About 5 years ago, after trying what felt like all the diets imaginable and a healthy amount of research I decided to have a sleeve gastrectomy or a vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG). I researched all the options for available for weight loss surgery and felt the sleeve gastrectomy was the best option for my lifestyle and for the results I hoped for. Despite everything I found, I was still surprised by the aftermath of the surgery. I want you to be better prepared than I was, so here are the 5 things to know before weight loss surgery to help you on your way.
The Incision Pain Isn’t So Bad
The sleeve gastrectomy is done laparoscopically, meaning it involves the insertion of small instruments through multiple small incisions --- I have about 4 ---in the upper abdomen. Through these small incisions, approximately 80 percent of the stomach is removed leaving a banana-shaped stomach. This is why you may have heard the VSG procedure referenced as the banana sleeve. Before surgery, I watched a few videos of the procedure being done and the robotics really freaked me out. I couldn’t understand how machinery could be gentle. However, the incisions did not hurt as much as I anticipated. It was uncomfortable more than anything, and there wasn’t any burning or stinging around my incisions. The recovery time was also great, I spent one night in the hospital and about one week in bed not because of pain but due to fatigue.
Gas is The Kicker!
Okay, you know the sleeve gastrectomy is minimally-invasive. Doctors will make a tiny incision and insert a camera to complete the procedure. To be able to see and move around, they will fill your body with carbon dioxide around the stomach and intestines. You’re probably asking why the gas is left in the body. Well, most of it is removed before the incision is closed but small pockets of gas normally remain. To eliminate the gas patients are asked to move the body immediately after surgery. For me, once I was awake and had a few licks of an ice cube my nurse was cheering me on to get on my feet and walk the hallways. Regardless of the encouragement, this was not a pleasant experience. I was aching, dizzy, and…full of gas! Those first few steps were miserable, you can literally feel the gas traveling upward in your body. As the gas travels, the aches intensify. At one point, I thought I may be experiencing a heart attack. But it was just gas traveling up towards my chest and shoulders. The carbon dioxide may be in your body for a few days, during this time it is important to take deep breathes and eliminate straws.
You’ll Get New Hardware - The Surgical Drain
After my laparoscopic weight loss surgery, I found myself with new hardware by way of the drainage. Attached to my body was a bag with a tube attached. This tube went into my stomach. It’s really strange to wake up and see a tube sticking out of your stomach but it's a whole other thing to feel the tube pull on your stomach. When I first saw the drain, I impulsively touched and slightly pulled. Please, please, please don’t pull on the drain. The drain allows excess fluids, like blood to be released from the abdomen. If you are squeamish, this may cause some issues for you as its to be cleaned daily, then removed about one week after surgery. The removal was painful because the tube is longer than you care to believe, and you will feel it as its pulled. My advice is to take a deep breathe and close your eyes. You can expect to feel a stinging sensation and then an emptiness right after.
Food grief is something I experienced both before and after weight loss surgery. I prepared myself by saying goodbye to my favorite foods, which simultaneously meant saying goodbye to a large piece of my culture. When I decided to have weight loss surgery I knew my habits would need to change. I couldn’t help but feel that I would be giving up a big part of my Hispanic culture by way of food. Many of the foods I loved did not cut the nutritional requirements my post-bariatric surgery life demanded. Therefore, I mourned those beloved foods a few months before in preparation but after surgery, the cravings returned. I began to feel deprived of the foods that bought me comfort, there were days when I felt extremely sad. The best thing you can do during this time is to keep busy and remember what those comfort foods were doing to you. I leaned heavily on the facts. When I felt sad about the foods I could no longer eat I would look at the nutritional facts. It helped me to see what I was truly putting into my body, and how it would benefit me. Once I saw the lack of nutrients in these foods I could refocus my attention to the good I was doing for my body by not eating those foods.
You’ll Still Need The Gym
The weight will absolutely come off if you continue to sit on the couch but there will come a time typically after 4 - 6 months and after the first fifty pounds, where you’ll hit a wall. There’s a misconception regarding weight loss surgery as the easy way out, it’s anything but. Regular physical activity will get you to your weight loss goal, but it will also combat loose skin. Many people feel intimidated by exercise, my advice is to compare yourself to your previous self. You are your only competition and having surgery is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. It’s best to work out 30 to 40 minutes a day working up to an hour for best results.
Share these 5 things to know before weight loss surgery with a friend or support group. If you have any valuable tips leave them in the comments below, you never know when you’re shining light for someone else.