2 Year Reflections

Tuesday, July 20, 2004: Where did the last 2 years go? And actually a little more than 2 years now – my anniversary was July 2nd. I find it nearly completely impossible to believe that 2 years have passed since I had my surgery.

Two years ago I weighed 365 lbs at 5 foot 3 inches tall, with a BMI of 64. I was in a wheelchair. I had out of control diabetes, stroke level hypertension, severe obstructive sleep apnea, horrible GERD, stress incontinence, and was experiencing thse horrible chest pains and shooting pains to the arm. I remember my PCP sitting me down and saying, “Don’t die on me yet – you’re so close to hope!” She gave me a little tutorial on how to recognize a heart attack and seek emergency help. She was very concerned I wouldn’t live until surgery.

A lot of people talk about their road to WLS – all of the pre-op tests, the support group meetings, and the like. For me it was an entirely different kind of journey. I was a self-pay patient. Starting out I didn’t have dime one to go toward my surgical costs. At first I looked into surgeons based on the bargain shopping method. How dumb is that? It was my LIFE that was hanging in the balance. My medical team all insisted I needed to be under anesthesia for less than 2 hours – my orthopedic surgeon wouldn’t even do my two knee surgeries in the months preceding my DS with general anesthesia – it was pretty trippy being alert during those two surgeries! So I started searching for a surgeon who was not only good – but who was great. Over and over again I ran into post-ops of a surgeon who by all accounts was kind, compassionate, caring, and committed to the morbidly obese getting more than a chance at hope. So, I contacted Dr. Baltasar – by email – and was floored when I had a response from him in less than 24 hours. Wow! And an actual email from the surgeon – how trippy was that? (I work in health care, not something I see in my day-to-day life!) He was kind, courteous, and happy to answer my long list of questions. He told me he believed I needed surgery soon. I couldn’t agree more, but we had no money. So, we prayed.

On April 22, 2002 someone anonymously donated $15,000 into my surgery account at my bank. Still don’t know who it was, I’m pretty sure it was someone from church. But wow – what an amazing selfless gift. So, I got a date, and got stuff in order. I was going to for surgery.

So when you talk about WLS journey – I had not only a figurative one, I also had a literal journey. A journey – as a super super morbidly obese wheelchair-bound woman from Portland, Oregon to Alcoy,Spain. No, fitting into economy seats in a crowded airplane wasn’t easy. No, getting around cobbled streets in Madrid wasn’t a joy ride. BUT – it was a part of the journey I wouldn’t trade for anything. Oh – the memories I have of my first trip to Spain!

I remember checking into the Clinica. I remember meeting Dr. Baltasar for the first time face to face and realizing that for the first time in my life I was meeting a doctor who was thin – but GOT IT about what it was like to be SSMO, and living the pain, and agony that I lived with each day – and that he just plain old cared about me. It was something like meeting an old family friend – someone whom you deeply respect and care very much about how they think of you. I saw in his eyes an immediate acceptance of me, and a comprehension of the pain I was living in. What an amazing thing! And I remember the sweet nurses! The day of my surgery they lined up and kissed me on the cheek and wished me well, and two even serenaded me. I remember sitting on the balcony in the warm Spanish sunshine. I remember the beautiful hillside that I could see in the distance from my Clinica room. I remember climbing up onto the surgical table in the OR and having Dr. Baltasar there, and that he stroked my forehead and sang me a Spanish lullaby, prayed for me, and promised to take care of me just as if I were one of his daughters.

I think one of the things that amazed me the most was the fact that compared to my c-section 5 years earlier, my open BPD/DS was a total walk in the park. I only needed one shot of morphine after surgery – and that was it for pain meds. I was on pain medication for 8 weeks after my c-section. After surgery, on days 2, 3, and 4 my blood sugars spiked up into the 600s and 700s and I was on insulin for the first time in my life. I was amazed that I could actually walk the halls a bit – even though before surgery I could only stand for about 30 seconds at a time. I was discharged from the Clinica on day 6 – I could have left on day 5, but my husband came down with a bad virus on day 4, and Dr. B wouldn’t release me until John was well.

We spent the week after leaving the Clinica in a lovely little town on the Costa Blanca called Villajoyosa. The houses that face the ocean are painted different brilliant jewel tone colors so that the fishermen know how to find home again from the sea. It was beautiful, restful, a perfect place to recooperate. One week out from surgery I walked 1/8th of a mile from our apartment down to the boardwalk along the beach. I hadn’t walked that long in years. The next night I did it again – my motivation (besides just the fact that I COULD) was that I could get some of that wonderful Spanish ice cream at the little heladeria on the corner – deeply appreciated on those 90 plus degree days! Every night I walked down to the boardwalk. It was amazing.

I thought – maybe – if I lost my weight, within a year I might be able to lose the wheelchair. You should have seen the happy dance I was doing at 6 weeks post-op when I sent that thing back to the medical supply company. Just a couple of weeks later I gave up my cane.

I remember the absolute amazement and wonder that I felt at every doctor’s appoitment – seeing the number on the scale a smaller number than the visit before.

