Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Sleep(less) Study

For those of you that haven't been through the process of bariatric surgery, let me share with you something you might not know. You don't just decide that you want to have the surgery done, contact a surgeon and go for it. No, no, no. This whole process is a labyrinth of online courses and quizzes, paperwork, appointments and testing and studies and more appointments. No fewer than 4 people must decide you are stable enough for the surgery. Not just physically stable, but mentally as well. Shockingly, I have gotten the go-ahead from all four. That is not to say it wasn't without it's challenges.

One major hurdle for me was the sleep test. At my initial appointments I was given a home test to read my sleep pattern. I have known for quite some time that my sleep quality was abysmal. I'm up frequently throughout the night. But quite honestly the thought of wearing one of those masks made me feel like I was going to freak out like Maverick on his first flight after he lost Goose. (that's right - it was serious enough to compare it to Top Gun) But one of the many requirements, oddly enough, for them to perform surgery on you is to insure you can actually continue to breathe while you're sedated/sleeping. They sited some silly desire to actually have you wake up after the surgery.. weird. Anyway - so I took the home test. I woke up a few times and the cord to the reader on my finger had come unhooked. A couple of other times it had shut off all together. One time the sensors in my nose had come completely off my face. I suspected it wasn't going to be enough for me to pass. I was correctly.

I got a call from the sleep study people advising it was probable that I was rocking some pretty severe sleep apnea, and I would need to do an overnight study at the hospital. Great. The first appointment wasn't until the end of October, so in the meantime I would wait, and continue to sleep like crap. But alas, there was a cancellation - I could come in that day! And so I showed up for my 9pm check in like any 40 year old would - with my pillows in tow.

They put me in my room to do some paperwork, and advised my tech would be with me shortly. Having not been sufficiently warned about what I was getting myself into - I showed up with damp, freshly washed hair. Mistake. (Don't waste your time washing your hair - they're going to use paste - yes, paste - on your head) I was taken to a room to have the electrodes attached. You might think they would only need a few around my nose and throat to get accurate readings on my sleep issues/snoring/blocked airways. You would be so very wrong.

Sexy as hell!!
Two on each leg, with wires running down through my clothes. Two bands around my middle and chest. Electrodes on each temple. 3 on my chin, 2 on my chest and no fewer than 6 on my scalp. Each spot "cleaned" with citrus compound that was grainy, and then "paste" to keep the electrodes attached. Most were also then covered by tape. I was starting to feel like he was trying to "Weird Science" me. So I was advised I could head back to my room. He'd attach the rest of them there. "the rest"????!!?!?! Oh, yes. one more electrode on my throat, where my adam's apple would be if I were a dude, or if I was re-telling the Crying Game - attached with the largest piece of tape that still has my delicate flesh irritated. Then he put not one, but 2 sets of sensors up my nostrils, both with cords/tubes that went behind each ear and attached below my chin. Finally it was time to lay down, get comfy and rest. Oh! Did I forget to mention I couldn't lay on my left side or my stomach. Guess where I spend most of my time while sleeping. You guessed it. So we were off to a great start! At least I got to watch an episode of One Day at a Time while I waited for him to finish hooking me up.

He turned of the lights, turned on the camera and did the test call into the room to make sure everything was hooked up correctly - - flex each foot, breathe deep, hold your breath and push your stomach in and out, using only your eyes - look right, left, up down, clench your jaw. OK. Everything is working. Enjoy your sleep. Annnnnnddddd silence. I always listen to a show on my iPad while I fall asleep at home, and have my fan running. But I had to turn my phone off so it didn't "interfere" and it was freezing with my damp hair so the fan wasn't needed. And so I laid there. And laid there. And eventually must have dozed off. I woke up and had to call for the guy to let me use the restroom. Super-easy to do when hooked up to 23423423 wires. I had been told they needed 2 hours of sleep in the books before I could start trying the masks. I wasn't there, yet.

Shortly after I laid back down he came in to put the mask on me. And he was just in time. Between my damp hair, and those tubes running under my chin, my neck was all hot and damp and feeling like something was trying to choke me. Thankfully, he removed those tubes to my nose and replaced them with mask that just covered my nostrils and pumped oxygen down my throat. I quickly found out that if you opened your mouth - - like to try and talk - - the air would force it's way out your mouth, and make you feel like you were being choked. For someone already leaning toward panic, I sure didn't need that shit. And he kept asking me questions!! Eventually he must have decided I wasn't going to die and asked me to lay down. Enter the panic! I kind of started to freak a little bit. He told me to reeeeeellllllaaaaaaaax. Eventually I chilled out enough to just breathe in and out through my nose. OK. That's not so bad. I think I can work with this.

