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The Pain of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery

I know that a lot of people have questions about the reconstructive Plastic Surgery aspect of the weight loss journey. With that in mind, as I write about my experience with Reconstructive Plastic Surgery over the next few blogs, I want you all to know that I will do a final wrap up blog where I will answer any questions that you all send in. So if you have any questions about the Reconstructive Plastic Surgery aspect of the weight loss journey that I can answer from a patient prospective, please send them to me at pandora@desperatelyseekingslender.com or leave them in the comment section on my posts.

I’m currently three days out of my most recent surgery, a thigh lift, and as I wrote yesterday, it is by far the most painful of all the surgeries that I’ve done. Today, is better than yesterday. Each day is a little better, today I can walk without having to hold on to someone else and I’m not hunched over in that way that makes you look like a 80-year-old woman with osteoporosis. This is quite an accomplishment for me. I feel like I have made great strides since in three days I’ve gone from “HOLY CRAP THAT HURTS MORE THAN I CAN TAKE IT, SIT ME DOWN, SIT ME DOWN, SIT ME DOWN,” too, “Alright, this hurts, but I can take it and by the end of this year I will be running a half marathon wearing shorts in public. That’s my newest goal. Though I am working on a few.

So to give you guys an overview of my Reconstructive Plastic Surgery Journey, I’m going to give you an overall outline of the process over the last year.

  • 07/2011 – First Consult with Plastic Surgeon
  • 11/2011 – Second Consult with Plastic Surgeon
  • 12/2011 – Consulted with Second Plastic Surgeon
  • 02/2012 – 1st Reconstructive Surgery:
– 8hrs of Surgery, Two days in hospital
– 360 Body Lift
– Butt Lift
– Brachioplasty ( Arm Lift )
– Liposuction on Outer Thigh
– Outer Thigh Lift
– Removed 12lb. of skin
– This surgery had the most complications and was extremely painful.
– My Insurance covered this surgery at 80% with no denial or appeal process needed.
  • 08/2012 – 2nd Reconstructive Surgery:
– 6hrs of Surgery, One day in the hospital.
– Side Gather Abdominoplasty ( Tummy Tuck )
– Breast Lift
– Removed 3lb. of skin
– This surgery had the least amount of complications and was a rather easy recovery.
– My insurance covered this surgery at 100% because I had reached my out-of-pocket max for 2012.
– The insurance denied this surgery when we first submitted because they did not have enough documentation on rashes and skin irritations being treated by this particular surgery. There were also originally a breast augmentation (Implants) in addition to the breast lift. My insurance denied the augmentation but approved the rest once the implants were subtracted.
– We didn’t have to submit an appeal, the insurance company requested a letter from my Surgeon confirming that we were treating area’s that had a history of skin rashes, sores and legions due to skin on skin contact. As soon as they had a letter from the Surgeon stating the surgery was a medical necessity, we received the approval.
  • 11/2012 – 3rd Reconstructive Surgery:
– 3hrs of Surgery, Outpatient Recovery no hospital stay.
– Thigh Lift
– Removed just over 3lb. of skin.
– This surgery was the most painful, and the hardest to get comfortable after, but once you do get comfortable the pain is almost non-existent and VERY manageable.
– My insurance covered this surgery at 100% because I had reached my out-of-pocket max for 2012. There was no denial or appeal process necessary.

Alright, I know that A LOT of people want to know how we got my insurance to approve my Excess Skin Removal. I’ll be doing an entire blog post on just this subject later and will come back and link to it here for those that want to read it. I just feel like that is such an important issue that it should be addressed separately.

Now, I’ve posted blogs after each of these surgeries, or close to it. And I think each of them shows a pretty good example of my emotional mindset during each of these surgeries. When I posted about my first Reconstructive Surgery back in March, the focus of my post was sort of “What can go wrong will go wrong.” and there was a lot of Woe is Me and a lot of feeling sorry for myself. There was also A LOT of complications during that recovery. I had so much swelling that I ended up back in the hospital about 3.5 weeks post op on IV diuretics to try to get rid of all that water weight I had taken on in swelling that wasn’t going down.

