My Weight Loss Journey of Over Ten Years

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About three and a half years ago, I began my weight loss journey when I was “officially” Morbidly Obese. I was having problems with my knees in my normal daily behavior. Early symptoms of sleep apnea began to appear. My doctors regularly tested me for diabetes. I had been lucky so far, but for how long? That was when I began considering what I needed to do to turn things around and become healthier.

But before I get to that, I want to share how I got there. There are several reasons that I gained weight in the last decade. Just like anyone else we meet whose body isn’t in exactly the shape they want it to be, there’s no single thing that prompted their weight loss journey. And while it’s sometimes tempting to tease or joke about other people’s weight, I hope anyone reading this will see that there’s always a road we don’t know about that leads people to those points.

Black Mirror Botherguts Fat Shaming
from Black Mirror (S1:E2) “Fifteen Million Merits”

So for anyone that becomes the insensitive prick that regularly insults the overweight, while maintaining the bullshit facade that it’s because they “care about people’s health”, consider that not everyone has it so easy.

Trigger warning: This post will include multiple photos of me without a shirt. I’m sorry.

#ThisIsWhyI’mFat

In 2007, I was fairly active. I went to the gym regularly with my girlfriend, and played minor league football for the AZFL in Phoenix. I was going to intense football practices twice a week and playing in games every Saturday. It was what I now consider my peak condition, weighing in at around 195 lbs. As a 5’8″ man, this is still “Overweight” according to BMI standards.

Me with my car 2007, shortly before my weight loss journey began
My girlfriend took this photo 2 months before the accident. Look how dark and unfaded my tattoos were!

Then I was involved in a car accident that permanently injured my neck and the surrounding areas. Physical rehabilitation allowed me to heal enough to correct my spine entirely and heal most of the scar tissue in my neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles. I was lucky to heal enough to be able to sit at a desk and work on a computer again. That’s my entire livelihood. I still suffer from chronic pain in that area, but it’s manageable now. Sadly, they told me I’d never be able to play tackle football again.

I lost my job because I was an hour late to work 3 days per week due to my rehab sessions. My boss knew this at the time, and was unfazed that the accident occurred while on company business in the first place. I was an hourly employee, and I didn’t have health insurance. I had no recourse for being wrongfully terminated, because Arizona law tilts hard toward the employer in these matters and I couldn’t afford it.

After six months of rehab, I was able to go to the gym and go on hikes again. I had limited options for weight lifting, but I could play [low intensity] racquetball, run on treadmills, and play HORSE with my girlfriend. I simply had to rest my shoulders regularly. Despite this, I began gaining weight. Within a year of my accident, I was already over 210 lbs. and officially “Obese” according to BMI.

My Weight Loss Journey Begins

My diet wasn’t great. At 23 years old, I had been active for most of my life leading to that point. I played sports regularly, even if I wasn’t great at most of them. I loved swimming, football, softball, paintball, martial arts, manhunt (hide and seek for teenagers), and even backyard wrestling. Though I never thought about it at the time, I was probably consuming 3000 calories per day and burning it off without much thought.

But the first time I stepped on a scale and saw a number above 200, I grew concerned. I started thinking about what I was eating.

Atkins

My girlfriend and I went on the Atkins diet together. We both lost around 25 lbs. on that diet in about 3 months. Feeling successful, we weened ourselves back to a normal diet afterward. We continued to eat fewer carbs and smaller portions, but our weights both bounced back anyway. We were eating healthier than before, but within a couple of months we were already heavier than we were before we started Atkins.

The Master Cleanse

Then, we tried doing the Master Cleanse (don’t do this). My girlfriend made it the 10 days they recommend, and I think even did a little longer. I couldn’t get through more than 24 hours of it. I made the mistake of doing my research about it while trying it out instead of beforehand. She lost some weight — I believe 10 lbs. or so — but gained it all back within a couple of weeks after eating normally again.

Me with a balloon hat
Me at work with a balloon hat for reasons I don’t remember.

Each time I tried a diet, I felt like I was torturing myself for minimal returns. Then, once I either reached a goal or ran out of patience with it, I’d gain it back quickly and often add more. It was extremely frustrating, and this was what delayed my weight loss journey the most over the years. At this point, I weighed roughly 240 lbs.

