The School of Healing

It’s been two weeks after surgery and I’m healing.

Oh, am I healing, alright…and has my world turned UPSIDE DOWN!  It’s been a new realization in “mindfulness” as to what goes into my mouth and what effects it has on my now-altered body.  Sure, you can’t SEE that it’s been operated on but it’s been changed forever with with the removal of the gall bladder.  And for many, they see no real changes.  But for still many others, there’s bound to be some.  I am one of those.

But let me backtrack here – the surgery itself was not a normal laproscopic procedure.  It was supposed to involve five small incisions and take about 90 minutes.  Add on that I had a massive hernia where my intestines are now residing OUTSIDE of the stomach wall resulting in what appears to be a perpetual nine month pregnancy combined with fat. Wonderful.  And this came due to my three now-grown kids – the muscles split during each pregnancy and could never heal resulting in three “C-Section” births.  There was a tear already in that abdominal wall that was never fixed and it just grew over the years with the gaining and loss of weight.  Did my OB/Gyns figure this out?  Of course not.  “It’s just fat” they’d say.  Translation:  It’s the mother’s issue/fault.  Classic.  Just like all of the issues of the baby are “the mother’s fault.”  So, a mitigating issue for the surgery from the start – a nasty hernia.  Then comes the day OF the surgery – Surprise!  The hernia was NOT the only problem.  Try a massively infected, inflamed, gallstone-filled gallbladder BEGGING to be removed that was awaiting the surgeon and the team.  Pus was inside along with the stones – UGH!  So much for that hernia issue being the only problem.  Now it’s the possibility of this nightmare of a gallbladder RUPTURING during surgery PLUS the hernia that may need to be repaired adding to the woes of this team.

All told a 90 minute laproscopic procedure took FOUR HOURS…and no full open surgery needed.  At first, I’m sound asleep…later, I’m feeling like I was hit by a truck.  A few days later?  I’m damned impressed by the surgical team by their efforts. The morning after I hear the disgusting details of the ticking time bomb lurking inside of my body.  It’s a good thing I didn’t really feel like eating.  But the nurses had other ideas.

“You are NOW on a regular diet, starting now.”

What I was thinking?  “Like Hell I am!”

But I looked at the menu groaning in pain with every choice I saw.  Meatloaf?  Chicken sandwiches?  Salads?  Oh please, must I?  Can’t I order anything from the “Liquid diet” side?  I called in my orders….and I stuck to the safest ones I could get away with.  In one meal I could remember – I was pretty zoned out – was a herb chicken sandwich.  I swear that chicken breast was so big I was going to need something to help shove it down to my stomach.  The thought of ice cream was too painful so I skipped it and stuck with fruit.  It just sounded better.

What?!? Me?  Fruit sounds better?!?   I really was in an altered state of consciousness. And I kept eating fruit, drinking skim milk when I could and water?  Tons of it went down.  There was never enough.

Then I come home and it’s now the House of Culinary Horrors.  What can I eat?  The big fear?  That my new home would become the bathroom.  I learned a great deal about the gastrointestinal tract just before my surgery and I was stunned at how complicated this area of the body is.  It’s not just about eating whatever you want, it hits the stomach and somehow gets processed  and out it goes as “#1” or “#2”.  There are parts called the liver, the spleen, the duodenum and…surprise!  The mysterious gall bladder.  Once upon a time the appendix played a role in this – reportedly it handled bones – that’s why it usually comes out when it hits air.  It’s not needed.  The gall bladder is not quite essential either but it’s not as negligible as, say, the appendix.  The liver produces bile which breaks down fat.  We need fat in our diets but most of us take in too much.  So this organ really gets a workout and a lot of bile is secreted.  Then it hits the spleen and the bile goes with it and it’s broken down more.  The duodenum is one of the duct networks and the mess is going through and it’s all still being broken down further.  Then here comes that gall bladder, the final way station before the intestines.  Here it has to be in a form to be able to hit the intestines.  If not?  What cannot be forms gallstones.  The reason is simple:  most of us eat too much fat.  Gallstones is the excess fat and other items that cannot be broken down by the bile – and even excess bile itself.  The rest hits the intestines and goes out.  But the stones remain and grow over time.  And more develop and grow.  The process continues until one blocks the tracts of the gall bladder and inflames the openings causing an infection and THAT’S what gets the attention of the patient.  But symptoms build over time:  gastrointestinal reflux, pain in that area that is not dealt with or mistaken for “gas,” upper abdominal pain that comes and goes and is ignored, feelings of being too full when little food is consumed – those are a few of the less gruesome symptoms.