I was advised that if I opened my mouth when I slept that he'd be back to put a chin strap on me. And if that didn't do the trick, a full face mask. Eventually I allowed myself to stop thinking about a bigger mask, and I fell asleep. I woke up some time later - could have been 3 minutes, or 6 hours - - There are no clocks. and the windows are darkened - - and realized I barely even realized I had the mask on. And my mouth was closed. and I didn't have a chin strap, or a huge mask on. So far, so good with the minimum mask.

And then it was over. He came in and asked if I wanted to get up or continue sleeping. Since I had to head to work for 12 hours that day, I decided to head home and get a much-needed shower in. After disconnecting the trillion wires from me - much less gently than when they were applied, mind you - I was free. I couldn't get out of there soon enough.

So today I picked up my machine. The terror has been replaced with excitement about actually getting a good night of sleep. Wish me luck, kids....

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Edited Life

One of the most liberating things about finally making the admission that I need permanent, medical help is that I can finally be honest. I can stop trying to come up with excuses that don't sound like excuses for all of the things I can't do, or am afraid to try and do, because of my size. Don't get me wrong - it is still completely embarrassing to admit these things - but at least there is an end in sight. It's finally given me the freedom to get real about the things I want to do, but haven't been able to do - - and the truth is very different. 

This edited life I've been leading has left me completely....demoralized. Sad. Embarrassed. Immobile. Left-out. Lonely. Just this summer I have skipped 2 family concert outings because of the limitations I have created by allowing my body to become as large as it is. While it was somewhat liberating to admit freely that I just couldn't join (walking even short distances is a challenge - and standing is just not an option) instead of creating some elaborate story about why I wouldn't be able to attend, it didn't make me any less disappointing to not be a part of them. Watching Facebook for pictures, or checking my texts to follow along on their adventures is not even remotely the same as being able to partake in these events myself. 

And that is just the last couple of months. The events/outings I haven't participated in over the last 20 years of my life due to my size are staggering. There are times that I'm sure my cover stories have been better than others. I've skipped outings with friends. Trips. Happy hours. Dinners. Concerts. Sporting Events. All because I was scared it would be too much of an inconvenience to get there, or I was afraid of the seating once I did. There are so many things I haven't done in this life because they might have been uncomfortable for me. So many things I've wanted to do, but wouldn't allow myself to admit to, because I wanted to put on a brave face. Don't worry about me everyone - I'm happy. And for the most part - - I'm lucky. I'm not a miserable person...most of the time, anyway. Most of the time I'm fairly content - whether that is just my brain allowing delusion to help keep me from wallowing, or the years and years and years of disappointing myself just beating my expectations into submission - I don't know. I realized a few years back that I would get very anxious when planning to go new places/try new things. I also learned that that anxiety released itself as me being a screeching bitch if things didn't go according to my plan. If I got uncomfortable, or embarrassed by my limitations, I'd turn into a complete hag. At least realizing this allowed me to no longer subject the people I like to it. This just resulted in me skipping more and more events.

I was getting a pedicure with a friend recently - and this is a person I have literally known my whole life. We were talking about the surgery, and I was sharing my plans for about a year down the road. I told her I wanted to move downtown - hopefully into one of the super-cute little studios I've found  online - so I'd be where the action is. I'd be closer to the lakes I want to go walk or bike around. I'd be closer to the sporting venues I want to go watch games at. I'd be closer to action. Closer to activities within walking distance. Be closer to life. Most people experience all of these things when they're younger - but for me life is really going to get going at age 41 =) I realized how much I'd been hiding what I really want when she looked at me and told me she had no idea that is something I'd even like. 

Wow. I've been lying to everyone. But don't feel bad, guys. I've been lying to myself most of all. Telling myself it didn't matter that I couldn't do all of the things I wanted to do. I could still do plenty. The truth is - I can't do shit. I get myself to work. I occasionally go out when I know exactly what I'm getting myself into, and can insure I won't have to walk or stand too much. Otherwise I sit my ass on my couch because everything else causes pain. My knees, hips and ankles just can't take it. My lower back rebels regularly. Hauling this body, and years of disappointment around, it just too much.

