It was in January when I first met and started talking to Susan. She was a pre-op – interested in knowing what it was like for me to have my surgery with Dr. Baltasar in Spain. Her story was interesting – she’d had a VBG (vertical banded gastroplasty) and Nissen fundoplication done years before – in Texas. She quipped that she’d lost some weight – stayed at her low weight for about 10 minutes, and then the weight came back. Needless to say – she was not pleased.
Over the course of some weeks I learned that she was an amazing woman – she was active in the foster care system, and had several special-needs children. She was determined to have a conversion from her failed VBG to BPD/DS and wanted a surgeon with a proven track record.
After some conversations I laughingly joked, “Have Passport – will travel!” to her because she was trying to figure out how to work out the whole trip to Spain thing, wanted a support person to go with her, but her husband had to stay home with their children – who truly had to have a parent on point at all times. Not much time passed – like minutes – before I had a private email from her asking if she could telephone me. I said sure and gave her my phone number.
Our conversation was to the point, she said she thought I might be an answer to her prayers, and asked if I’d ever consider going back to Spain as a support person for someone else. She told me to think about it, pray about it, talk to my husband about it, and let her know. Soon. Cause she had to make her plans.
As it turned out – John and I agreed that it would be an okay thing for me to go back, I was able to arrange the absence with my work, and we figured out the logistics with the kids. About three weeks prior to our scheduled departure date, I told Susan, “Yes, I’ll come to Spain with you as your support person.”
She traveled from Texas – a day ahead of me as it turned out because my schedule required a little bit later departure – and the plan was for us to meet in Alcoy – the day of her surgery – right before she would head into the OR. Ah… the best laid plans…
If you’ve ever flown as a morbidly obese person – you know it’s no joy ride. First – getting on and off the plane is not easy – we just don’t fit down the aisles. Of course, we don’t really fit in the seats, either – but there are ways to make it, well, I suppose you could call it bearable. Miserable is the word that pops to mind first when I think of the flights that I made as a super, super, super morbidly obese woman. You know what? Being in a wheelchair did make it a little bit easier – at least then you can pre-board and not have to try and make it down a packed plane to your seat, then then have to maybe have at least one someone get out of the way so you can get to your own seat. It’s humiliating.
Then there’s the whole seatbelt thing… They just don’t fit. It would be nice if they did – but they don’t. So you have to either try and hide the fact that the seat belt doesn’t fit you (not a good plan) or ask the flight attendant for an extender. There are different types of flight attendant personalities, of course. I love the ones who have a sweet, gracious, merciful spirit – you know, the ones who very discreetly find you an extender and then unobtrusively hand it over at the appropriate juncture. Then there are the kind who yell from their section to the attendant in the other section, “Hey – do you have a seat belt extender up there? This lady needs one!” then when said extender shows up, loudly proclaims, “Oh – okay – here’s your seat belt extender.” Almost like they’re going to great pains to share your humiliation with the ENTIRE plane load of people just to make sure you’re not all alone – or something. Right.
Then comes beverage service, snacks, and meals… You may as well lump them all together because they’re all one big humiliating, frustrating, difficult experience. Particularly if you’re traveling alone and there’s a stranger in the seat next to you. Because – if you’ve ever been there you know this – the tray table simply does not fit if you are morbidly obese. It can’t go down all the way – so there’s no place to put your drink, or your little baggie of pretzels, or your meal – it’s simply not worth the effort to take the table down, because you know it won’t fit. The law of physics simply dictate that. Again – flight attendant personality does come into play a bit here – there are those who discreetly work something out to work for you – like maybe moving the stranger in the seat sitting next to you to a different location. (Which, honestly – face it – most people are willing to move. It’s not easy sitting next to someone who is a BMI of 64!) Or, there’s the flight attendant who acts like they’ve never had a morbidly obese individual on the plane ever in their 24 years of career as a flight attendant and heavens! what are they going to do to handle this conundrum! Yeah – you get the picture.
And of course, the ever present humiliation that at some point in time the reality of things is that you may eventually need to pee – or heaven forbid – poop during the course of your flight. Just getting out of your seat is a major thing – usually involving at least one seat mate having to clear the way for you. The obvious distress of having to move down an aisle that was not designed to accommodate a person of your size, and then the desperate hope that you’ll actually (a) fit through the folding door to the toilet and (b) be able to reach to wipe your bottom once actually in the latrine.
So in case you missed it – to sum up – flying as a morbidly obese person SUCKS.