Weight Watchers

Next I tried Weight Watchers, which seemed great. I had lots of options, I just needed to budget my points accordingly so I could balance my diet out on a daily basis. The problems I ran into with Weight Watchers were:

  1. The oversimplified points system didn’t take into account what kinds of food I ate. The points were mostly based on calories, but didn’t seem to take into account protein, carbs, fats, sugar, and sodium. So some days I would be within my budget, but I’d feel like shit anyway.
  2. The articles they sent were almost entirely geared towards women, and I found much of it unhelpful as a “thick” and muscular man. I wasn’t going to be joining any Zumba classes or using the discount codes they sent out for Curves gym memberships. (Stopping myself from complaining about gender issues in an already long article)
  3. I went to one of their support meetings and couldn’t stand it. It felt pathetic and pandering. I know some people benefit greatly from support groups like those, but I’m not one of them. If anything, I found them de-motivating.

I trudged through it nonetheless. I was working in Maryland at this time, and my job gave us discounts at Lifetime Fitness, which was great as far as gyms go in my experience. They had racquetball courts, a swimming pool, basketball courts, and all kinds of classes and trainers I could pay a little extra for. I was going 3-4 times per week, and occasionally with co-workers. I was working hard at it, and following my Weight Watchers budgets to the letter.

Me after finishing Rebel Race
Completing Rebel Race (something like a Half Tough Mudder) at that weight did help me feel better about it for a while.

For the first month or so, I’d step on the scale at the gym after each workout and see results. I lost 8 lbs. in the first month, then 6 lbs. in the second month. Then I plateaued. I was following Weight Watchers, working out more than ever (I never counted the sports I loved and could no longer play as working out), and getting no results anymore. After another 3 months of zero weight loss and zero difference in my appearance or waistline, I dropped it.

Motivation

My girlfriend and I were living separately around this time. She took a new job a state or two away, so it took us a 4 hour train ride or 6 hour bus ride to see each other every other week or so. When we talked, she didn’t want me to stress so much about losing weight, and I felt the same way about her.

So I began my journey of accepting that I was gonna be “a big guy” as I like to put it. Loving myself for who I was instead of who I used to be was difficult, but having a partner that made me feel attractive and wanted helped immensely.

Me with orange hair
I still have fewer body photos from this time period, though…

Soon after, she got sick. She went into the hospital for flu-like symptoms and her doctor misdiagnosed her symptoms. They gave her medications, but she only got worse. She finally went to get a second opinion only to find that the medicine she was given by the first doctor was actually exacerbating her illness. To this day, she still deals with painful repercussions of that misdiagnosis. I’m not going to go into detail, but she lost a lot of weight, but at a cost.

A few months later (and I’m admittedly skipping a LOT of personal drama here too), we moved to San Francisco. We both hated living on the east coast, and she wanted a new job. I kept the job I liked and transferred to their SF office. I weighed around 245 lbs. at this time, if memory serves.

San Francisco has amazing food. Food on a level that I had only found in the best New York City restaurants previously. I remember the first dozen Yelp reviews I gave here were 5 stars for places I now consider fairly mediocre knowing what else is available around here. My girlfriend and I both took advantage of this, along with the dozen or so food delivery services available in Silicon Valley. We both gained several pounds in the process.

I loved myself — even at 250, 255, 260 lbs. — and I loved how she looked too (we generally kept around similar BMI most of the time after this). After 2 years, we got married. She looked amazing in her dress, but I was self-conscious about my wedding photos.

Unflattering wedding photo of me
Not a flattering photo, but it gets my feelings about my weight across.

Uphill Battle

Shortly after the wedding, I decided that I wanted to lose weight again. I started a diet plan that I wrote up myself based on research and my experience with Weight Watchers and Atkins. I took the parts of it that worked for me and tried to fix the parts that didn’t. Some days it went fine, but other days I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep due to intense hunger pains. My days each ended with the decision between sleeping decently or losing weight.

I signed up for a gym in the city, not too far from my office, and went after work a few times a week. I absolutely hated every moment of it. Treadmills are dreadfully boring. They shook with each stride I landed, their little TV screens repeatedly played advertisements I couldn’t skip or mute, and my knees cried out in pain after any session longer than 10 minutes. All while I was paying $180 per month for this torture.

I tried going to my wife’s gym, and it was slightly better. The trainers there were nice and they had a pool, but there were lines for everything. After my first month trial wore out, they wanted me to pay $140 a month to join and I declined.

