Sunday, July 19, 2009

Have Surgery: Rule 17 To Control Your Appetite

We had occasion to visit a dear friend in the hospital some months ago. As it turns out he was in the Bariatric Wing of the hospital.

First, I didn't know there were so many bariatric patients they had to dedicate an entire floor to them. Second, I didn't know exactly what "bariatric" really stood for. I was about to find out.

Wikipedia says "Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the causes, prevention, and treatment of obesity ."

No, our friend wasn't obese (far from it). He was sent there due to hospital overcrowding elsewhere.

Now, I've never been to a Bariatric ward before. And I was surprised. Curious. Astounded. In the end, saddened.

This was the place people come to recuperate after bariatric surgery – lap band, stomach stapling, gastric bypass, etc.

Losing 500 Pounds
Except for the one bed my friend was in, the entire wing (totally full) was made up of post-operative obese people. A couple or three dozen or more. Everyone seemed to weigh-in in excess of 500 pounds. Besides their extreme weight, they were beset with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, various forms of cancer, asthma, and obstructive sleep apnea, knee replacement surgery, to name a few of the big-name problems.

For nearly every one there, surgery was their only hope, their last link to life – for salvaging whatever quality from life they could. After surgery, they were immensely sick. Recovery slow. Some had been there for weeks. I had never seen any of this up-close. The pain sunk deep into my chest and wouldn't leave for days.

I was totally surprised that so many lives were at stake to extreme obesity. I knew the numbers, of course, and knew the percent of persons with extreme obesity was climbing faster than the total number of those who were obese. But, they were just numbers. Up close to human souls trapped in these out-sized bodies, the numbers quickly became very personal.

The Curiousities of Bariatric Wards
Ever curious, as I peered into the small cramped rooms with open doors, I saw the biggest arm chairs I had ever seen. The powered beds tilted upright to help the occupants get into and out of bed. The wheel chairs were large enough to fit 2-3 people side-by-side. I didn't know they made such things.

I wondered how they could possibly use the tiny restrooms, with their coat-closet-sized rooms stuffed with a toilet. A nurse told me they didn't – couldn't – they were just too large to fit, so an orderly had to help them use hospital alternatives.

It was the look on the too-human faces that struck me – and in many ways they still haunt me today. These weren't fat people. Nor obese people. These were people. Very sick people.

No One Chooses to Be Obese
None of them started out with a desire to be captured by extreme weight. None thought their excess weight would eventually land them here, confined to a hospital bed, trying to figure out how to piece a shattered life back together.

Being extremely obese is not a statement of character. It is a near fatal assault on your life.

None could tell you how they got from 250 pounds to 300 pounds, from 400 pounds to 500 pounds and beyond. It just happened. Not overnight, but it happened step-by-step until there was no other solution than the one that had brought them to the brink of death, and here.

Somewhere along the road to accumulating their debilitating size, they dieted. Repeatedly. They fasted. Dieted again. Worked out. Walked. Read everything they could get their hands on about how to lose weight. Worked out the best they could. And all of it, sooner-or-later, failed them.

Losing Weight Before the Dreams are All Lost
Somewhere along the road they lost the life they had, the dreams they had nurtured, their sensuous sense of self. Their every moment had been consumed for a very long time with just survival. Survival. For many, they questioned if it were worth the titanic struggle. Their personal pain was larger than their bodies could ever be. It showed. They radiated pain deep into the hall.

Somewhere along the road it quit being a problem of will power, of insatiable cravings. Of hiding food to eat later when no one was watching.

Somewhere along the road a tipping point occurred. Weight gain accelerated. Each person I talked to at the hospital described the sensation of helplessly standing by while their weight ballooned, as if they were watching a 3D image of someone else doing all kinds of things that caused unstoppable weight gain.

A nurse whispered, "Don't you think at some point they would just tell themselves it's time to quit eating so much?" Astounded, I had a sudden urge to push him down the stairs.

Extreme Obesity: Is it Contagious?
As I visited with family members, most of them, too, were exceptionally overweight. The pain and concern written with ingrained frowns and forced smiles on their faces made we want to cry. How could it come to be, I wondered, how entire families, even those not blood-related, were themselves obese, or closely following that path?

For those who had undergone surgery, they were on the road to some kind of recovery. Many things would improve in their lives, and perhaps they would even get some kind of life-quality back. For their family members, they were still on the road to exceptionally excess weight, and their journey was far from over.

For all the patients, they could not again consume food like they had formerly. The surgery had permanently changed that. For each, they had to change nearly every aspect of their lives in order to allow the surgeries to do their jobs. But, whatever the success it would have in reducing weight, the pain, the emotional scars, their sense of losing a lifetime of what should have been pleasant memories, the catastrophic dis-assembling of their sense of self-worth, would take many, many more years to recover. If then.

Excess Weight is a Symptom of Disease
Excess weight is a symptom of a disease. The greater the weight, the greater the disease, and the more diseases that will cluster on the overweight body. At some point, that cluster of diseases will find a way to kill you. If you are a woman, it will take multiple diseases over decades for it to kill you. For men, heart disease will take you relatively quickly. Or a stroke will leave you confined to having others care for your every need.

Sadly, at some point surgery is the only option to lose weight. At that point, it is the only way to control your appetite – it is the only way to save your life.

At some point considerably before the surgery option, before your entire body runs amuck, you still have the option of doing it right. If you don't take that course, you have about a one-in-six chance of meeting your family from the elevating bed of a Bariatric ward. Of course, you know that the 1 in 6 will not be you, right?

Rule 17: How do you control your appetite?
Conclusion: Have Surgery

Next article...
How do you control your appetite:
Rule 18: Hang your husband on a clothesline

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