There were some emotions of not knowing what to expect when I flew from Portland to Newark that day in February – on my way to meet Susan in Alcoy. Would I need a seat belt extender still? I was 125 pounds lighter than my first trip to Spain – but I was by no stretch of the imagination thin. Just thinner. Would the tray table fit? What would it be like to board with everyone else? Would I fit down a crowded aisle?
Ever have one of those moments in life when you wish someone had a video camera on you (without you really being cognizant of it at that moment, of course) as you do something? Well, this was one of those moments! I don’t think I’ll ever forget those inagural moments…
Walking down a crowded airplane aisle – and fitting…
Sitting in my economy class seat – fitting comfortably – and then buckling my seat belt – sans extender! – and – gasp! – tightening it!
Looking around furitively and putting the tray table down – and nearly choking up with emotion because it fit – ALL THE WAY – with room to spare… and then putting it up, and then putting it down…. over and over again.
Realizing that getting up to walk to the toilet was no big deal, not was fitting through the door, not taking care of any other kind of business related to toileting.
And sitting back and realizing that I could relax and just smiling – cause I was flying, and I actually was enjoying it.
As it turned out there had been a record snowfall recently in Newark, and after a number of delays getting out of Newark headed for Madrid, we finally made it off of the ground. The delays were substantial enough, however, that I missed my connecting flight in Madrid for Alicante – darn it! I was able to find an English-speaker to help me arrange the new flight and call Pepe (the taxi driver who was scheduled to meet my plane in Alicante), and determine which gate I was to report to for my new connecting flight.
I’ve got to admit… For a girl who had been wheelchair bound and 365 pounds not that long ago – traveling internationally – by myself – was pretty heady stuff! Being mobile on my own two feet, at 125 pounds less of me than there’d been on my previous trip was not a bad thing at all! And, I’ll admit – I’d worried a bit – being that I didn’t speak Spanish – that I’d get myself into a situation that I couldn’t get myself out of, but that was not the case at all.
So I’m sitting at my gate in the Madrid airport, waiting… I keep an eye on the clock and think, “Hm… you’d think people would start showing up to board this flight to Alicante, I mean, it’s supposed to leave in 30 minutes!” But I was the only one there. Of course, there were announcements being made overhead all of the time – in Spanish – but I had no clue as to what they were saying! Five more minutes went by and I decided I’d better find someone who could help me figure out if I was at the right gate, afterall.
Of course – there had been a gate change – to a gate literally at the other end of the terminal. It was already boarding, and I would need to RUN the whole way to make the plane.
So I did.
Okay – so that might not mean anything to anyone else. But HELLO – *I* ran the entire length of the terminal to catch a plane! ME! The girl who had spent a couple of years in a wheelchair! Wow!
So – made the plane – they actually held it for me. Don’t you love that feeling when you’re the last person on the plane and they’re boarding through the front door and you get on and every eye on the plane turns and stares you down when you get on?! LOL! Yeah, not.
Pepe had been kind enough to find Manolo to meet me at the airport – my bag had actually made the first flight – so we rounded that up, headed for the car and raced for Alcoy – where Susan should be heading into surgery in moments.
I should interject here that when I did my research into what to pack for this trip I’d done a bit of digging to ascertain what the weather would be like. I’d just lost a lot of weight – and while that’s wonderful, it can mean that your clothing resources can be – shall we say limited? Everything that I could find indicated that the weather was going to be mild – it was, afterall, the time of year when the almond trees would be in bloom, the Valencias would be harvested, and flowers should be abundant. I packed accordingly. And I chose an outfit that included some mule-type slide on sandals for the trip. Comfy, practical, goes with lots of stuff.
Did I mention up there about meeting Manolo in Alicante that there was snow on the ground? By the time we got to Alcoy it became quite clear that this was NOT going to be mild weather!
(See the snow in them thar hills?)
When I arrived at the Clinica (that’s what we call it – the real name is Sanatorio San Jorge – it’s a small private hospital) I was quickly greeted by Dr. Baltasar – who had a warm hug and welcome for me. He said,
“There’s been a change of plans. We had the opportunity to move Susan’s surgery up a bit. She actually went into surgery at noon today. Her surgery went well – excellently, in fact. She’s out of recovery, back in her room resting. Audrey, Perry, and Sarah are keeping an eye on her until you got here.”
So the first time I met Susan, she was pretty out of it. But the first thing she asked me was, “Was he able to do a true DS? The whole thing?” You’d have to know Susan to know how hilarious that is. And I was able to respond, “Yes, and your surgery went beautifully.” To which she said, “I’m so glad you’re here… I think I’m going to sleep now.” And she did.