I was losing a pound or two every two weeks, but I was spending roughly 8 hours of each week torturing myself. On top of all this, my work schedule was increasing as time went by. This squeezed my leisure time exclusively into the weekends, along with household chores and social obligations. Soon my work began creeping into those days as well. I fell into depression, and started slipping on my diet so I could eat comfort foods to cope.

Bill from King of the Hill feeling full

Drastic Measures

Step back in time about a year. We road tripped around the entire country for our honeymoon. At one point, we visited our friend from college in Idaho. She’s a few inches taller than me, but was also overweight. She told us about how she was going to get bariatric surgery soon, and I made a point to follow her progress and see how it went for her.

My friend and I
A few months after this photo, she got a similar surgery to me.

A year later, she had lost around 100 lbs. She had only good things to say about her experience, and she had zero regrets about the surgery. So I began looking for doctors in the Bay Area to do the same.

Surgeon #1

The first doctor I consulted with seemed like a good choice. They recommended a Roux-en-Y laparoscopic gastric bypass, and I seemed like a good candidate for it. I weighed in at just under 260 lbs. at the time, which made me “Morbidly Obese” and qualified me for insurance coverage. Everything seemed in order. However, in my third consultation they told me I would need to take a specific supplement that only their partner company produced for the rest of my life after the surgery. This turned me off immediately and I canceled all future appointments.

Surgeon #2

Next, I went to a plastic surgeon to see if I should just get liposuction or one of the dozen variations of it that he offered. After one consultation, it was plain to both of us that this wasn’t going to give me the long-term results I wanted. During his examination, he did an ultrasound and remarked that my liver, lungs, heart, and [especially my] stomach were all above average size. Liposuction and similar techniques would not do anything about that.

Distractions

Disheartened, I took a brief break from looking into surgical options. I was looking for a new job, dealing with marital issues, and having a nervous breakdown at the time to distract me anyway. Once I settled into my current job, I began looking into it again. My insurance here is the best I’ve ever had, and I had far more in-network options for doctors now.

Me looking huge at the beach in August 2016
This is the photo of myself I dread seeing the most in recent memory.

In the meantime, I was also working on the psychological aspects of losing weight. I knew that I needed to get rid of my habits of eating for comfort and cleaning my plate even when I was no longer hungry. It took several months, and I didn’t lose much weight in the process, but I eventually got to a place where I was able to resist those desires and feel proud of myself for it. I was still getting hunger pains at night that would keep me up, but I erred on the side of sleep this time instead of driving myself insane to save a few calories.

Surgeon #3

Eventually I found Dr. Gregg Jossart at Sutter Pacific. He had great reviews, was in my insurance network, and was extremely experienced at multiple methods of bariatric surgery. He cared about having the latest tools and technology at his hands, and exuded the kind of confidence that comes from knowing his trade well. In my consultations with him and his staff, he never wasted time. He was direct, no-nonsense, and didn’t try to sell me any exclusive life-long supplements. He recommended a slightly different procedure for my needs, the Sleeve Gastrectomy. The day of my first consultation, I weighed in at 272 lbs.

A month later, my wife and I decided to get divorced. I felt like now I needed to focus on metamorphosis and start a new stage in my life. This technically isn’t related to my weight loss journey, but it was a part of the experience I thought I should include.

A New Hope

Dr. Jossart and his team gave me several booklets of resources and some paperwork to fill out. I had to set up appointments with my doctors to get an EKG and blood tests done, and lose at least 12 lbs. before I could even have the surgery.

I could have scheduled my surgery for October if I wanted to, but I wanted to get through the winter holidays first. After thinking about this for a long time, I knew my seasonal affective disorder would make the process much harder if I tried getting through it during November and December. Plus, I’d be unable to travel and I’d miss my family.

Among the resources his staff gave me was the nutritionist’s meal schedule for what I’d be eating after the surgery. I decided that in order to lose the 12 lbs. needed before the procedure, I should take that time to get used to the kind of diet I’ll have to be on afterward. I worked out a set of rules that would allow me to stick to the diet over the long-term.

  • No soda (I quit soda years ago, but in recent months I had a 3-4 root beer per week habit that needed to stop)
  • Limit sugar in coffee drinks (No more Caramel Macchiatos!)
  • I’m able to have the following foods up to once per week: Cheese, Salumi, Bacon, Dark Chocolate, Coffee
  • I get one cheat meal each week, where I can have whatever I want (in a reasonable portion size).