Two years ago I had no way of knowing that two years from that day I’d be back in Spain – on my fourth trip to Spain, actually – sitting in my husband’s hospital room – waiting for him to walk to surgery. He had his DS two years EXACTLY (same date, same time) from the time I had mine.

Two years ago I had no way of knowing that my life would have been completely renewed. I hoped for an end to diabetes. I had no way of comprehending that it would be gone by the time I left the clinica. I hoped for an end to hypertension – today, it’s a thing of the past. I longed for a life not filled with chronic pain – today I am surprised when I experience pain after a day of long, intense labor.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Spain with my husband for his surgery I walked about 8 miles. There’s a joke those of us who have been to Spain for surgery laugh about – ask a Spainard if a destination is within walking distance, and pretty much they will always say, “Oh yes, it’s within walking distance.” I can walk and keep up with the Spainards! I would never have believed that.

Two years ago I had no way of comprehending what it would be like to weigh 210 pounds less than I weighed then. I had no way to fathom the challenges associated with being a “normal” sized person after being heavy my whole life. Like – the absolute wonder I still feel when I hold up my size 12 shorts that are too baggy for me and wondering, “How do I fit my butt in those?!” How can I possibly wear clothing THAT small? Or, feelings of wonder that still pass through my mind when I pass through a space that would previously have been impossible for my 365 pound body to fit through. And the slight holding of breath that I still go through when I sit in a booth at a restaurant, momentarily wondering, “Will I fit?” and then remembering, “Oh yes, not only do I fit, but I can sit here with lots of extra room.”

My life is so rich. I am so blessed. I’m floored by God’s goodness and generosity to me. I’m so thankful that my husband is now post-op DS, too – and that his health is steadily improving! The gift of this surgery keeps me with a constant, breathless anticipation of the next wonderful surprise around the corner. What an amazing thing that these two years have gone by in just the blink of an eye!

Pictures of My Trip to Spain

This is the view out our hotel balcony in Old Madrid. It is the Best Western Hotel Carlos V – it was a very nice hotel – not exactly handicap accessible – but the staff went out of their way to try and assist in every way conceivable.

The day we arrived – June 28, 2002 – it was early afternoon by the time we got settled in our hotel. We got into our room and opened the balcony doors and the sweet strains of Handel’s Water Music came floating in – a string quartet was on the street across the way from our room. It was beautiful.

This is a very commercial part of Madrid. LOTS of shoppers out. There’s a huge department store here called El Corte Ingles – I think they carry just about a little bit of everything under the sun.

Speaking of sun – it’s hot – like 100 degrees with humidity hot.

And… I kept wondering… have these people never seen a fat woman before? (Admittedly, there aren’t that many heavy people on the streets.) Or have they never seen a woman in a wheelchair? (Again, not many in wheelchairs out, either.) Or maybe it’s that they’ve never seen a fat woman in a wheelchair? Dunno. Definitely felt like people were not just staring – but were really unsure about how to handle seeing me. Wierd.

Oh – and if you could earn your salvation – my husband will have earned his – pushing this 365 pound woman in 100 degree heat up cobble stone, hilly streets in a foreign country and not uttering one word of regret or derision or anything to make me feel anything but cherished and loved. My oh my – what a blessed woman I am!

Dr. Baltasar was kind enough to arrange for a private taxi to meet us at our hotel in Madrid on Sunday to drive us to Alcoy.

When we arrived in Alcoy – which is about a 5 hour drive from Madrid – we went straight to the hospital.

Here’s the front door of Sanatorio San Jorge – we call it the Clinica. It’s really a small private hospital. Health care in Spain is socialized, so people who prefer to self-pay for their health care utilize small private hospitals like this one.

I thought the stairways – with all of the beautiful wood work and marble – were lovely.

Here’s the view from the balcony of my hospital room.

John took me out for a walk the day of my surgery. We went down to this bridge – which apparently is sort of famous! It is pretty.

After I was discharged from the hospital John and I went to Villajoyosa where we had rented an apartment through Spanish Holiday Rentals. Here’s a little plaque along the promenade that explains the ancient history of the town.

This is the street that our rental was on – see the chair on the sidewalk on the right? That’s adjacent to our door.
There I am hanging out in the little plaza across the way from our apartment. (See, the place with the tourquoise door with the chair near it? That’s our apartment.)

This is the view looking up from where I was sitting in the plaza. The town is terraced up the hill. We would hear people in the evenings as they gathered on their patios and shared a meal or simply talked and laughed together.

See the sign on the wall below? It says, in essence, that this wall is ancient (like goes back to Roman era!) and if you take stones from the area you could/would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Wild, huh?

At the end of our street you can turn right or left. To the right you go one block to the waterfront. If you turn to the left, you’d go around this castle (yes, it’s a real castle) and go up the hill toward the mercado (market) – which John had to do daily (in the heat!) to bring back each day’s groceries.

Here’s the beach at Villajoyosa.

I didn’t actually get to go out onto the beach – wheelchair and sand don’t mix well. But it was lovely what I did get to see of it.

So – that was our trip to Spain!