What I've been through

what I have to go through

October 23, 2008|By ELLEN ROWLAND / Special to The Herald-Mail

Editor's note: Ellen Rowland, a Herald-Mail columnist who writes about the North End, plans to undergo bariatric surgery to help her lose weight and regain health. So that others might get a clearer picture of the costs and benefits of the procedure, Rowland offered to write a monthly journal describing the process. This is her first entry.

I am obese. I am about to have gastric bypass surgery, and I want to write this for people considering weight-loss surgery.

This is my story.

I was never large when I was growing up. I was not large when I married, and I swore I would not blame my size on the excuse that I had two children.

But I felt that people would not look down on me as much if I said, "Oh I had two children and was not able to lose this baby weight."


Little by little the weight just kept accumulating. It kept going and going, like the Energizer Bunny, and it never stopped.

I am a diabetic, I have this back problem and high cholesterol, and my body-mass index a few months ago was 48.9. When I was weighed at the last doctor's appointment, my BMI was 46.8, still in the medical category of obese. I met every requirement needed to qualify for weight-loss surgery.

I am 58 and live in Hagerstown with my husband, Charles. I have two adult sons who now live in Wisconsin and California. I want this surgery so that I can get healthy, so that I can play with my grandchildren and go out in public and not be hiding in my house.

I expect to have gastric bypass surgery around the start of 2009. In the meantime, my insurance requires that I be on a weight-loss plan for six months, get a nutritional consultation and undergo psychological evaluation.

This story is about what I have to go through and what I've been through so far. Each month, I will write about where I am in my journey to lose weight.

Family background

I do not know if my size is a result of genetics or a result of not watching what I eat.

I was adopted when I was 6 months old, and my adoptive mother was absolutely the best cook ever. She made sure we had three meals a day and always had a vegetable, a fruit and some kind of meat. It was a real treat to have a snack. Soda, too, was a special drink we had once in a while or at holiday times.

My brother, also adopted, had gastric bypass done in October 2001. He did very well, losing more than 145 pounds. But in July 2002, he was found dead in his bed. His wife did not have an autopsy performed, so we don't know the cause of death.

Being adopted does not tell us anything about our health issues. I wish sometimes I had tried to find the woman who gave birth to me, but then again, do I really want to open up that can of worms?

In October 2006, my adoptive mother passed away. I was her only living child, so the responsibilities of her funeral fell on my shoulders.

What it's like to be heavy

Two or three years ago, I was having horrible back pain. I could not walk more than 10 to 20 feet without having to stop and sit down. I could not stand longer than 10 minutes without having to sit down. I let this go on for more than a year until I decided to see someone.

Their diagnosis was spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a condition caused by the narrowing of the spinal cord, which causes nerve pinching and leads to persistent pain. The pain doctor told me that within four years I would not be able to walk. Then I was referred to a surgeon in Frederick, Md.

I knew what the surgeon would say, and I was right: "I can help you, but you need to lose weight."

I had to get a handicapped sticker for my car, and yes, I do not look handicapped. If I do go in a store, I have to get one of those riding carts. I know I am as guilty of this as most everyone else: You see a large person in one of these carts and right away you think they are just riding in that cart because they are too fat to walk around. Now that I have to ride in one of those, I can understand why people use them.

I do not go out very much. I am too embarrassed, and I do not want anyone who knows me to see me this way. I have been called names. I have also had people who don't know me well come up to me and say, "You have really put on weight, haven't you?"

Comments like that do hurt, whether it was intentional or not.

Opting for surgery

This spring, I heard about bariatric surgery being offered in Hagerstown through Washington County Hospital. Well, needless to say, I was so happy I could stay here in town and have this done. I called and set up an appointment for a free consultation.

To my disappointment, my insurance did not cover the bariatric practice here in Hagerstown. But my insurance does cover bariatric surgery at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. It did not take me long to decide to contact Bayview.

I have had the psychological evaluation, the surgical consultation and have attended the informational session. I have been on a weight-loss management plan for three months. My nutritional consultation is set for November.

When it gets closer to surgery time, I will get blood work and X-rays, and even nearer to the date, I will have an anesthesia evaluation.

But until I meet all the insurance requirements, it's just like the Army, I have to "hurry up and wait." A medical review board will make the final decision at my insurance company.

With any surgery there are risks, and if I do not take this risk, I will never know if it works or not. I just cannot be afraid. Worried? Yes, I am worried. But not to the point that it consumes my life.

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