Then, I gave myself specific rules for how I eat.

  • Finish my vegetables or other healthiest aspects of my dish first.
  • Eat slowly, and savor each bite. Take sips of water in between to clear my palate so I can fully appreciate the smaller portion sizes I was going to eat.
  • Stop as soon as I’m no longer hungry. This is harder than it sounds for a lifelong member of the Clean Plate Club.
  • No appetizers or desserts. Side dishes are okay as long as they’re vegetables (I love brussels sprouts and asparagus).
  • Drink water. Only get a drink if it’s something special (like fresh squeezed OJ, or a low-calorie cocktail). No more than one, and not every time.
  • Maximum one meat item per day, and bonus points for zero.
  • Cook my own meals as often as I can, as simply as I can. Use healthy substitutions when able.

Finally, I used all the rules from my post-op diet booklet:

  • No carbonation. It makes the stomach expand.
  • Low/No carbs. No pasta or bread. Carbs from fruit and vegetables are okay in small amounts.
  • Limit butter consumption (My Julia Child inspired French cooking techniques!)
  • Get at least 60g of Protein per day.
  • Always eat breakfast, even if it’s small.
  • Limit meat consumption in favor of veggies.
  • Whenever possible, have fish instead of red meat.

My Work Begins

The following Monday morning, I woke up at 6am to take my first jog in years. My ex-wife had been taking morning walks on that path for a couple of weeks, and encouraged me to join her (we were still living together at the time). I wanted to burn more calories and build up my cardio more, so I tried to jog instead of just walking. It was rough. I couldn’t jog for more than a few hundred feet before being completely winded. My knees and thighs ached badly.

I set a goal to jog 3 times per week, and I stuck to it for my first week. Then on week two, just as I was getting used to the regimen and becoming able to jog longer distances, I strained my right ACL. I could still walk with only minor discomfort, but I definitely couldn’t jog. I skipped a few days and guilted myself about it appropriately. Then I tried running again.

…and re-injured it. Despite my guilt about slacking, I needed to give myself more time to recover. I spent the time I would normally be jogging looking at YouTube videos on how to have better form when I run. I learned that I was doing half of the things they said never to do, and I followed their recommendations for how long to wait before going running again.

Back At It

When I returned a week and a half later, I concentrated on using proper form. It was difficult at first, but it was also relaxing to empty my mind of other things and just focus on my footfalls and my posture. I applied some of the information to my normal walking posture, and have yet to injure myself walking or running since. Knock on wood.

I also reduced my schedule to 2-3 times per week. Monday, Thursday, and Tuesday/Wednesday as a flex day. Instead of forcing 3 days, I would make an effort to just walk more throughout the week. I began walking to places in Oakland I would normally drive or take Lyft for. I also started planning hikes on the weekend occasionally.

Seeing Results

Combined with my diet rules I mentioned, I lost the 12 lbs. I needed to in about 3 weeks, and I was ecstatic. My surgery appointment was still more than two months away, but I decided to keep up with these new habits because I wanted to make them sustainable after my surgery as well.

By late November (about 8 weeks in), I had lost nearly 30 lbs. The food I was eating was fine with me. I found healthy alternatives to most of the unhealthy stuff I craved. Hunger pains still kept me awake at night, but I was managing them decently. I was still enjoying my morning runs, though it was beginning to get cold and damp in the winter mornings.

The thought occurred that maybe I didn’t need the surgery, but then I plateaued. I continued my healthy habits and kept running for the two remaining months of the year, but I didn’t lose another pound until the day of my surgery. It was frustrating, but nothing new for me. I could always lose a certain amount before all my efforts simply stopped paying off.

The Holidays

My mom, brother and I at Thanksgiving 2016
(sorry, this wasn’t taken with a great camera)

When I visited home for Thanksgiving, I was able to keep my portion sizes low and my dietary rules in place. Whenever my brother and his fiancé took their dog out, I’d join them for the walk. I drank less alcohol than usual, and stayed away from carbonation (beer and soda). When I returned home, I had gained less than 2 lbs. from the entire trip and was able to cut it back out after a few days. I felt like I could do this. I worried about the holidays, but I was able to enjoy myself without breaking my rules.

December was stressful at work, but I continued my diet and exercise regimen without fail. I still didn’t lose another pound.

