First of all, if you're considering weight loss surgery, don't let this post discourage you. I don't for one moment regret having a gastric sleeve. I'm slimmer and healthier right now than I have been in more than a decade, and it's a great feeling.
I hope, however, that this post does inform you. In spite of my surgeon's best efforts, I was somewhat naive when I had my procedure. If I could go back and have a talk with my pre-surgery self, there are a few things I would like to tell her.
1. A Gastric Sleeve is Major Surgery
After I heard the surgeon say the gastric sleeve was a laparoscopic procedure, I stopped listening. I'd had my appendix and gall bladder removed laparoscopically, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Because I turned off my listening ears, I kind of missed the part where the doctor explained that I'd be missing 2/3 of my stomach and looking at a recovery time of six to eight weeks at least. After the surgery, I was horrified by how much pain I was in and by how weak and sick I felt. It was all normal, but I didn't know that, and my anxiety probably only contributed to making me feel sicker.
2. Take It Easy
I took two weeks off work and then insisted I was well enough to go back to being a hospice social worker. Bad idea. I came home exhausted and near tears every night for three weeks. I also ended up taking a bunch of unplanned sick days, which wasn't fair to my co-workers or my clients. I should have listened to my doctor and scheduled an adequate amount of time off to start with.
3. Listen to Your Body
After a weight-loss procedure, when your stomach says you're full--you're full! If you keep eating beyond that point, you will make yourself miserably sick. This can be a hard fact to get used to since a lot of people who are fat--including me--have learned to ignore both hunger and satiety signals. When we binge, we eat way more than our stomach was intended to hold. When we diet, we fiercely tune out hunger pangs until they become unbearable.
A gastric sleeve forces you to do exactly the opposite--listen to your body and stop eating immediately when your stomach is full.
4. Give Your Stomach Time to Heal
My surgeon told me that my stomach would remain swollen and irritated for at least eight weeks after the surgery. Your bariatric surgeon will probably recommend a post-surgery diet starting with liquids, then pureed foods, then soft foods, and eventually most foods that you could eat before the surgery. Red meat and soft white bread tend to be long-term problems for those who have had a sleeve.
It's important that when your surgeon outlines this diet, you follow it to the letter. Your stomach needs a chance to heal before it can take on heavier or coarser foods. My doctor told me horror stories about patients who tried to eat too much of the wrong foods immediately following surgery and who caused their stomach contents to leak around the surgical staples.
Yeah, I know. Gross. Not to mention very, very unhealthy.
5. Your Body Will Change Quickly
By the time I was five weeks out from surgery, I had shed 30 pounds. I've probably lost another ten to 15 pounds since then. My face looks different. My clothes are looser. Even the way I move my body has changed. The changes are all for the better, but they still take some getting used to. If your extra weight served a subconscious purchase, such as body armor or protecting you from unwanted sexual advances, losing so quickly may even be traumatic. Be aware of this and don't be surprised if you find yourself mourning the loss of your old body even as you celebrate the arrival of your new one.