Getting Sleeved...My First Six Days
Sep 02, 2012
Before you start reading, you should know that this first post is LOOOOONG. I’m not sure why I felt the need to write my story in such detail except that my friend and her sister are going for this same surgery in two months and I wanted to document as much as I could before details start slipping from my memory. I wanted them to get a feel for my entire experience, not just bits and pieces of it. I’m of the opinion that knowledge is power and the more you know, the less there is to fear. The following is my story and I hope it helps some of you feel comfort in your decision to have VSG…
My story starts with a call to www.ALighterMe.com, a company who has surgeons and hospitals in several locations in Mexico. I spoke at length over several conversations with two patient coordinators, Ronda and Janese. Both were very patient with all the questions I had and never failed to respond to a phone call or email within minutes. Both had also previously had weight loss surgery and were able to speak from experience. These two ladies were just awesome and were monumental in my decision making process. I ultimately chose Dr. Allejandro Lopez as my surgeon and elected to have my surgery in Tijuana. While this would give most cause for worry and concern, you’d have to know me to know what kind of research I did to know why I was so comfortable with my decision. If there was negative information about this surgeon, the company or the hospital out there, I was bent and determined to find it…I found nothing but glowing reviews.
Okay, so the next concern is location. Tijuana?! Yep, Tijuana. My safety, you ask? Well I’ll tell you this…It’s safer to visit Tijuana than it is to visit Philadelphia or Atlanta. And this isn’t me talking – don’t rely on what I say – Google it and do the research for yourself. You should research WHEREVER you’re considering regardless of whether it’s State side or international. The burden falls on you, the patient, to do your research beforehand. Be comfortable with your decision; you’ll be challenged on it by others at some point. The cherry on top to my decision was the thousands of dollars I saved on my surgery versus what I would have spent in the US or even other companies offering the surgery in different parts of Mexico. I’m totally cool with saving money!
One of the things I really liked about this company was that we were assigned a driver to get us back and forth from the airport, the border, the hospital and the hotel. We also had a patient advocate who visited with us several times a day regardless of where we were who assisted us with everything from “I’m nervous” to “My ac isn’t getting cold enough”. Our driver was Abraham and our patient advocate was Eduardo; both are very good at what they do and give you the feeling that you have someone looking out for you at all times. I’m all about comfort and that was a comfortable feeling. Abraham was in touch with me as my plane pulled into the gate at the airport in San Diego. He was right there to scoop us up and get us to the hotel across the border for the night before we went to the hospital in the morning. We met Eduardo at the hotel who instantly gave off the aura of being in charge of things so that all I had to worry about was getting through the surgery and recovery; he would handle the rest. And that he did. Both he and Abraham treated us like we were family that had come into town, not fat little ladies coming in for surgery. LOL!
We arrived at the hospital around 7 am on Tuesday, the 28th of August, 2012. My hospital was Mi Doctor in Tijuana and it’s a small hospital that is only roughly a year old and still expanding. I stayed on the third floor in room 307, one of the only rooms with no window (this proved to be to my advantage later as the room stayed dark even during the day and allowed me to sleep better). The third floor only has 7 rooms with a total of 14 beds and they allowed my mother to stay in the other bed in the room with me during my stay. My mom is a RN and not a very quiet one if she sees wrongdoing, so I felt even safer knowing my mom was with me. I knew I had a safety net in place. And at 42, I’m not afraid to admit that it was comforting to know my mom would be there when I would be feeling at my worst. She drives me crazy at times, but there’s nothing that replaces your mom when you’re sick or hurt.
They had me change into a gown and started my IV shortly after I got there. The blood was drawn for their testing and the nurse conducted an EKG. I felt like a little kid when they started the IV because the little sticker they used to tidy everything up on my arm had teddy bears on it. Funny what’s soothing when you’re nervous! Those bears were silly, but helpful. Although there was a definite language barrier, the nurses each had different ways of communicating what they needed me to know or what they needed to know from me. In the end, I was able to effectively communicate with all of the hospital personnel. What surprised me was the level of care I received despite the language barrier. These nurses showed that they cared and did their best to ease my fears and no words were needed. It’s a powerful thing to witness; even more so to be a part of. I remember one stroking my arm as she put meds in my IV…such a simple gesture, but it calmed me. That, friends, is a NURSE.
