Friday, February 25, 2011

Breast Reduction Surgery

I had a breast reduction about six months before my band surgery. My motivation for that surgery was complicated. I had chronic back pain which my chiropractor admitted could be related to my oversized breasts. And although I had once been proud of my breasts (big tits rather than a pretty face being my claim to fame) I had come to hate them. They hung down to my waist and I blamed them for my stooped, matronly appearance. I truly believed that if they were smaller and perkier, the rest of my body would look better too. Intellectually I knew I was too big all over my body, but emotionally I pinned the blame on my breasts. Aside from attracting the attention of unsuitable men, they had never done me any favors. I hadn't even nursed a baby. The aureole of the nipple on my left breast was grotesquely large - about 4" in diameter, and odd shaped, while the right one was disproportionately small. They were both badly scarred from vicious scratch injuries I had inflicted on myself during a particularly difficult phase of recovering from sexual abuse. When I had my first mammogram at age 40, the technician took one look at me, went to the door, and called down the hallway (which was open to the mammography waiting area) to her coworker, "Hey, Sharon, I'm gonna need the big plates for this one!"

So I was delighted to have that breast reduction even though my insurance company dictated how much tissue had to be removed from each breast and the recovery was slow and painful. I had been anesthetized so long for that procedure that I felt as if I'd been beaten with a baseball bat after being hit by a truck. I was kept in the hospital overnight but when I was discharged late the next morning, I felt as if I'd only just woken up in the recovery room. I had lateral incisions (about 12") each running from under my arms to the center of my chest, vertical incisioins running from the lateral ones up to my new (small) nipples, and circular incisions around the nipples. A true Bride-of-Frankenstein look. Some sections of the incisions just refused to heal, gaping open so that I had to pack themwith sterile gel and gauze every day. The incisions oozed and stained my clothing because I had a hard time keeping up with changing the bandages so often. Simple movements like reaching for something in a kitchen cabinet or turning over in bed were difficult. I toughed it out - after all, this was all my idea in the first place. The incisions finally healed, the bruises faded, the swelling subsided, and I was left with ridiculously small breasts on on obese body. Have you ever tried to find a 48A bra?

Before the breast reduction, my plastic surgeon said to me in a carefully offhand tone, "Are you planning to lose any weight in the future?" Talk about a loaded question. I mumbled something about wishing I could lose weight but not expecting to succeed. He warned me that if I did lose weight after the reduction, I might not be happy with the "aesthetic" result, especially in the area of the lateral incisions. Turns out he was right. After losing my excess weight, the skin under my arms drapes weirdly over those incisions. Fortunately it's not something that's obvious to others, and even I don't see it unless I lift my arms away from my torso.

Despite all of that (and I scared thoughts of breast surgery right out of you, so be it), I'm glad I had the breast reduction. Those small breasts don't look so ludicrous with my smaller body. In fact, they look just right to me. I wear a 38B bra now, which is a bit easier to find than the 48A. My girls are drooping a bit - not quite as perky as they were 2-1/2 years ago, but as I tell my bra customers every day, "Gravity gets the better of us sooner or later." Interestingly, I've talked to many customers who've had breast reductions that resulted in smaller breasts than they'd like, but every one of them syas she doesn't regret the surgery. Like me, these ladies think it's wonderful to wear buttoned blouses that don't gape open and form-fitting sweaters that don't make them look like a Dolly Parton Wannabe. They like not having to buy a bigger size dress just to be able to fit it over their bosom while the neckline slips off their shoulders and a family of Munchkins can camp under the skirt.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does the Adjustable Gastric Band Really Work?

My friend Karrie has graciously provided these photos of her weight loss journey. She has lost 130 pounds in a year and is doing great. Oh, did I mention that she has an adjustable gastric band? Sure looks like it works for her!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The new puppy at 9 Dogs Howling Babe, a Bassett Hound-Something mix. Not that that has anything to do with weight loss surgery. But check out my collar bones!

Monday, February 7, 2011

When things go wrong

I undertook my adjustable gastric band journey with a great deal of hope and commitment. For a while there, I was a perfect bandster. I did everything right and got to my goal weight in one year. But while I was strutting along with that big, shiny halo on my head, I tripped and fell, and things started to go wrong.

In June 2009, when I was 21 months post-op, my band slipped, probably because of my untreated hiatal hernia. My original surgeon had lost his medical license and no local doctors would touch me. I found a new surgeon 150 miles away and had all the fill taken out of my band. All my symptoms disappeared, but I had to wait 6 weeks to start fills again, and shed many tears. When I started getting fills, they were increasingly difficult and finally impossible without the help of my surgeon, the hospital radiology department, and $3000 of my insurance company's money.

At the start of the holiday shopping season in 2009, I learned that I would need surgery to fix my flipped port. I couldn't take time off for surgery until January. The day after Thanksgiving, my mother died. I shed more tears, and more tears. In January 2010, my mother-in-law began losing her battle with cancer and I had to postpone my port surgery. Then my surgeon postponed it. Then my mother-in-law died. Finally I had the repair surgery in April 2009. It was much harder and more painful than my original band surgery, probably because of all the scar tissue in there. In May I began getting fills again. In July I started feeling restriction again. Although I had regained almost 25 pounds, once my band started working again, I started losing weight again. Now I'm 2 pounds away from my lowest weight, and my story has a happy ending. For now.

And what did I learn from my experience? I learned (again) that I'm not perfect, my band's not perfect, and that I have to set aside fear and panic in order to concentrate on solving a big problem or a series of small ones. I learned that I must pay attention to and honor my body every day. I learned that exercising every day will keep me sane if not perfectly thin. I learned that I truly am in this for the long haul, that the Magic Kingdom was just one stop along the way to my story's end. And the absolutely most important, most crucial lesson I learned was to ask others for help. Not just doctors but friends, family, fellow churchgoers, coworkers, and acquaintances (not necessarily all at once, though).

At work the other day, I had an encounter with one of my favorite elderly customers, a 92-yr-old woman with limited communication skills (I think because of a stroke). She is beautiful to me, with an angelic smile, and I want to just scoop her up and put her in my pocket (I have two big pockets in my bra fitter apron, and she might just fit). After we talked (with her daughter's translation assistance) and my customer walked away, I turned to my coworker and friend, Alicia. I was so overcome with grief at losing my own mother that I burst into tears. Alicia gave me a hug and comforted me, and I survived that bout of sadness and loss. There was a time in my life when I would have just dashed into the ladies' room to suffer alone. Now I have lost my mother but I have gained a friend, Alicia, who understands how hurt and lost I feel and wants me to feel better.

Similarly, I have lost a lot of other things since I was banded. I lost weight and inches, and some really dumb ideas about myself, and a closet full of jumbo sized clothes. I lost a job (that's another story) and I lost my mother. When my band slipped, I lost some of my enthusiasm and confidence in myself as a bandster. I lost my conviction that I already know everything I need to know (really,I should have given that idea up the first time it came to me, when I was 13 years old). But at the same time I have gained some knowledge, some wisdom, and some wonderful friends. Close by, I have Alicia. Far away, I have Lisa, and Nina, and Willa, and Christina. I still have my husband and far too many pets. I'm still alive. And I'm still on the bandwagon. Sometimes I have to get off and push the dang thing for a while, and sometimes I can just relax and watch the scenery go by.