The post after my second surgery, which really had no complications other than a little hiccup with my drain site, was much more upbeat and much more “I got this, what’s next?” – that was quite a change in my emotional state of mind. But something that I think is really important to note here is that it was this Reconstructive Surgery in August that really allowed me to look in the mirror and start seeing the real me again. I think that my being able to do that was a pivotal moment in my emotional weight loss journey. For the very first time, after this surgery I started to see the “skinny” and “thin” girl in the mirror when I looked in it that my friends and chosen family all assured me they saw.

This was a huge moment in my emotional journey. It was the first time that my mind raced forward and tried to catch up with my body. I love to run, I get something out of it spiritually and emotionally that it’s hard for me to explain. But when I run, my feet just go, they don’t need my mind working with them, it’s the one time during the day that I can honestly say my OCD mind actually slows down. I get to think, really think about things. What I want to write about, how I feel about something going on in my life. Just as an example, as I sit here today writing this blog from the recliner I am resting in after surgery, I look around me and my first several thoughts are…

I really need to find a way to make that cat box being in this room more discrete. I wonder how soon I can get back to work. I need to not be nodding off constantly first which means I need to ween my way off the Oxy very quickly. I’m really glad that we ended up buying the TV for this room when Heather moved here, it’s been great having it in here after my surgeries. I wish I was making more money at work though, then maybe it would be paid off by now. Oh I bet the no interest on it is almost up, I should look into that and think about moving the balance to another card that will offer me lower interest rates. I think Discover is doing that right now. I should tell Siri to remind me to look into that next week. Where is my phone? Ah there it is. Man I really need to clean my phone. Oh I should clean the MacBook at the same time. And I need to reorganize that laptop bag so it’s easier to find things in. And shoot I still need to send last month’s giveaway present to Joy because I didn’t get around to doing it before my surgery. Maybe I can have Heather do that for me next week. Oh we need some things from the store today, I should make a list so that nobody forgets things, and it’s getting close to the time that we said we’d try to give me my first post operative shower…

I have an entire new “To Do List” to make and it took less than 3 minutes of me sitting here silently. That’s just how my brain works. But when I run, it’s different, I can actually stop thinking about all those things and focus on something like, “I’m angry about this, how should I deal with it.” or “I need to think of some ideas for my next blog post,” or better yet, “I need to find the inspiration for this book I want to write.” When I run, its like my head is clear and I can see clearly without anything getting in the way. The second reconstructive plastic surgery that we did in August, it was a very similar experience for me. The skin that was removed from my body after that surgery let me clearly see what was left behind from the hip up when I looked in the mirror. I could see the skinny me for the first time. I could see the thin girl that I always told people I believed was hiding inside me. It was the same clarity I feel when I run, only I wasn’t moving, so I figure my mind was running, and it needed to, my mind needed to run and catch up with my body and start allowing us both to be on the same page again. It was a breakthrough moment for me.

This surgery, I find myself in a completely different place emotionally. I’m not in a big hurry to look at my incisions like I was before. I’m not in a big hurry to inspect them and scrutinize them, I realize that 9 months from now, let alone a year from now they are going to look completely different. I’ve also decided that I am going to spend 6 months concentrating on body toning to the areas I am unhappy with before I commit to a 4th round of plastic surgery that will be entirely on my dime because my insurance isn’t going to cover anything else from here on out and I’m 100% sure of that. (I’ll discuss this more when I do the piece on insurance aspects of these surgeries, I promise.) I find myself much more positive and patient during this recovery and once again I can only say that my time in Dallas at the OAC Convention and my time in California afterward, changed me. It put me on a whole different path and right now I find myself more focused on healing so that I can get moving on this new career and start working on all the things I want to do to help others with their weight loss journeys.

My emotional journey has been amazing this year. It really has, and I think that journey has been very evident in my healing and recovery after each surgery.

From a pain perspective, I really have to stop and consider which surgery I think was the most painful. For the last three days I have insisted that this one was the worst. But honestly I think that is incorrect. I think that for the last three days I’ve been in pretty excruciating pain, it’s not fun, but each day has been notably better than the day before, and I have been more mobile each day. I hardly have any swelling, maybe a little in my feet, and I couldn’t say any of those things three days after being home from the hospital after my first surgery. I was miserable, swollen so bad I could hardly move.