When I came home from the hospital to my new “house of horrors,” it’s because you don’t have a “how to” guide as to how or what to eat. It’s totally experimental.  All you come home with?  Pain medications, a directional sheet on a Low Fat diet, how to handle the incisions and “when to call the doctor” and one final thing:  watch your fat intake.  That’s the only warning I received.  I had leftovers so I ate some but limited the amount as that’s all I wanted.  First thing?  All I tasted was PURE SALT.  I couldn’t finish it at all so? It ALL was tossed in the trash.  Little did I know it wasn’t the last I’d “hear” from that meal.

I spent ALL NIGHT in the bathroom.

The meal was filled with beef – I discovered that beef can no longer be part of my diet. Cannot – and it was the leanest possible ground beef and had been washed and drained properly.  It was also filled with pure salt to my palate.  Good thing I had chicken breasts already at home as I discovered that chicken was not a problem.  Chicken immediately was now in my diet and my stomach has had no trouble with it at all. I had turkey tenderloin and that has also been just fine for my diet.  Ground versions are also just fine.  I was not a fish eater – next week, that is going to change; that’s a challenge to myself.

Cod fillets

Within a few days I could move around enough to get to the store and I now had to stock up on fruits, vegetables, SKIM milk, egg substitute – I was concerned for cholesterol; I’ll be following up with my primary physician, skim milk-based yogurt (Greek yogurt can’t be handled by me at all; too hard to digest), softer lower fat cheese.  Nothing processed.  And another mainstay had to go.

Diet Coke.

First, the amount I drank was insane. Second, the carbonation killed my stomach.  No carbonated beverages, not even carbonated water!

But for all of that, the frustration was mounting and with my therapist we discussed what else I could do. So My Fitness Pal was put on my phone and on my computer – it’s a weight loss/exercise log where you can get support from others as you make those changes to your diet as you work on your goals.  It forces you to write down everything you put into your mouth:  food and water, as well as the exercise you perform and you can link up with others for support.  Best of all?  It’s free.  I have it linked to Google Fit for my walks I have begun to take regularly – another thing I’ve neglected.  The number of steps transfer over and I can scan the SKU patterns of every food I consume and the application records it.  It’s been a great tool.  It has a blog of ideas for recipes, nutrition information, mindfulness information and support boards.  It’s helped a great deal.

Then I had to return to life and I went to AA once it became easier to walk distances – my first one was within walking distance; my women’s meeting.  And what happens?  At the end of the meeting one of the members shouts out, “I’M READY FOR PIE AT BAKER’S SQUARE!”

I was on the verge of a true panic episode I hadn’t had in months. I didn’t know what to do or say.  It wasn’t just the pie – it was the diet coke I’d usually order WITH that pie.  It was just too risky and it wasn’t the “I can’t because of my diet.”  It was the “I can’t because of pain due to my lack of gall bladder!”  So, I just excused myself and left.  One disaster averted.  In a place I thought was safe, I get smacked with a two by four.  Little did I know I’d get hit even harder.

Forbidden Chocolate Brownies

This photo is from a bakery called Bread and Chocolate in St. Paul.  They are NOTORIOUSLY rich and NOTORIOUSLY expensive.  Cakes, pies, cookies, fudge, sandwiches, you name the food, they have it and it’s sinful.

