My mom was diagnosed with diabetes and mild depression when I was in high school. I remember her telling me as if it were no big deal. “Oh, and he mentioned I was depressed. Pish posh.” Her diet didn’t change. Her activity level didn’t change. Things just went on exactly as they had before, with me tagging along behind her, eating the ever-so-healthy snacks of butter sandwiches (exactly what they sound like) and saltine crackers layered with mayonnaise and Braunschweiger, eschewing any side dish whose main ingredient was not potato.
I am ever my mother’s daughter. Our handwriting became the same. My speech patterns, my turns of phrase, my habits… echoes of hers. I even gave birth to my son at roughly the same age she gave birth to me. Oh sure – my path diverged from hers significantly. I studied journalism, not the biology and medicine she had chosen. I settled in Colorado, far from the Texas Hill Country where she raised me.
And, unlike my mother, I was morbidly obese when my son was born.
“Morbidly obese.” It sounds so grotesque. So catastrophic. Friends recoil from the phrase when I mention it and just can’t believe it’s possible. They like to think of me as overweight, or even fat (although they’d never say the latter in front of me). But calling me morbidly obese – a category my BMI of 42 solidly sorts me into – seems worse in a way. More tragic and worthy of pity. It’s a clinical term, one with a clear definition that can’t be obfuscated by compression undergarments or strategic posing in photos.
In photos of my birth and young childhood, my mother is fit and happy and normal. That normalcy didn’t last; as I grew up, my mother grew out, and kept growing right through that diabetes diagnosis, right through knee problems that left her dependent on a cane and then a walker, right through my college years until she was finally put on insulin and began taking her diet more seriously. And now – as I reach the age my mother was when I was born – she spends three days a week, three hours at a time, hooked up to a dialysis machine that purifies her blood because her kidneys have stopped working.
My mother – now trapped in a body that’s failing her – was a healthy weight when I was born. And my own body is starting to fail in small measures, with its clicking sore knees and painfully collapsed ankles and arches. How much more quickly will her fate become mine when my own private obesity epidemic has such a “healthy” head start?
And I’ve dieted. Oh, how I’ve dieted. Atkins. Weight Watchers. Zone. Mediterranean. Optifast. Medifast. HCG. South Beach. The list goes on – and some I’ve revisited, thinking, “this will be the time it sticks.” And the weight comes back. And brings friends. It’s tiring, the constant failure. And there’s no one to blame, because the conflict is entirely between your mind and your body, duking it out over just who needs what.
Two months ago, I attended a weight loss surgery seminar given by a local bariatric surgeon. It’s a requirement before he’ll even let you in the door of his office; if you’re going to ask him to cut you open and rearrange your digestive system, he wants you to know what you’re getting into. I went by myself, because our babysitter fell through. And I listened as Dr. Snyder told me and a roomful of others in various stages of obesity (most of whom were much further down the road than I was) about our chances of losing weight without surgery and keeping it off long-term (small), about the number of crippling and catastrophic diseases related to obesity (many), and, finally, about the types of surgeries he performed and what a surgery candidate looked like. I checked all the boxes. I had a BMI over 40, I had comorbidities, and I had numerous prior attempts at weight loss. And honestly – the seminar didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. The Type A side of my personality had spent months researching my surgical options. But, as Dr. Snyder said, the seminar isn’t really for patients – it’s for the people around them. And so, a month later, I went back and brought Jason (and Evan) with me.
Jason met me when I was thinner, but he’s never known me at a healthy weight. He has, however, watched as my weight has crept up over the last 10 years. And while all the emotional and physical and medical baggage that came with being obese wasn’t his cup of tea, neither was having me cut open to help remedy the problem. Can you try one of the diets again, he offered. Is there a drug you could take? Would a personal trainer help? My only argument was that I couldn’t keep trying the same things that hadn’t worked before and expect them to work this time. But he was still on the fence, and I wasn’t going to have surgery without his 100 percent approval.
After that second seminar, I asked Jason what he thought. He looked at me and said, “Dr. Snyder is a very good salesman.” We made a consultation appointment that day – an appointment that we finally attended today. I had been primarily looking into having the gastric sleeve procedure, a surgery that essentially turns my stomach into a tube so it holds less. But taking Jason’s concerns to heart, and knowing my own desire for maintainable, steady loss and minimal recovery time, I decided that the adjustable laproscopic banding procedure (using a silicone band to reduce the size of my stomach and limit the rate of digestion) was the surgery that fit best for my lifestyle. Dr. Snyder believes I’m an ideal candidate – he thinks I’m going to “crush it.” So today begins the journey. We have some things to work out (like how we’ll pay for the operation; it’s excluded from our insurance policy). But sometime in the next few months, I’ll be going under the knife.