I have a picture that I sent my mother a few days after the first surgery and the look on my face screamed “I’m in so much pain my eyes are rolling into the back of my head and I’m blinking repeatedly to keep from crying and screaming.” Then I look at a picture of myself yesterday and I can clearly see that I’m not in any pain, I was in a very comfortable position. Now when I move, the pain at first made me cry and made my knees buckle. I guess the most honest thing I can say is this. When comparing the first three days of pain after all three of my surgeries I would say that the Thigh Lift is by far the most painful. I think however that in comparing my pain levels here to the pain levels during the recovery of my first surgery I would have to say the first was more painful.

For the first surgery my pain level for the first few days was around a 7 I think, before pain meds kicked in or if I went too long without them I’d be sobbing and hyperventilating in pain. I had incisions all the way around my body which made it hard to get comfortable no matter what position you laid in you were always laying on some part of the incision. The pain tapered off during days 4-7 but when complications kicked in at about day 15, it was hell, pure hell and I spent a good week coming back from that and fighting a pain level that was a constant 7 again.

The second surgery was a walk in the park, the incisions on the side and under my breasts made it very easy to get comfortable and very easy to stay off the incisions. For the first few days I’d say my pain level was a 6 or so but it dropped off quickly in days 4-7 to like a 4 or so and then within another week it was more like a 3 during the bad times. In the last couple of weeks I’d put it at a one or two though and it was pretty much an easy 6-week recovery.

This last surgery, when you are experiencing pain, it is the most excruciating. It’s a pain level that is like twice as painful as everything else that I’ve been though.  The good news is that you don’t have to be in pain too often. You can avoid the pain a good 60% of the time. By not moving.

At the time of I’m now, 5-days post operative reconstructive thigh surgery I’m still limiting most of my movement to getting up every 2 hours or so and walking to the bathroom. Yesterday I did the whole sponge bath while standing at the sink thing even though I am released for a shower, I know my thighs are not ready for that yet and that my legs needed a couple more days to commit to the promise of holding me up in there. So that’s what I decided to do. I’ve made two big commitments during this recovery; that I would listen to my body and that I wouldn’t freak out over weight gain. I’m doing really good with the first part of that. But my body issues are heavily at play today. I wish I could figure out what is wrong with me, why my head works the way it does, but today I’ve been obsessing for hours about the loose skin that is leftover after the skin relaxation of the first surgery. I also did my first walk de la apartment, that’s my little official lap from the guest room door down the hallway into the living room so I can see all the Christmas decorations we have up and then back. It’s not far at all, maybe 100 ft. total. But it’s my first walk, and it was an accomplishment for me. Now I’m back in my “recovery recliner” admiring the pretty little Christmas Tree that Heather took the time to put up for me to make sure I got to enjoy the holiday season while I’m stuck in here recovering.

Tomorrow I plan to do 2x the laps I do today, so probably 3-4 tomorrow. Plus tomorrow is going to be a full on shower. Then I have my follow-up with Dr. O’Brien on Wednesday the 5th. Tonight, I’ll be watching TV, focusing on pain relief and enjoying Authentic Lebanese Food from one of my all time favorite Portland restaurants, Nicholas. If you are in Portland and do not eat at this restaurant, you’ve committed a crime. From their Lentil soup to their, whole wheat pita bread to their lamb pizza, EVERYTHING is delicious. Man, with as much as I mention all the companies I love you’d think some of them would start to love me back. LOL, fat chance.

Obesity Action Coalition Convention Day 3

I could tell you some crazy stories about my third day at the OAC convention, really I could, but if you want the really juicy details you have to come meet me at the next Convention and find out for yourself. I’m just kidding really. But on a serious note, let’s talk about what I did on Day Three of the Obesity Action Coalition’s First Inaugural Convention.

I’m going to admit that I probably didn’t do what most people did on Day 3: I didn’t attend all the Seminars for the day. I’m the type to shoot straight and tell it like it is, so let’s be honest: although I have been involved in this community on and off for the last three years, I’ve been relatively quiet as I was dealing with the situations life handed me and working out my own personal emotional issues. Because of that, my emergence in the community is relatively new. Let me be frank: my purpose in going to this Convention was not only to meet other women in the weight loss community, but to also have the opportunity to talk to companies that have a vested interest in weight loss bloggers like me.

With this in mind I set out on Day 3 to go and meet several of the vendors and visit their booths. I figured I needed to do that first, before they closed that area. Since it was the last day of the Convention and I really hadn’t found time to do that with the exception of ONE vendor, it seemed the logical thing to do.