The positives of me making the decision to pursue surgery just keep compounding. For the longest all I could focus on was the physical. How thoroughly excited I am to be able to exercise and get in shape! But then I realized it was also going to give me the gift of time. If I don't have to spend so much time being anxious about every distance I need to travel, every chair I need to sit in, how long my knees are going to ache after running errands - - I am going to have so much more time to take care of myself. I'll be able to cook - instead of claiming I hate cooking because I can't stand long enough to chop/dice/mix/etc everything that is needed for the dish. It just dawned on me that that might be another thing I don't actually hate, but have told myself I do because it was uncomfortable. Holy shit! I really am going to have this whole new life!

And I'm going to call on a lot of you. For ideas about cooking. Gym and walking dates - - for real this time, because I'll actually be able to do it!!! Bike rides. Concerts in the park. Taking in a baseball game. Basically doing anything other than sitting on my couch. I've been doing that for 20 years. I'm looking forward to spending the next 20 doing just about anything else.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Under the Knife

Hello, old friends. It has been so long since I have checked in, and for that I apologize. With the exception of a 5 month stretch last summer, I have continued to fail at my battle against the bulge. It is very hard to want to share ones constant, and repeated failures - so I went silent. Occasionally using my Facebook page, but otherwise keeping my struggle to myself. Well, not really to myself - anyone that was looking at me could see it - - but you know what I mean.

It was only after dodging my annual doctor's appointment for 6 months that I was willing to admit that it was time. Time to stop being so damn stubborn. Time to not necessarily admit I was incapable of getting healthy, but adjusting my expectations. Time to admit that for a person as overweight as myself, there is one beaming, bring beacon of hope that has time and again shown to be the best opportunity for future health. It was time for me to listen to my doctor's repeated suggestion. Time to look around at the number of people I have known who have opted for surgery and had it be a huge success. It was time to stop fooling myself and admit I need major help. It was time to seriously consider bariatric surgery.

I told my youngest sister first. Excitement and positivity were sent my way. Then sent a text to my immediate family - who continue to be so supportive, even after my less-than-successful past attempts. When I admitted to being a complete pain in the ass about everything, and said I should have just done this 5 years ago, I was met with "Yes, but don't look back. Lets look forward to many good years to come!!!". I've got the coolest damn family.

I met with a friend who has had the surgery recently. I asked if there was anything he wished he'd known - or anything that was less than what he'd anticipated - and was told absolutely not. No regrets. The best decision he'd ever made. I had another friend contact her coworker for information on her surgery - same response. Best decision she'd ever made.

I finally booked my appointment with my doctor, and thought she was going to hug me she was so excited. She reiterated again that is by far the best possibility of success for a person in my current condition. I told one side of my extended family at our vacation in June and received nothing but encouragement, and options, and excitement. I put it up on Facebook and Twitter - and everyone was so supportive and encouraging.

I'm surrounded by outstanding people.

So there I was - - finally allowing myself to admit that I wasn't going to do this on my own. That I needed something major, something permanent, something painful, something completely life-altering to help me. So excited about all of the doors this would open, or re-open for me. And then the bottom fell out. My company has "excluded" this type of surgery from our plan. I am not covered by insurance. (I have so much more to say about this, but it will require it's own post later) The issue became - how much did I want my life back? I am so lucky to have a financing option, so I could choose whether it was important enough for me to go into debt, but have a life. Whether it was worth it be that active person I've wanted to be for so long, but my body just will not allow it. And there was no hesitation in me deciding that yes - it's totally worth it. It will be completely worth having to pay this surgery off like a car payment because I'll be able to live life while I do it. I will no longer have to spectate this really sad excuse for an existence I've been rocking for the last 10ish years.

So I've decided. It's surgery for me. Now I just need to hope that the bariatric department at the hospital I've chosen will feel the same. I had my first round of appointments September 9th, the next round September 21st. At this time, I've gotten the go ahead from the 3 people I've met with. Now it's just fingers crossed for the next few. This whole process is going to test me - especially my non-existent patience. But I know it will be worth it. I know I'm worth it.