The Procedure

My surgery was scheduled for January 11, 2017.

For the week leading up to it, I was to begin taking vitamin supplements and Prilosec daily. I was already taking a general multi-vitamin because my doctor advised it, so I just needed to add a B-Complex and a small Vitamin D pill that was optional, but recommended because of my SAD. I wasn’t going to be able to go outdoors much for a while after the surgery, so it seemed prudent. The B-Complex vitamin pills were a little large and tasted awful, but the others were small and mostly tasteless.

Two days before the surgery, I had to start taking Gas-X and Milk of Magnesia so I could empty myself out for the surgery. That night’s dinner was going to be my last full meal for at least a month, so I cooked myself a Wagyu ribeye (from Debragga) and broccoli with melted cheddar cheese.

Steak and Cheesy Broccoli

Just thinking about how large my portions were that day now, as I’m typing this, makes me feel slightly nauseous. Today, I could probably eat a third of just the broccoli and be full. I could eat maybe two bites of the steak. But at the time, that was a fairly normal portion size for dinner.

The Last Days of Hunger

That night I visited a friend who makes delicious muffins, and she offered me one of her latest batch but I had to decline. It was about an hour too late to my deadline. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything but water for the next 24 hours. Hunger pains hit me around 3pm, and they didn’t stop. I drank a ton of water to try to trick my stomach into thinking it was full. It was not so easily fooled. I barely slept at all that night. My mind raced, my stomach ached, and I had to get to the hospital by 6am.

I got out of bed around 4:30am, showered, packed up some supplies and a change of clothes, then jumped into my Lyft on my way into the city. The hunger pains had subsided, but I definitely felt spacey and disconnected. I was nervous as hell. When I arrived at the hospital, I went to an unfamiliar entrance, checked in with unfamiliar faces, and sat in the waiting room. Previously, I would go to Dr. Jossart’s office and see the same faces there for my appointments, but this was the surgery ward across the street.

Shortly after checking in, someone called my name and led me into the prep area.

Nerves

I stripped down and got into the uncomfortable hospital gown, then they took my blood pressure and put in my IV. I’ve heard dozens of friends and family members complain about how much IVs suck in the past, but I didn’t mind it at all. Then again, needles haven’t frightened me since I was a kid. They confirmed with me several times that I hadn’t had anything except water for the last 24 hours. This seemed excessive, until I overheard someone in the next bed over being told they had to go home and reschedule their whole surgery because they ate a piece of fruit and “thought it would be okay because it was healthy”. I’d be incredibly pissed at myself if I did that and had to do another day of hunger pains and half a dozen rushed toilet trips.

Three or four different nurses came in to ask me questions or take away my belongings so they would all arrive safely in my room when I got out of surgery. Then I just laid there on the hospital bed. I felt naked. Mostly because I was naked under my paper gown, but also because my distractions were all gone. No book, no phone, no headphones. Nothing but my nerves and listening to the nurses and other people in nearby beds talking about their procedures. I remember feeling lonely. Most of them had spouses with them, and I was only divorced for maybe 4 months at the time.

Hospital Gown
These fuckers do NOT stay tied, and it is impossible to find stock images online that truly get across how gross and vulnerable they made me feel.

Waiting Some More

Eventually, they brought me to the 3rd waiting area. I walked down the hallways with one hand behind my back, clasping my paper gown together to protect my modesty. The nurse kept asking me if I was walking okay, which I thought was odd. I guess some people get light-headed after getting an IV, being nervous, and not eating for 24 hours, but I remember feeling fine physically. I was one step closer to the whole thing being over.

They laid me down in a more elaborate hospital bed, and it seemed obvious that this was what I was going to be laying on when I got cut open. I met a new set of nurses, and my doctor and anesthesiologist both came by and introduced themselves. They seemed alert, focused, and confident, which comforted me a bit. My anesthesiologist said something along the lines of “Congratulations, you’ve already completed all the most dangerous things you’re going to do today”, referring to my morning shower, my walk down three flights of stairs from my apartment, and my car ride to the hospital. Logic and math always work on me.

Then I waited for what felt like another hour but may have been only a fraction of that. I couldn’t tell time without my phone and there were no visible clocks nearby. I listened to more patients and their spouses talking. The guy on my left was having his shoulder replaced and his wife was a nervous wreck, but he was fine — excited even. I internally related to him, especially when he expressed looking forward to having a bionic arm.