My first stop was Celebrate Vitamins, since these are the vitamins that I myself personally use and highly recommend. The Celebrate Vitamin vendor made me laugh. The first question he asked me when I introduced myself and told him that I was interested in developing a relationship with their company as a weight loss blogger and soon to be Personal Trainer was, “Do you use only Celebrate Vitamins?” I’m a huge fan of Celebrate Vitamins and hopefully after meeting me, they are a big fan of me and want to give me lots of stuff to give away to all of you! ( I’m shameless. Really, I make no effort to hide it!)

I also took a trip over to the other vitamin vendors that were present, I like to know what products are out there to that I can recommend stuff that I feel is really good. I was very impressed with another vendor that was there as well: Ameriwell Bariatrics. I’m not going to lie, when I hit their booth and saw the multivitamin gel tabs the first thing that I thought of was a bunch of post bariatric surgery patients standing around doing jello shots. But it was just a brief moment of humor. Once I tasted the jello, and I tried the lemon lime one, I was a little surprised. It was REALLY good. I’m not sure that I could do jello everyday to take my vitamins, especially this far out of surgery, I’m at that point where I would rather take small pills than the chewable and eating my vitamins. But OMG what I would not have given to have been able to have vitamin jello right after my gastric bypass. I was never a big fan of the chewable calcium.

Of course Bariatric Advantage was there too. I used some of their vitamins very early out of surgery and I got to meet their rep as well. I have to say I tried a couple of their protein bars at the event – their crisp ones – and they were rather delicious.

I also got a chance to talk to the representatives from New Life Bariatric Supplements. I must say, this was one of the first vendors that I spoke too, and the one thing that I was REALLY impressed with by both this vendor and the Ameriwell vendor is that they both took special care to make sure that they told me that they recognized what an integral role weight loss bloggers play in this community.  I spent a great deal of time with this Vendor though, because the gentleman was not only a Personal Trainer but a Life Coach as well, and seeing as that is the direction I am heading in with my career – the whole Life Coach, Personal Trainer thing – I had lots of questions and was very interested. I can’t wait to see what comes of all those conversations.

The next booth I visited was that of a Personal Trainer named Bobby Whisnand Victory of Life. Now I have to say, Bobbie is the FIRST Personal Trainer that I have met who is focusing specifically on exercise post bariatric surgery and focusing on exercise that isn’t just geared for fit and thin people but for the people who really need help getting started: those that are just starting their weight loss journey. Bobby and I talked quite a bit , and we even got on the floor, with me in heeled sandals, and started doing some exercises. We talked a lot about my goals to become a personal trainer and what sort of goals I had with my business, and it was so refreshing to me that someone else in the fitness field shared the same goals that I do in regard to making myself obsolete to my clients. I don’t ever want my clients to feel like they NEED me to do their exercise routines, eventually I’d like to know that I have taught them everything they need to know to go forward on their own.

I was especially impressed with one of Bobby’s employees who was there, who was named Justin, who had lost quite a bit of weight and had continued working with Bobby and now trains others. Bobby promised to send me a copy of his new video coming out for me to try to review, and we talked about the possibility of him doing an online training session and assessment give-away through DesperatelySeekingSlender.com! Wouldn’t THAT be exciting? Maybe he’ll throw an extra video my way for one of you too! We’ll see, but I can tell you one thing, if I lived anywhere near Bobby Whisnand I’d be trying to get a job with him!

I purchased some Slimpressions at their Vendor booth, and then, I went to the CHIKE stand. Ok, let me say this: I AM VERY PICKY about protein. I use only ONE kind of powder and eat only TWO brands of bars religiously and have tried tons of others that I am NOT a fan of. But Remy at CHIKE handed me a sample of their Protein, Energy, Iced Coffee mix that turned into a Frappuchino type texture and I swear to god it was love at first taste. If I could queue “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers while showing you a video of me drinking the marvelous Blender Bottle they gave me, I would! But you’ll just have to imagine it from the pictures I have! Remy and Jason from CHIKE and I talked a great deal, and I am pretty sure we’re going to get together and line up at December CHIKE Giveaway on DesperatelySeekingSlender.com! I’m so excited about meeting all these Vendors, I feel like it’s going to help me help the community more by sharing these high quality post bariatric surgery products to help everyone stay motivated!