Once my tests results were returned and it was determined that I was safe for surgery, the nurses weighed me. I had begun this journey at 250 pounds. When I called to schedule my surgery, I was down to 223. As they wheeled me down to have the VSG, I weighed in at 218.6 pounds. I remember laying on the operating table and telling the anesthesiologist that I was scared. I remember him rubbing my temples and telling me that I was in good hands and not to worry. We talked for a moment and he asked if I was ready…and then everything faded to black. I am forever grateful that he took the time to allow me to release the fear before putting me under. May sound silly to read that now, but lying on that table, it was a big freaking deal. Once again, the care and concern of the hospital staff was evident.
They say it took just over an hour to do my surgery, I have no idea. I awoke to the sound of my mother yelling, “Tracey! Are you ok?” Now I reiterate, I am 42 years old (almost 43), but even at my age I know well enough even under anesthesia to know that when my mother asks if I’m okay, I better answer quickly or she’ll be in there in a FLASH. I don’t know how I responded, but it must have been to her satisfaction. Later, she told me that I had been in recovery for longer than she anticipated and she wanted to know for herself that I was alive and kicking. I don’t think it was too much longer after that before I was moved back into my room with my mom. I did have to move myself from the gurney to the hospital bed…as I try to remember it now, it’s difficult to recall. What I do remember is the feeling of “this is gonna suck” and not being wrong about that assumption. I’m sure it was over quickly though and I was tucked in my bed to rest for a while before it would be time to start walking to speed up my recovery. I vaguely remember the nurses pumping several syringes of God only knows what into my IV and then drifting off to sleep.
I’m not sure how long I slept, but having a nurse for a mother, you can bet she was worried about me getting pneumonia or blood clots or any number of other ailments if I didn’t get up and get moving soon. As soon as she felt like an adequate amount of time had passed, she started encouraging me to walk. And by encourage, I mean she told me to get my butt up and start walking…NOW. Nurses are funny like that. Even if it’s your mom, that nurse mentality kicks in and your health and well-being become more of a priority than whether or not what you’re having to do is uncomfortable or not. At least I knew it came from a place of love…but getting up that first time SUCKED. If you think you’re going in for a cake walk, cancel your surgery now. This is NOT the easy way to lose weight and it ain’t for sissies. This is one of those situations where you have to put on your big girl (or guy) panties and deal with it head on. Yes, it hurt it get up. It hurt to walk. It hurt to breathe! But it was one uncomfortable day to begin dealing with YEARS of bad eating choices. I was not going to undo all of those bad choices without paying some penance along the way.
The first 24 hours after surgery, my biggest fear was that I would live. And I did. And you will too. While they were in there clipping my stomach, they discovered that I had a hiatal hernia and repaired it. It’s possible that the repair of the hiatal hernia contributed to my discomfort, but I suspect that gas was the larger suspect. I read a post earlier from a gal who had surgery the same day as me who said that her doctor gave her a suppository to help with the gas as soon as he heard intestinal sounds. I wish I had known about that, but I didn’t. And if you haven’t already had your surgery, I highly recommend discussing this with your surgeon. Gas is temperamental. The longer it stays in you, the more crazed it becomes and the more it hurts. It’s like a caged animal that needs to be released into the wild! I brought chewable gas relief tablets and then had no urge to chew them. Another patient shared her GasX with me and it was in the form of sheets that melted on your tongue. We ended up sending Abraham, our driver, to get more because the relief was so profound. (And God bless him, he couldn’t find them in Tijuana so he drove back across the border to get them for us. Now THAT’s service!!) Now for you softer ladies who don’t pass wind in front of others, I have three words for you for that first couple of days after your surgery…Get Over It! Like I told you earlier, this gas is like a caged animal that wants to be released. For the love of God, release it! No good can come from holding it in!! Besides, if you followed your pre-op diet properly, the smell is minimal (if at all) anyway. If a four foot fart was the only thing standing between me and immediate relief from pain, I don’t care if I part your hair – get outta the way! It’s coming!
