Over at Rachel’s place, another commenter asked me if I’d ever considered giving space to someone who’d had a negative experience with WLS, as a counterpoint to Heidi’s controversial guest post. It was a timely question, because I’d just read Mariellen/Vesta44’s account of her failed Vertical Banded Gastroplasty (VBG) on her blog, Big Fat Delicious. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was at least getting a big, fat link over here — and it would be even better if Mariellen would give me permission to repost it here. Turns out she was kind enough to do that, so you’ll find it below, as well as on her blog.
One thing Mariellen’s story highlights is the lack of viable options for fat people who are in serious pain and having trouble functioning normally — something that can get lost in our discussions of whether we can ever, under any circumstances, get behind someone having WLS. In Mariellen’s case, she has absolutely, 100%, ruled out ever having WLS again — yet she’s suffering from many of the same problems as Heidi, and doctors continue to recommend WLS, even when she tells them she won’t do it because she already did it, and the consequences were terrible.
When you’re in pain and you cannot get a doctor to address anything other than your weight, what do you do? And what do we, as fat acceptance activists, do when some fat people, suffering and desperate for relief, are browbeaten into believing that nothing other than surgery can help them? What do we healthy fat people think we’d do, if we had to walk in their shoes?
Thanks very much, Mariellen, for sharing your story with us. It’s a really important one. –Kate
I have read various things at various times on FA blogs where some think that anyone who has had/is having/is contemplating WLS does not belong in the FA movement. If that is so, then I don’t belong here either. I say that because 10 years ago, I had a VBG, which I have said before, and posted in comments on other blogs. Yes, it failed, and yes, I’m still alive and still fat, and still healthy, just like I was before the surgery. Do I have complications from it? I don’t know, mainly because I can’t afford to see a doctor to have the problems I’m having diagnosed for causes.
Now, 10 years ago, I was in a totally different headspace than I am now. Back then, I didn’t know that fat acceptance even existed, let alone what it could mean for a fat woman like me. I had minor mobility problems (yeah, they were minor compared to what I’m going through now). I couldn’t walk for more than a couple of blocks without my back cramping up and causing pain. I was still able to sweep and mop floors without having to take a break halfway through, I could vacuum the whole living room without having to stop, and I could do a sink full of dishes without having to sit and take a break till my back quit hurting. I didn’t have to use the motorized cart at Wal-Mart to do my shopping. I didn’t have any problems getting in and out of the shower, or even being able to stand long enough to take a shower. All of those things are more difficult for me now, after the WLS failed and I gained an additional 40 lbs.
Why did my nurse practitioner recommend the WLS? Not because I was diabetic, or had high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. I didn’t have any of those, and still don’t. She recommended it because I have arthritis in my right knee, and it’s getting worse all the time (degenerative joint disease, and it runs in our family). I did a lot of roller skating when I was a teen and young adult, and every time I fell, I landed on that knee. Did that start the arthritis early? Could be, since I was diagnosed with it at the age of 33 after a particularly nasty fall and had to have fluid drained off the knee. She said that there was no way an orthopedic surgeon would even think of replacing my knee at my then-weight of 350 lbs.
So I took her advice, since I couldn’t take the phen-fen anymore (yeah, she had prescribed that too, and it worked, till it was taken off the market). I went through with the WLS, and I can say now, looking back, that it was the worst mistake I ever made. Yeah, I lost 70 lbs in the first few months, but when I followed the surgeon’s recommendations to start adding regular food back to my diet and stop relying on the mashed/pureed food, it all went to hell. I couldn’t keep anything down, no matter how well I chewed it or how small I cut it up. My stapling came undone, and I started gaining the weight back. But it didn’t stop there, I not only gained back the 70 lbs I had lost, I gained an additional 40 lbs. I also gained a side effect that no one told me anything about, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t eat fast food very often anymore. Lovely side effect, it is. If I eat at McDonald’s, or Hardee’s, or Burger King (or anywhere even remotely like that), I had better be near a bathroom within an hour of eating, or I will need to take a shower and change clothes (I really don’t want to get more graphic than that, it’s totally embarrassing for me to say that much).
I didn’t want to lose a lot of weight, all I wanted was to go from my then-weight of 350 down to 250, maybe 225. I would still have been fat, but fuck, at least maybe I wouldn’t have had so much trouble walking and standing. Now, damn it all, I just wish I was back at that 350 lb mark. At least then I could do a hell of a lot more than I can now. Now, I’m lucky if I can walk half a block before I’m in severe pain. I have to sit down in the middle of vacuuming, sweeping, and doing the dishes. I have to use a motorized cart at Wal-Mart when I shop because there is no way I can walk all the way through the store without severe back pain. And I totally relate to Heidi when she says she can’t even wipe her own ass and how that makes her feel (I’m not there yet, but if I gain any more weight, I could be). I can’t sleep flat on my back in bed because my back cramps and it hurts to move. I can’t keep my right leg straight in bed because then it doesn’t want to bend without pain. I had these problems before the WLS, but they’ve gotten worse since. My nurse practitioner back then didn’t want to see if anything else was causing the problems, she was just positive it was my weight, and I was fool enough to believe her. Yeah, when I lost the weight, before I gained it back, I felt better and could move more easily (after I healed), but that short period of time where I felt better and could do more was so not worth what I’m dealing with now.
When I applied for SSDI and had to go see their doctor, he said “Yeah, you’re disabled all right. Have you ever thought about WLS?” Told him been there done that, no way is it happening again, it doesn’t work, and I’m proof. He said I should try the RNY (a friend of mine in New York City had it done last year, he went from 325 to 265 and he’s currently at 290). Yeah, right, I am so not going there. No more WLS for me. I have enough problems from the last one, why the hell would I want to give them another chance to fuck me up even more? But that is my personal decision, based on what has happened to me.
I am not going to pass judgment on people who are considering WLS/WLD because I haven’t walked in their shoes. I don’t know how bad their lives are, nor do I have any idea what they have to cope with. If I were to be asked if I thought it was a good idea, I would have to say no, just from my own experience. I know diets don’t work in the long run, been there done that too many times. I know WLS didn’t work for me, and it killed my best friend, so I don’t have a lot of faith in it either. However, for some people, this may seem like their only chance to improve their life and they may be willing to deal with all the possible complications and the possibility that they may even die. If their lives are so bad that risking death via WLS seems like a viable option, who am I to tell them no?
Banning people from the FA movement because they are desperate for an improved life is not kind or compassionate. I can understand that it’s hard to see how someone who is having WLS could say that they love their body when they are willing to mutilate it. But it’s damned hard to love a body that doesn’t let you move, that you can’t take proper care of, and that causes you pain every hour of every day. Those people can bring a needed perspective to this movement, just by telling us what is happening with them and how they got to the point that WLS seemed to be their only option. Why wasn’t something done earlier, before a person got to the point that WLS seemed to be the only way out? What illnesses/diseases weren’t diagnosed because all a doctor saw was the fat and refused to look further? What can we do to stop this insanity and get people to realize that fat is not the enemy, it’s the blindness and bigotry that says everyone must be thin to be worthwhile?
I know this is not going to be popular with some, but it’s the way I feel. I’m working hard to love the body I have, but I can tell you, there are days when I go “Body, I don’t like you much today, you hurt and I can’t do what I want/need to do, and I’m so tired of this shit.” I also have days that are pretty good and I like my body and what I can do, and I’m looking forward to more of them as I get in better shape. But it’s not an easy road, and I’ve made a lot of wrong turns and detours on the way. I’ll get there, eventually. But shutting me out, and people like me, because we’ve made those wrong turns, doesn’t advance anything.