Edwards for the local Congressional seat.

On election night in 1968, I learned what it was like to attend gatherings that marked both victory and defeat. Nixon was the one who won.

Undaunted, I couldn’t wait to vote and worked on the Let Us Vote campaign that resulted in the passage of the 26th Amendment, guaranteeing 18-year-olds the right to vote.

I was only 17, but celebrated accordingly. And in 1972, I cast my first official vote for George McGovern. I have always been one to vote the candidate, not the party.

Eventually, I got into the news business and covering elections became my job. I felt privileged to interview people who were trying to make a national difference on a local scale, working for their candidates much like I had for mine in high school. I admired people who ran for local offices, like school and water boards and City Council, because I saw what thankless jobs those offices could be.

295955_10150460401471057_1845540118_nWhen Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, I remember a particularly festive celebration on election night, where a colorful local character danced a jig around a life-sized cardboard cutout of our new President. That night, I wrote two stories; the first about the Democratic victory, the second about the exuberance of some of its volunteers. It made me think of a young girl I knew 30 years before.

Election night in a newsroom is also pizza night; reporters are rewarded for their indentured servitude with a free meal, as long as their stories are filed on time. I was usually out in the field working the party circuit, turning down proffered wine and appetizers as I interviewed candidates and campaigners who were either over the moon happy or trying desperately to put on a game face.

I actually felt sorry for some of the losers, asking them the $2 million question: Would they put themselves through the wringer again when the next election came around? Many times, my self-editor would figure out a way to make the defeated look undeterred, despite hearing a catch in their breath and momentary hesitation as they mustered a smile and tentatively vowed to play another round.

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterOne of the last elections I worked was the night that our nation elected its first African-American president. When the numbers came in confirming Obama’s win, there were screams of delight, stand-ups with both the victorious Obama supporters and those from his opponent’s camp. There was an infectious high knowing we had all seen history first-hand. My son called me from across the country to share his joy and we agreed that this might bring about some major changes. I saw the night as the best illustration that the democratic process works; that when people actually vote, they might get a candidate that shared their same values.

Was it time for that youthful exuberance again? Nah. I took my memory of that moment, threw it in the “Good Stuff” pile and moved on.

I actually had people ask me if I would ever consider running for office. I surprised myself when my answer – which several years earlier might have been an enthusiastic “yes!” – became “Oh hell no! Are you out of your mind?”

There was an element of celebrity and smug power among local elected officials that I detected during regional contests, causing my skepticism to grow along with my dismay. I saw candidate after candidate fall, victims of hate mail or slander campaigns financed by people who should know better or at least act better. Even worse were the candidates who sold out. What was really awful was that many of these people were friends and neighbors before they ran for office and things got ugly. It was shocking how easily some of them learned to lie or discount the opinions of others.

They said it was good for all of us.

I saw my job as a reporter change from holding people’s feet to the fire and demanding accountability to becoming a mouthpiece for the status quo. I went to the dark side; not only did I not trust anyone, I didn’t really like them for what they had become. It was then that I realized that they got what they wanted, as my collective spirit for true democracy was broken.

And I know I’m not alone.

I’m not foolish enough to think that politics changed just in my lifetime. I know there have been dozens of scandals and bad behavior by people pursuing or holding an office, starting long before I ever looked at a sample ballot. I’m just disgusted with the lack of respect, the condescending attitude, and the party-driven “we know better than you and damn the collateral damage” attitudes that continue to prevail and show no signs of weakening.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe we live in the greatest country and casting a ballot is the least we can do to honor those who fought and died defending that freedom. I will always vote and encourage people to do the same. I strongly believe in the “Don’t vote? Don’t bitch” rule.

If there’s anything that’s nurtured the demon in politics, I believe it is social media. I can’t think of any other vehicle that spews hate, dishonesty, misinformation and discord in overwhelming amounts directly into the homes and pockets of Americans 24/7. It provides the perfect opportunity for engaging in name-calling and hate speech without consequences. And sadly, it’s one of the vehicles influencing voters every day.

photo (35)In the Newseum in Washington D.C., there is a Pogo cartoon that sums it up. I think it might be time to listen to the funny old possum…..

It’s time to reintroduce respect, accountability and honesty into politics. It’s not too late. I may not have the energy to walk precincts, but I am ready to encourage the next generation of hopeful 16-year-olds. It’s time to disband the government of white guys in ties for some diversity, hope and change.

And that’s what’s good for all of us.