It’s absolutely mind boggling how much pain a little air in your system can cause…if you don’t pack anything else in your bags before you go to the hospital, please, please, please heed my warning and pack something for gas. For our group, and yes, we all shared, the sheets that melted on our tongues worked the best. The melted quickly, there was little need to swallow and the results were almost instant. For some patients, that gas can get caught up in your shoulder or under the ribs…any number of places. All hurt. I didn’t need it, but I did end up lending out the heating pad that I brought. The heat helps to break up the gas so you can get it out. A warm shower will do the same if you don’t have a heating pad. They didn’t let me in the shower until the second day, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. My suggestion is that you pack a heating pad. You’d rather have it and not need it, like me, than to need it and not have it. If I can find room to take it to Mexico, you can find room in your bags too. The bottom line is that gas is not your friend and going into this surgery on the offense is your best bet.
So that was pretty much it for the first 24 hours…sleeping, walking, chewing on ice chips and trying to fart. Glamorous, huh? The next day wasn’t a whole lot better, but the prayers for death that I had prayed for the day before, I was now busy recanting. God and I are on pretty good terms, so He was pretty cool about ignoring those pleas for death. Now I just wanted to be pain free…and a hamburger. No, not really. I just wanted something besides ice chips. Something with a little flavor. But my tiny tummy was still in shock and ice chips were really all I needed for the time being. I wish I could say I was hungry, but nope…not hungry…like, not at all. The IV kept me hydrated and the ice chips kept my mouth hydrated. I did use some chapstick, but not nearly as often as I anticipated that I would. It was nice to have though. I spent much of the second day sleeping only waking to do my walks or go to the bathroom. It was on the second day that they did the first leak test which consisted of me drinking some nasty blue water. They checked the drain periodically throughout the day to see if any of the blue liquid escaped my tiny tummy and made its way into the drain. The blue liquid was gross and made my tongue and mouth look like I had chewed up a Smurf. Thankfully, it wasn’t something that required me to do anything other than exist after I drank it, so that worked well with my plan to sleep the day away.
The pain was much more manageable on the second day, although I did feel sharp pangs in my incisions when I went to get into or out of bed. My remedy for this was to support the incisions by pressing firmly on them with my hands as I went to stand or sit. It should also be noted that the best way to get into or out of bed is to “roll” and use your elbow for support. Not all of your incisions will bother you, only the larger ones. Those are the ones you want to give pressure when you do anything that uses those stomach muscles. It minimizes the pain to a large, large degree.
Now, because I said “only the larger ones” when talking about incisions, you’re wondering about the size. My largest incision is only 1.25 inches and I think that may be exaggerating slightly. They’re all small. I have a total of 5; four incisions for the laparoscopic instruments and one for the drain. Once the drain came out, that one quit bothering me within a day. I’m currently 6 days out and I still support the largest one when I go to stand or sit or if I’m picking something up off of the floor.
On the morning of the third day, Thursday, I was moved from the hospital to the hotel. Before I left, they did the second leak test. This one required a little more participation on my part. They took me to some sort of xray room and had me stand in front of a machine. There was a monitor where I could see what appeared to be my throat and upper chest area. I was given a small cup full of clear liquid that I was asked to drink in small sips. As I sipped the liquid, I could clearly see it go down my throat and enter my tiny tummy and then exit. The drink was gross and tasted like I was drinking a thermometer. A very metallic taste, but at least it went quickly and they were able to determine that I had no leaks. My mother packed our bags, the nurses removed my IV and I was taken by wheelchair downstairs to meet Abraham to be shuttled to the hotel. I was ready to go and felt energized as we pulled away from the hospital. A short two miles later, my energy level was dwindling; all I wanted was to get back into bed.