Ping

Finally, they said I was rolling into the OR. We rolled down a couple short hallways into a large room with dozens of machines and computers. I made sure to ask them if they had the one that goes *PING* and they assured me that they had the very best machine that goes *PING* at their hospital.

All joking aside, I felt comforted by how modern and advanced the technology in the room was. The doctors recapped what was going to happen and made sure I was ready, then they began giving me the anesthesia. The anesthesiologist asked something about when my next vacation was going to be and I remember muttering something about my Japan trip in April.

And then I woke up.

Aftermath

The first thing I remember after waking up is a nurse being in the room. She asked me how I was feeling, and I probably answered groggy, but fine. Then, I asked how the surgery went and she said a doctor would be in shortly to tell me. I was briefly nervous about that answer, but I felt okay. No pain, just a slight weird feeling in my gut.

Once the nurse walked away, I pulled my paper gown up to take a look at my incisions. They were smaller than I expected, but also more numerous. I had 4 small ones that were perhaps a centimeter wide each and one large one near my bellybutton that was perhaps 3-4cm wide. I also had a streak of smelly orange stuff across my chest for which I couldn’t glean a purpose.

Bariatric Incisions

My mouth felt dry, but just as I thought that the nurse returned with ice chips. I had no idea how much I loved ice chips until this moment. Apparently I had to be careful about swallowing even water at this stage. My throat felt dry and irritated though, so I downed ice chips constantly and sipped the water they turned into after a few minutes.

Mission Accomplished

Not long after, my doctor came in and told me right away that the surgery went exactly according to plan. I had no complications, and they saw no need to take a liver biopsy or remove my gall bladder (things they often did for patients if the organs seemed abnormal while they were in there). He told me the breathing tube I had in during the surgery causes the throat irritation I was feeling. Then, he briefly went over what we had talked about for months before: what was going to happen in the next 24-48 hours. I felt reassured, and happy. I made it. The hard part was over.

That is to say, the hard part for me psychologically was over. The part where I had to surrender control of my body to someone else and put my fate entirely in their hands. This was also the part everyone worried about when I told them about my decision to get the surgery. And it was over. Now, I was eager to take back my control and get on with my life, with my newly renovated digestive system.

36 34 Hours of Boredom

Hospital Room View

I was lucky enough to be assigned a private room with a big window and some space to move around in. The nurse showed me the crooked bottle I was supposed to pee into. When I asked about #2, she told me I probably wouldn’t have one of those for a few days. This was odd to me, as I’m pretty regular in my daily bathroom routine, but she was definitely right.

Once we settled all the important stuff, I asked for my backpack. I grabbed my phone and told my parents and friends that I was okay. Then I pulled my headphones out and set them on the table next to me for later. I pulled out my book and read a chapter. They showed me how to work the TV in the room and I tried that. Everything was awful. I watched The Dark Knight on TBS with long commercial breaks every 5 minutes. I will never understand why people watch cable TV, let alone pay to watch it.

The second thing I did was change into fresh underwear and put on my gym shorts. I got rid of the awful hospital gown and just left my stomach open to the air to let the incisions heal without rubbing against anything.

The Not Boring Part

I was delighted when I received a text from a friend that she would come visit me that night. I was pretty far out of her way — in the middle of San Francisco, while she lives in Berkeley — so it meant a lot to me that she wanted to come all that way to visit me. She hung out there with me for a couple of hours, and the time went by so much faster with her there.

My friend visited me at the hospital!

Resume the Boredom

After she left, I put my headphones on and went to sleep. I slept a lot in the next 24 hours or so. Part of it was the medication, but I also felt physically exhausted. I wondered if it was because my body was working hard repairing itself. I drank small sips of water as I needed it. The nurse showed me how to unplug the IV so I could walk a bit and use the bathroom like a grown-up. I still had to pee into the bottle so they could check it for any issues, but I could at least do so in the privacy of the bathroom.

I watched The Dark Knight a second time later that night, because cable TV is fucking awful and there was nothing else watchable.

Pain Management

The nurse came in to check up on me every hour or so, and she brought me my pain meds around this time. I didn’t feel any pain yet, but took her word (based on my doctor’s recommendations) for it. Later in the evening, a different nurse would be on shift and he wouldn’t bring me my pain meds unless I buzzed for him. I soon learned that I did not want to delay taking my Percocet, because the pain ramped up quickly through the 1-10 scale if I waited it out and tried to be tough.

