Surgery Tomorrow: The End, or a New Beginning?

Tomorrow’s a big day for me, literally and figuratively. It could be a new beginning… or the end of everything. You see, I’m checking into Auckland Hospital for bariatric surgery – a gastric bypass, to be exact. Despite the complexity of the procedure, my surgeon promises me that he’s “never lost anyone,” but had to advise me of the 1-in-1000 risk of complications. There’s a lot for him to do – staple off a section of stomach here, remove a section of intestine there, connect the remaining shorter intestine to a 1cm hole he’s creating in the remaining stomach pouch, and reconnect the original stomach further on down the intestinal tract. And he’s doing this all laparoscopically, via 4 small holes. I should be out by Sunday. Or… I’ll know what’s really on the other side – most likely nothing. But I won’t be around to care.

This marks a turning point in my life because for the last 25 years I’ve struggled with weight. I’m not going to make the excuses that my weight gain was due to my biology, genetics, or upbringing. It was for the most part due to my naivete. For reasons too involved to discuss in this post, I’ve spent most of my life living alone and independently, meaning I haven’t been surrounded by people who saw my health and welfare as important to them. They were simply bystanders. Without those checks and balances, I went along my merry way, eating pies during the night while I worked the graveyard shift at a gas station, drinking orange juice by the bottle and thinking it was healthy (it’s fruit juice!) and all the while just assuming biology would take care of itself. When I got diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes it was a wake-up call – I spent the following years learning very quickly about what proper nutrition is, about metabolism, insulin, and dealing with morbid obesity. By that point, my body was quite settled at being in the 190kg range, and somewhat unluckily, I was quite healthy in most respects – good cholesterol and blood pressure, I exercised (martial arts). Any attempt at weight loss would be humoured by my body for a short time – perhaps as long as a year – before it told me in no uncertain terms it was over the struggle.

Elijah Wood

Look at me in this photo, I was a monster! No wonder he was nervous… possibly also because of the things I whispered to him, but that’s another post.

Me July 2016

Look at me now!

I’ve bounced from 210kgs to 150kgs about 3 times in the last 10 years – via the Atkins diet, via a rigorous diet and exercise program at a local medical center, via a low-carb healthy-fat regimen. But the mistakes of the past have weighed heavily on me – literally – and sustaining that weight loss for what recent studies suggest should be a year – to reset my internal “this is my normal weight” mechanism – has been impossible.

The bariatric team had told me that it is in most cases almost impossible to lose the 100-or-so kgs needed simply by diet and exercise alone.  I had always felt that surgery was “cheating” – it didn’t resolve underlying issues, you hadn’t “beaten” weight loss, you’d cheated it. But I’ve learned a lot since. Bariatric surgery is a tool. I’ll lose around 80% of my excess weight in the first year after surgery, no matter what I eat, but after that, I need to be eating well and living a healthy active lifestyle to maintain the weight loss. This is a one-shot deal – I can’t have the surgery again. The government is counting on me not to be a burden to them when I get older, so they’ve gambled on me with this surgery. I don’t intend to let them down.

So here I am. I was 195kgs when I took the plunge into this program. Now, after weeks of dieting and low calorie shakes in preparation for the surgery, I’m 163kgs. I feel light. I could hit 90-100kgs in a year’s time, just above the average weight and proper BMI of a person my age and height. I’ll be carrying a lot of excess skin. I’ll have to be careful what I eat, how I eat, and I’ll be taking vitamin supplements for the rest of my life. But I’ll have a second chance. I’m already preparing to escape the desk and apartment that have been my life for so many years as a web developer, and travel. August 1 I plan to leave New Zealand and travel Europe as a digital nomad. AirBnB-ing from city to city. Using my British Passport for the first time to explore a country I was born in and haven’t seen since I was 3. Visiting Paris, where my Mother is from. Meeting new people. People who never saw the big me.

My big O.E. started a little late, and whether it’s a new beginning, journeying around the world or into the afterlife, things will never be the same for me again.