Forbidden Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here I am getting active in my life again.  I had become lethargic, hibernating and “lost.”  Now that my health was becoming front and center I felt great and wanted to live.  AA was important for my sobriety as it has always been.  Just last night, I attended a meeting – a “closed” meeting meaning I can only discuss issues with alcohol – and a wonderful woman was celebrating 41 years of sobriety; a damned amazing accomplishment!  Of course at AA meetings we have coffee; decaf and regular.  But what ELSE shows up?  Cookies and fudge from Bread and Chocolate in St. Paul – and this fudge weighed, in its box cut up, a good 20 POUNDS.  That’s right POUNDS.  Then there were two giant boxes of cookies easily 8 inches in diameter with cake flower so they were thick – oatmeal, chocolate chip, M & M.  Rumor had it this woman paid $80 USD for just the cookies alone.  I had my large water bottle with me but I’m staring at food I cannot have in a place I thought was safe!  Again, it’s not a calorie counting issue.  It’s health-related and I am suffering in emotional pain because I’m, literally, fighting the urge to grab something I would normally would have not given a second thought to partaking in.  But now, I can’t.  I’m angry.  I want to scream.  I want to shout.  I’m having thoughts about true hunger or whether this is a compulsion…or is this another addiction.  The meeting goes on about the third step “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”  I try to listen to the speaker, I truly do. But all I’m thinking about?  Trying to get through the damned meeting.  I’m angry that my safe refuge has been violated. I’m singing praises to whomever this higher power I’m now struggling to believe in at this moment is once we break into groups as now the torture devices have been removed but I still cannot say one word – a “closed” meeting; only alcohol can be discussed.  I DO speak with someone after the meeting but I’m still angry and beyond frustrated.

All I’m thinking and wondering now?  How do people LIVE?  It’s only two weeks out but I still don’t know what I can and cannot do.

But then comes today – the post-op visit.  Everything is healing fine.  My surgeon takes my weight and I’ve dropped SIX POUNDS since the day of surgery.  Oh is he overjoyed!  I share with him what I’ve learned so far and what he tells me is that it’s trial and error on food.  Beef, if I cannot handle it from the beginning, is going to stay out of my diet for good.  It’s the fat content, pure and simple.  Lean cuts of chicken, turkey and fish are the best.  Fruits, vegetables are superb; the more fiber the better and LOTS of water daily.  And since I have the hernia, I must lose the weight.  That’s when I ask, “What is ‘substantial’?”  That was the term he used.  Then he brought up my records and, bottom line?  It’s a bit over 40 pounds. But that’s not all of the weight I need to lose.  That’s the MINIMUM to qualify for hernia surgery.  I said, “But that’s not what I want.  I’m tired of this. This was a painful wake up call for me.  The hernia was a self esteem issue as I was told all it was?  Fat.”  The doctor was shaking his head in disgust. “I want to do all I can to get what I can get off for good and have the surgery so that I’m healthy and ‘back together’ as I should have been.” We talk some more about the dietary programs and the drugs we ruled out due to their content – most have medications such as amphetamines, wellbutrin, lamotrigine – used for bi polar, and another medication used to quell addiction, seizures and assists with bi-polar – bariatric surgery is “iffy” with mood disorders.  So it’s diet, which he prefers anyway.

Then comes the big question:  “Now for a goal:  if I’m going to do this surgery, let’s set a date for a follow up.  This sets a time for YOU to lose the weight and we can check in.”  Now the butterflies kick in.

My reply?  “Would six months be reasonable?”

“Perfectly reasonable,” he replied.  “Let’s plan on that.”

I’m committed.

Tomorrow is the nutritionist – I had planned on that all along and that goes with a support group for “Intuitive Eating.”  She’s going to be in this as a team.  So now, the challenge is on:  September 12th is the appointment for the hernia follow up.  And I’m going to be putting everything here so you can follow along and keeps me accountable.

Yes, I’m scared and excited…but I’m also frustrated and angry because of what I’ve been experiencing so far.  It’s one thing to live without booze.  It’s another to go without food.  But, in the end, I’m hopeful the journey there will be worth all the trials.  It’s only the beginning.