The next morning, I felt pretty good. One of my doctor’s assistants (a familiar face) came in to check on me and it surprised her to hear that I was already drinking water on my own and getting up and walking around every hour. They had given me a leg massager the night before to keep my muscles moving, but I didn’t like how it felt. She told me I seemed to be recovering more quickly than most, and that I should probably be able to leave the hospital that evening. This excited me, because I was already pretty stir crazy.

Mutant Powers

Her remarks about me healing quickly, combined with the way I felt walking around plugged into an IV inspired me to take a selfie in the mirror that day. I felt like Wolverine (Weapon X). I was recovering from a surgical procedure that was going to make me more powerful. My healing factor had impressed the doctor. I had wires hanging off me, weird-looking scars, and overgrown facial hair.

An Unflattering Weapon X photo of me in the hospital
I’m sure the narcotic pain meds played into my decision-making too.

Room Service

Hospital staff brought me breakfast. I had chicken broth, lime jello, a fruit flavored protein drink, and a bottle of water. I could barely eat any of it. Not because it tasted bad, but because I felt nauseous if I swallowed more than a tiny bite or slurp. In that entire day, I finished one protein drink, a few sips of broth, and half of one Jell-O cup. The nurses advised me to toss the uneaten Jell-O and protein drinks into my backpack for later, since the hospital was billing me for it anyway. Smart nurses.

Hospital Food

Over these two days, I received a huge outpouring of support from my family and friends. Text messages, calls, emails, and comments on social media were amazing. I don’t often reach out to others for help, but seeing my support network in action was wonderful.

Escape from Captivity

When it was time to go, a friend came to take the ride with me. The doctors had said that I shouldn’t go home alone, and that the Lyft driver didn’t count, so we had set this up beforehand. We rode back to Oakland and I was so happy to be out of that hospital bed. It was raining and cold, but I loved feeling it again. I can’t imagine how awful it would be staying in a hospital room for longer than the 36 hours or so that I did. I feel immense sympathy for anyone that goes through that. As nice as my hospital stay was, it still felt so [appropriately] sterile.

Back At Home

When I got home, everything felt better. I put away all my stuff and took my first shower in two days. Getting that smelly orange stuff off me was a major relief. My stomach looked weird only having a square of it shaved and a stark line of contrast where I was a hairy beast again, so I shaved more of it to look more natural and grow back evenly.

I watched commercial-free entertainment that was actually interesting, with my restored access to Netflix and YouTube! My library of video games was once again available to me. I slept in my bed and made it the entire night, as opposed to being interrupted every two hours by nurses checking my vitals and giving me pills.

Post-Op Meds

I woke up and saw I was a few hours late on my Percocet, but I didn’t feel much. Pain levels were at a 1 or 2, as opposed to the 4s that quickly escalated into 7s and 8s while I waited for the night nurse at the hospital. I decided not to take it and I never ended up needing them again.

Medizen Medicated Drink Mix

Instead, I was drinking my medical marijuana in the form of a medicated Kool-Aid style drink mix. I was on liquids only for the next two weeks, and that was going to be tough. Here are the restrictions I was under for post-op:

First Month

  • No lifting anything heavier than 10 lbs. (no commuting to work, no looking through my Magic card binders, nothing)
  • Get up and move around every hour or two, but not too much

Weeks 1-2

  • Liquid-only diet.
  • Notable foods: Protein shakes, Strained thin soups, Sugar Free Popsicles, Jell-O
4 Pills, a Protein Shake, and a glass of water
This was 80% of my diet for the first two weeks.

On day 3, I broke a few rules. On Saturday, I went to the Aether Revolt Pre-Release event at my local game store (Endgame Oakland) and played in a roughly 4.5 hour tournament there. Protein shake and large bottle of water in hand, it turned out fine. I did another event the next day too, and didn’t have any trouble. I even walked the 1.3 miles there and back both times. Why? Because I’m fuckin’ Weapon X, man.

Weapon X
Let’s go, bub.

