Space Mountain Revisited

I hate roller coasters. Big time. They scare the bejeezus out of me. When I was 17 I went to Disney World with my friends and practically threw up on Space Mountain. I vowed never to ride again. And I didn’t. Until May 10, 2010, the day of my gastric bypass. This time I really did throw up.

I don’t remember much about the day of the surgery. I don’t think I slept much the night before, showered early and got to the hospital at 6 a.m. Erica and I waited for a short time to be admitted. Then they are sticking a needle in my arm and I’m trying to back out. Erica said she’d kill me if I backed out, after putting her through months of emotional build up. I remember thinking how that seemed more appealing than surgery. Then my wise man T. Don showed up and somehow convinced me to sign the consent. Next thing I know, I’m lying in a regular hospital room clicking the little thingy for pain meds and checking out the hot nurses (I haven’t mentioned that part to Erica yet.)

I felt pretty good. I mostly slept and clicked the narcotic button the first day or two. The pain was negligible. They started me on Crystal Light and protein shakes a short time later and I went home just two days after the surgery. Big mistake that turned out to be. I spent two days sitting on the couch rejecting all the liquids I needed to stay hydrated. I simply couldn’t swallow anything. Period.

By the weekend I was in the hospital being rehydrated. They tanked me up with four liters and sent me back home, where I promptly stopped drinking again. I was bloated and full; I couldn’t swallow anything. By the next night I was back at the hospital, re-admitted. I wasn’t dealing with much pain, but there was no way I could keep myself hydrated. It took a few days of rest, but I guess some swelling in my belly finally started going down about a week after the surgery and I could swallow.

They let me go home on a full liquid diet about two days ago. I’m drinking and taking short walks, and I’m finally feeling a little of my strength return. But I think I’ve still got a ways to go. The good part is I’m already down 32 pounds.

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Big Fat Update

This is a guest post by Big Fat Mike’s sister, Andrea

I just got off the phone with the man himself and he sounds great! Not just-won-the-lottery great, but great nonetheless. He’ll be in the hospital until tomorrow (Thursday) and then head home. He can only have liquids, so he’s enjoying a balanced diet of water and deliciously refreshing Crystal Light (I forgot to ask what flavor. I clearly would not make a good investigative journalist.) He should be on solid foods in a couple of weeks.

He’s in some pain, but it doesn’t sound too terrible. The best part was that he sounds optimistic. Tired and in pain, yes, but scared no more. He faced down his demons (doctors, hospital, surgery) and has come out a better person for it. Although, I’ve always thought he was a pretty awesome person to begin with, but maybe now he’ll agree.

Big Fat Memories

This is a guest post by Big Fat Mike’s sister, Andrea

The whole “Big Fat Mike” thing kind of came as a surprise to me. I knew my brother wasn’t skinny. I knew he struggled with his weight for years.  And I knew he tried everything under the sun to deal with it. But it never dawned on me to think of him as “Big Fat Mike.” If you asked me for adjectives to describe him, I’d probably pick “hilarious” and “silly.” If pushed for a third, I might say “dark-haired”. He is also “tall” and “unarmed.”

It breaks my heart to know that he’s thought of himself as “Big Fat Mike” for so long, but we’ve never talked about it. Weight was one of those off-limit topics between us, something we’ve just never discussed and we’re pretty close. And it’s not like I’m Kate Moss. I spend my life struggling to reconcile my passion for cooking and eating with my desire to fit into cute jeans. But Mike never felt like he could talk to me about it and I wasn’t going to push him.

We have such a wonderful shared history, loads of hilarious memories, and a lot of them food-related. Does thinking of himself as Big Fat Mike color those?

There was the time our parents went away for the weekend and the first thing we did was hightail it to the grocery store and fill up a cart with crap galore: pop-tarts and oreos and potato chips and cheez-doodles and corn pops. And then we forgot about everything in the cart when we spied the latest technological advancement to hit aisle 6: microwave brownies.

That was the only thing we bought that day. I’ll never forget peering into the microwave with Mike, our faces filled with wonder at how those new fangled, possibly radio active, micro waves pelted the goopy brown batter from all sides, forming brownies right before our bedazzled eyes. These were most likely the kind of baked goods they were eating on the Starship Enterprise! How futuristic! It was 1985 everywhere else, but inside that microwave it was clearly the 23rd century.

They were terrible once “baked”: mushy, raw and really hot on one side and overcooked and hard as a rock on the other. The middle wasn’t much of a success either. But if it was good enough for James T. Kirk, then gosh-darnit, it was good enough for us! We ate the whole tray, or at least whatever we could get our teeth through.

I hate to think that Mike’s memory of the microwave brownies isn’t happy and easy-going and unencumbered by self-doubt. Big Fat Mike isn’t how I define him, how his friends and family define him, or how the world defines him. But it’s how he’s defined himself.

I love him so much. I wouldn’t be me, had I not grown up with him. He’s the one I turn to when I need a laugh or parenting advice. He’s been a defining factor in my life, in a really positive, I-can’t-stop-laughing kind of way (most of the time, anyway.) I just want him to look in the mirror and be happy with what he sees. I want him to think about his past and be happy with how he remembers. I want him to think about his future and be optimistic about the possibilities. And I want him to want to talk about it all with me.

He Did It

(This is a guest post by Big Fat Mike’s sister, Andrea)

Hallelujah and praise be! Mike is out of surgery and in the recovery room.

The report from the doctors is that it all went really well. They were able to perform the surgery laparoscopically, which is pretty amazing, so I’m guessing that will make his recovery easier and he’ll just have a teeny weeny, barely imperceptible scar (insert your he’ll-be-in-a-bikini-in-no-time joke here.)