I spent a good deal of time talking to one of the Featured Authors from the event: Meredith Terpeluck, author of “Healthy Voice Life Beyond the Weight”. She and I talked quite a bit. Her book is about finding your healthy voice, and about dealing with the loss of her father and about cutting toxic people out of your lives. As I stood there talking to her about my mother and my father tears came to my eyes. She signed her book for me and it is on the top of my reading list. It’s going to be my gym or bath book as soon as I finish the Kelly Armstrong book that I am currently reading. Meredith told me that I have a healthy voice and we vowed to keep in touch with each other and about the possibility of me getting involved in some new projects in the horizon of hers. I’m so very excited to meet this woman. She is one of the first people who I have truly felt has actually understood the impact of my father’s death in my weight loss journey and my life. It was sort of like meeting a kindred spirit. I could have talked to her all day, but before I realized it the morning sessions were over, the time I stole to spend with the vendors was gone and it was time for the lunch with the experts sessions. You can buy Meredith’s book on Amazon.com and I will be reviewing it as soon as I read it.

My Lunch with the experts session was amazing. I had the pleasure of sitting at the table of Dr. Connie Stapleton, Ph.D. and author of THRIVING! and EAT IT UP! I have to say that it was extremely validating to sit at the table with someone like Dr. Stapleton and realize that I had managed to adopt several of her philosophies as my own without ever meeting her or reading her book. Women like this inspire the heck out of me with the changes they have made in the bariatric surgery community and the effort they put into helping others achieve. BOTH of her books are now on my reading list. I can’t wait to get to them. If only I had more reading time these days, but it takes me months to get through a book.

After giving up the morning sessions to see the vendors, I wanted to make sure that I attended the afternoon session that was important to me: Merrill Littleberry LCSW, LCDC, CCM, CI-CPT, who I’d met the day before, was speaking in her Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – Body Image Post-Surgery educational session. I cannot even begin to tell you how helpful I find her. From her concept of ANTS in your past (Automatic Negative Thoughts), to her concept of the 4H Club (asking yourself whether the behaviors that you are participating in are going to Help, Hinder Heal or Hurt you and using that as a measuring tool to decide whether or not you should continue to participate in it), I found myself completely enthralled with her session. Her concept of Life Accounts, and making deposits into them so that you can make withdrawals from them as well really stuck with me The five life accounts she talked about were Intellectual, Spiritual, Nutritional, Physical, Emotional. Merrill made a point during her session of discussing having to know when to let go of something you are holding on to, and how sometimes you have to let go of someone who is holding you down. This women really touched me with her session, so much so that I had to go up to her after and let her know and just talking to her brought tears to my eyes, she had touched me so much emotionally. Merrill Littleberry, Vitamin M, is one of those people who touched me in a way I will carry with me forever and taught me more about myself and my image of myself in a session than I had managed to learn in the last two years. Thank you Merrill. Your words and encouragement to talk to the folks at the Cooper Institute have influenced me beyond belief.

After the afternoon sessions were done I was signed up for a Fitness Class but I decided to skip it and head straight to the room and get ready, I was feeling a little weak, and I’d had a very emotionally stimulating day. I had already done the Cardio Sculpt class with Julia Karlstad at 7am that morning and I wanted to save my energy for the 5k run I was going to do the next morning. So at the encouragement of my friend Joy and Heather I decided to bow out of the cycling class and just head to the room and get ready for the OAC First Annual Awards Dinner that we were having that night. But before I did that, I headed up to my friend Joy’s room to operate some electrical buttons for her since she was still strictly observing the Shabbat (the Jewish day of spiritual enrichment) and we sat and had a nice long talk about marriages, relationships and personal growth post weight loss surgery.

I also spent a bit of time in the evening speaking to different members of the OAC and once again found myself wanting to get more and more involved. I had REALLY planned on heading back to the room after the awards party, but once again found myself in the Hilton Anatole Media Bar and Grill, dancing until the wee hours of the morning. My alarm was set for 7am to get up and do the walk and I knew it was going to come early. But I didn’t want to miss this experiences I had staying up late with my friends either.

I had one more day in Dallas and it was going to be a pretty big one for me. Stay tuned for Day 4 of my coverage of the OAC Convention, which I PROMISE will be up in the next couple of days, as long as my new niece and my two-year old nephew don’t need too much from me! I’ll try to get it done before the weekend comes.

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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