Weeks 3-4

  • Soft food only.
  • Notable foods: Mozzarella string cheese, Fat Free Cottage Cheese, Tomato Soup, Soft cooked veggies, soft flaky fish, lunch meats

The third week, I decided to go into the office for a few meetings I’d rather do in person. I felt stir crazy stuck in my apartment, so I lugged my laptop bag into work once. It only weighs maybe 5 lbs. more than my limit, and I’m Weapon X after all. I got to work and did my meetings alright, but I definitely felt the fatigue set in around 2pm. It was probably a little too early to do that in hindsight, but no permanent damage seemed to be done.

A full body selfie 3 weeks after surgery
I took this selfie in the bathroom at work that day. It’s not a huge difference, but it shows some progress.

Get By with a Little Help from My Friends

Several friends came to visit me at home during these first two weeks. I was afraid that I was going to be a boring host, but they refused to admit it if I was. I felt loved and truly appreciated it from all of them.

  • One of the guys I play Magic with watched the Steelers game with me, and I’m happy that we hang out more often now too.
  • I had an arts and crafts night with another friend that was lots of fun. We attempted to make shrinky dinks, but hers was the only one we finished. Mine sucked, so I just broke out my coloring books instead.
  • Another friend brought me some delicious homemade lentil soup, and we strained it so I could eat it!

I made homemade miso soup shortly after having my friend’s delicious soup. Basic chicken broth couldn’t cut it after that. It was super easy, fast, and stayed delicious for several days in the fridge. I could even digest the super soft tofu bits without trouble.

Milestones

From the day I looked down at a scale and saw a number equal to or higher than 239 lbs., I lamented that I was bigger than Homer Simpson. Around this time, my weight had dropped down below that mark for the first time in several years. I was elated. I was down to 230.4 lbs.

For the last 3 days of my liquid diet, I planned this whole thing about making Cioppino soup. I was going to just drink the broth for the last 3 days of my liquid diet, then I could eat the rest after. But my plan had a few issues.

  1. Cioppino is stupid expensive to make. Lots of fresh seafood.
  2. The recipe made WAY too much. I froze half of it, and still had to throw away a lot more than I could fit into my tummy.
  3. It does not keep nicely in the fridge for more than a few days.
Cioppino
It was good, though

I essentially spent over $100 on ingredients for around 3 cups of seafood/tomato broth, and a handful of scallops, clams, and cod chunks. Lesson learned, I guess. The broth was quite delicious, though, and I missed tomatoes so I got my fix.

Normal Food!

Skinny Homer Simpson
Goals…

I’m writing this during week 5, which is when I’m finally able to eat normal food again! I find it funny that the things I’ve been craving lately are the healthy snacks I was having before my surgery. Peanut butter and celery, Raw Almonds, Vegetable Curry, and Bacon and Eggs.

I’m still drinking my protein shakes, and probably will continue for a long time. They give me half of my daily protein, and are a great substitute for breakfast, which I am often not hungry for anyway. I’m also continuing my cottage cheese and tomato soup regimen for snacks.

This week, I learned that it only takes 1:30 to cook a single slice of bacon. When I posted this little-known fact on Facebook, my friends seemed dumbfounded that one even could just have one slice of bacon.

I went on my first hike since the surgery on Saturday, and it was awesome. I met some nice people there and joined a meetup group for future hiking excursions. That afternoon, I went to the grand opening of Our Poke Place in the Mission. I ordered their smallest portion, but it took me lunch, snack, and dinner to finish it. It was super delicious and the artwork on their walls is awesome, too.

Feeling Good

I feel pretty close to 100% now. I can do all the stuff I was doing before, but I just have a tiny stomach and small appetite. It’s kind of amazing, honestly. I think this surgery was exactly what I needed, and it seems to be doing what I wanted it to already. It’s setting me up to have a nutrient-heavy diet that allows me to work out more safely (way less weight on my knees and ankles).

When I weighed myself this morning, I was at 208.8 lbs. I haven’t weighed that little in over a decade. At this point I’ve lost a total of 63.2 lbs since I started on this journey. My doctor told me that in the next 6 months I will likely get down to the 170s, but we’ll see about that.

I already feel a little weird about being “small” again, but I know I need to get over that. The kind of “big” I was before was unhealthy, so I shouldn’t glorify it.

Me Recently
I still have a way to go, but I’m proud of my progress so far. (These are also the smallest jeans I own, so I need to go clothes shopping soon)

Here’s hoping the path ahead continues to go well!

(I’ll likely post a follow-up article to this in a few months… unless nothing interesting happens)

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