I can’t emphasize enough how much Mike hates being a patient. He hates hospitals and doctors and needles and drugs and poking and prodding and all that attention. Oh, how he hates the attention! Mike is truly happiest when he’s in charge and he’s most certainly not in charge here.

But I think that by surrendering his power to the doctors here, by becoming a patient in this scenario, he’s actually taking charge. By becoming a patient voluntarily now, he’s making the decision not to have to be a patient involuntarily in the future, which makes me hugely proud of him.

And given his extreme distaste for the situation, I am doubly proud of him for having the cojones to go through with it. I know it wasn’t an easy decision and it won’t be an easy process. But I know he can do it, because he’s in charge now.

Hopefully, his recovery from surgery will be as fast and painless and easy as is possible. And, hopefully, his recovery from obesity will too.

18 hours to go…

I’m 18 hours away from surgery. I’m down about 14 pounds or so from the pre-surgery diet, but I think my blood pressure is way up. My nerves are shot. At the moment I’m subsisting on Isopure and Ativan.

My Amazing Annie

My nine-year-old daughter Annie is the second most amazing person I’ve ever known, the first being my wife, Erica. I don’t think Annie would argue with that assessment, or be troubled by it. She knows I adore her, and that I can hardly wait to see what incredible thing she’s going to do next. If anything, knowing Annie, I think my assessment would elicit one of her bright, down-to-the-depths-of-her-soul smiles. In her mind, all would be right with the world –- her parents adore each other, and that combined love is showered on their kids.

Annie has tremendous depth of character and feeling, well beyond her years. She thinks about the world and her place in it. She worries about her relationships and whether she’s popular with her classmates. She worries about the victims of the earthquake in Haiti and kids who don’t have warm coats during the cold Boston winter. She has strong reservations about the wars the U.S.A. is waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s a vegetarian, partly for moral reasons, but mostly because she dislikes meat. She’s smart. She excels at math and science, and she’s a great writer. She can grasp with ease concepts that might be difficult for her peers. Concepts like the Holocaust or global warming or the Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass I’m having in five days.

We’ve talked a lot about the surgery. Intellectually, I know she understands and agrees with my reasons for doing this. She grasps the idea that I need to lose significant weight, so I can live a long, healthy life. So I can watch her grow and mature. She’s only nine, but she wants me there for her bat mitzvah, for high school and college graduations, for when she marries and has kids. I’ll be Poppy Mikey, she says. (By the way, don’t think I’m neglecting Ari in any of this. He’s amazing in his own right for so many reasons, but at four, he’s too young to understand what’s happening.)

I’ve explained to Annie the mechanics of the surgery, how Dr. J. is going to divide my stomach into two pouches, one small and one large. I’ve told her how the small pouch will become my every-day stomach, where my food will flow after chewing and swallowing, and that the larger pouch will essentially be unused. I’ve explained that not only won’t I be able to eat as much, but that some of the food I consume won’t be absorbed by the new configuration. She knows I’ll on a liquid or pureed diet for a few months while healing, and that afterwards I’ll eat very small portions. She understands the surgery will lead to rapid weigh loss, which will mean a stronger, healthier Daddy.

Still, she’s terrified. I’m her Dad. That’s so much more than a simple title or role I play. I’m one of the two most important people in her life. I make her laugh and smile with my absurd sense of humor. I hold her when she’s crying and cheer her on every step of the way. She shares her hopes and fears with me, clings tightly to me when she’s scared and showers her joys and excitements on me like the warm summer sun. Along with Erica, I’m her rock and her anchor, and I’m the powerful wind in her sails.

I’m also the source of her most immediate fear –- that something will go wrong with the surgery, that she won’t get her Daddy back. And I don’t blame her. I’m scared too.

For months now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make her feel better, less worried. Ultimately, I can’t. What’s even worse is that I won’t be there to hold her hand when her fears are at their height. I’ll be asleep on an operating table. I feel guilty about that. It’s hurtful to Annie, because I won’t be where I’m supposed to be when things get tough -– holding her hand and telling her it’ll be okay.

I need to keep reminding myself, though, that it’s less hurtful than dying long before my time, from an obesity-related illness. It’s less hurtful than leaving Annie without her Dad, and everything that means. I can’t bear to think about the loss she’d feel for the rest of her life. I know she’d recover and go on without me, but she shouldn’t have to. By going under the knife, I’m taking a small risk now to sidestep an almost certain fate. It’s the lesser of two evils.

For all her intelligence and charisma, Annie is still just nine. She’s caught in a nine-year-old’s contradiction. She understands what’s happening, knows it’s the right thing to do, but she’s terrified. We just have to get through it together.

I love you Annie. I always will. No matter what.

Depression side-stepped; replumbing is on!

I looked at my calendar and it turns out my depression isn’t scheduled for today, or even for the time being. This, despite my decision to stop taking, cold turkey and against some medical advice, a few little white pills every night. I’m still taking the blue ones when I wake up, but I’m finished with the whities. They were nothing but trouble.

In case you don’t remember, these are the same little white pills that gave Dr. J. pause a few weeks back. I’ve struggled with depression for years, and he was concerned I’d be cutting off a potential lifeline by having the gastric bypass. Due to the mal-absorption properties of the bypass, it’d be difficult and maybe a little dangerous to swallow the white ones post-op.

But upon research and reflection, it turns out that the dangers of taking the whities post-op aren’t as great as we originally thought. That’s assuming I ever need them again. Some of my health care folks think that’s unlikely, since it isn’t even clear whether they did much in the first place. It’s the blue pills that helped most. I’m willing to take the risk, as is Dr. J., so I’m having the bypass May 10.

Oy, the drama. This is worse than buying a new car. Nothing is certain until Dr. J. picks up his knife and cuts