Because we had arrived so early at the hospital, our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived. Fortunately, the hotel has a gorgeous lobby where we were able to sit comfortably for a few minutes while Eduardo discussed with the hotel team how the situation would be handled. We ended up going to the hotel restaurant for our first bowl of chicken broth while we waited for housekeeping to ready our rooms. The server brought us jello, broth and a popscicle. Before this surgery, I could have wolfed all of it down in a matter of seconds. Not now! I couldn’t finish the soup, nor the jello, nor the popsicle, but I did get a nice taste of each that was very satisfying. It didn’t take long before we were notified that our rooms were ready. Much like the day before in the hospital, once I got settled, I spent much of the day sleeping only to get up for walks or trips to the bathroom. My poor mother spent the day searching for English speaking shows on television! I think she may have slept quite a bit too. Nurse or not, she’s still my mother and the whole experience was taxing on her to watch me go through this. Having just gone through this same surgery herself only 8 weeks prior, she knew all too well what I was going through. I want to say that she and another lady (who was there supporting a friend who had the surgery) went out for a short trip and had lunch at Applebees, but I may be getting my days mixed up. I remember being glad that she had a friend while we were there. This surgery has turned my mom into a walking billboard for VSG – she’ll tell anyone who’s willing to listen all about it and how much it can change your life. She’s so outgoing now! She’s proof positive that this surgery changes more than just your weight. In any case, I spent most of the day sleeping. The doctor came by that evening to check my incisions and my drain and to be sure that I was taking my meds properly. He wasn’t there long and I was okay with that…let me sleep, please.
On the fourth day, I woke up with my batteries on full charge. I was ready to get out of that room and just DO something. Some of my incisions were weeping a bit, so mom and I decided to go to Wal-Mart for bandages. What an experience! I guess I just expected Wal-Mart to look the same in Tijuana as it did in Georgia… it did not. Not even close. And my math skills were put to the test because everything was listed in pesos. Fun, fun, fun for the brain recovering from anesthesia. I just kind of guessed and got whatever I needed. It was fun to see how the products were laid out differently as compared to home. Some were similar and some were items I’d never laid eyes on before. It’s definitely a culture shock to go into someplace seemingly familiar and see it set up so differently. Not bad, just different. I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden, my energy drained and it was time to get back into bed. We checked out and waved down the first taxi we could find that didn’t require me crawling into the rear seat of a minivan that was already more than half full of occupants. We got back to the hotel and I felt tired, but okay. We met some of the other patients in the lobby and as I leaned down to give one a hug, I felt a “pop” at one of my incisions. Within minutes, my knees were buckling and I needed a wheelchair to get back to my room.
Did I do damage? Yeah. First question in my mind too. Fortunately, no. I think my pain meds wore off, I didn’t support that pesky incision when I leaned over, and my pain threshold was reached within nanoseconds of the hug. A little rest and I was ready to hit the streets again. Which is exactly what we did just hours later.
We knew we would be leaving for home in the morning and that this was our last day in Mexico, so we better make it count. Eduardo and Abraham took our group to a busy strip in Tijuana where we were able to do a little shopping and pick up some souvenirs for our loved ones back home or for ourselves to commemorate the experience. I ended up buying myself a fire opal necklace and earring set and a sterling silver bracelet for my mother. There were some other small items as well, but the bargaining with the sales clerk was half the fun and I felt like I got away with a really good deal. The trip to and from the area where we shopped was a blast too. The two things you notice in Tijuana is that there no reason to ever be sick or sad because there’s a liquor store and a pharmacy on every street corner. LOL!
After getting back to the hotel, we all agreed to meet for our last dinner together later in the hotel restaurant. The group is a constant rotation of patients with the ones going home the soonest offering whatever advice they could for those a step behind them. If anyone had leftover water or juices or whatever, it was passed to whoever was staying another day. If you couldn’t take it on the plane anyway, there was no point in wasting it. The dynamics in the group were interesting to watch. It was as if the surgery instantly made us a family of sorts and all looked out for each other. Very neat indeed.
Later that evening, the doctor came to remove the drain and to answer any questions or concerns that remained. It was our chance to have a little one on one time with the doctor before we left. The bedside manner of the doctors in Tijuana is different than anything I’ve ever experienced in the US and I have to admit that I loved it. It was a refreshing change of pace to have the doctors so laid back and approachable. The next morning, when we left to cross the border to catch our flight in San Diego, our doctor even escorted us to the airport. Now granted, he probably had other things he wanted to do in town after we were dropped off, but the fact remains that he rode with us and answered even more questions on the way to the airport. I’m telling you, the experience was very different. If you are considering having your surgery in Mexico, you owe it to yourself to check out www.alighterme.com and Dr. Lopez. You’ll save money and be treated like royalty in the process. Have you ever had YOUR doctor escort you to the airport? Yeah, me either…not until Dr. Lopez.
The trip home took a considerable amount of time. At close to 2600 miles and having to stop in Denver to change planes, it was close to 2 AM before we came stumbling in the front door. A suggestion for air travel is to be sure to ask for a wheelchair. You may not need it, but this is another case of something you’d rather have and not need than vice versa. I didn’t need it on the changeover in Denver, but by Atlanta, my butt was dragging and the wheelchair was a Godsend. Another thing, for flights lasting longer than 2 hours, get up and walk when you can at least once an hour to prevent blood clots in your legs. This was a gem Dr. Lopez gave to us on our way to the airport. You can let the flight attendants know as you board that you are fresh from surgery and they’re very supportive of getting you whatever you need during your flight.
Now I should mention that my first meltdown happened after we changed planes in Denver. We were boarding and it was dinner time and people were hungry. Some had brought food from the terminal and were quietly eating while the remainder of the passengers boarded. Across the aisle from us, a lady had a turkey and ham sandwich on marble rye. Yes, my sense of smell confirmed this and even confirmed that the sandwich had pickles. She was absentmindedly putting mayonnaise on the bread and all I could do was sit there and watch like it was food porn. I wasn’t hungry, but the smell drove me to watch her every move. It just smelled…so…GOOD. Before I could even catch my emotions, I burst into tears. I was mourning the loss of food and my choice to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. My mom sat beside me patting my arm and let me cry. In fact, she encouraged me to cry and let the emotions out. Within a few minutes, she reminded me that I hadn’t given up my favorite foods forever, just for now. In due time, when my new tiny tummy could handle them again, I would be able to enjoy those favorite foods again in moderation. She told me that the feelings I was having were right on time and very, very natural to have. She handed me her Kindle with a book loaded that was about a woman close to my age beginning menopause. It was funny and upbeat and exactly what I needed at that moment. Isn’t it funny how moms know just what to say and just what to do for us?
Mom drove us home thinking I could sleep on the way, but I was so excited to be coming home to my family that I couldn’t sleep. Once I got settled into my own bed, my husband and I talked for a while and somewhere in the conversation, I drifted off. I slept the rest of the night and off and on all the next day and watched all the television I could stand. My family waited on me hand and foot and all just seemed right in the world. My days and nights are a little wonky from jet lag (as I sit here writing this at 3:30 AM), but I’m feeling good. I don’t really have any pain aside from all these freaking food commercials on tv…those are killing me. Outside of that, I see light at the end of the tunnel. When I woke up this morning, out of habit, I jumped on the scale. Even with the swelling that I’m sure I still have from surgery and the fact that I started my cycle in the midst of all of this, I’m still down to 213, a full five pounds lighter than 6 days ago when I was being wheeled in for surgery. Is that amazing or what?! It’s actually working! I realize I still have a long way to go and many more challenges to overcome. I feel lucky though…My mom already brought me through the worst of it and I’m sure she’ll be there for the rest of it. In addition to her, I have my patient coordinators from www.alighterme.com and all the community at www.obesityhelp.com plus my family and friends. With support like that, I have no doubt that I’m on my way to a healthier me!
Footnote: It’s interesting to me that now that I have this all down on paper, I suddenly find myself struggling to stay awake. Maybe someone out there needed to hear something I had to say in my story. I don’t know. I just know that when that little voice in the back of your head starts chattering, it’s usually best to listen. If you need support in any way, I’d be happy to do what I can. If you’re reading this, you’re already in the company of some pretty amazing people who are much further in their journey than I am. If nothing else, I hope my story helps you to know that scary as it may be, you can survive this and move forward in your quest for a healthier you. I wish you all the luck in the world!!