Friday, July 13, 2012

May/June Update

I realize it's mid-July, but I figure it's better late than never.

It's been a busy summer. It makes me wonder how I ever get anything done when I'm in school and working. Every day flies by. It's been nice, though, because I feel like I'm productive every day but still get lots of relaxation/lazy time.

School. It's been nice having a break from classes. The best thing is not having anything to do in the evenings when Steve is home. I also get to read whatever I want whenever I want. During the school year, I still manage to read a bit - mostly just a few minutes in bed before falling asleep. I registered for three classes for Fall. I was a little perturbed to find out that all the Masters classes are in the late afternoon/evening, but I guess it makes sense for those people who are working full-time while going to school. And, it turns out that it will benefit me, too. I still have over a month before school starts and I'm going to do my best to enjoy the rest of the summer.

Summer Trip. On June 5, we flew to Seattle and boarded a Carnival cruise ship (I can't remember the name right now) and headed to Alaska. It was a wonderful trip! You can read more about it here. We're already making plans for a great trip next summer.

Journaling. Haven't done it in months! The last time I wrote in it, I took it into the living room to write and it has stayed in that spot ever since. I really need to move it back to my bedroom. I'd like to get back to writing every night before bed. I hate when I go awhile without writing because I feel like I should recap what has happened since the last time (even if just the big stuff) but I really don't want to spend forever writing. Sigh. I just need to buck up and start again. I love writing in my journal and just need to get back into the writing rhythm.

Exercising. I did pretty well in May. I didn't miss a single day (I rarely do since I'm responsible for walking the dog at least once a day, usually more), and almost reached my 100 miles goal. In June, I gave up tracking my exercising, what with all that's been going on. I managed to do pretty well until my surgery - I even worked out almost every day while on our Alaskan cruise. However, once I had surgery, I felt good just being able to walk from my bedroom to the living room, and I needed the support of someone else to do that the first week. Last Thursday, I started walking the dog again. I can't go very far or very fast but it feels good to be able to get out and walk twice a day. I'm getting a little faster, too. At first, Sadie would be at the very end of the leash, not exactly pulling at it but definitely wanting to go faster. This isn't normal, usually she walks right by my side or close to it. In fact, for our mid-day walk, she usually walks far behind me because she hates the heat and drags big time. I'm hoping to get back to my regular walking routes in August.

May exercising totals: 2255 minutes (about 37.5 hours), 97 miles

Summer To-Do List. These are the things I accomplished in May and June:
Donate clothes I don't wear any more to thrift store
Get new copy of my birth certificate
Write one short story
Start advertising rooms for rent for condo
Register for classes (and let the VA know)
Blog about Alaskan cruise
Go to eye doctor
Refinish grandma's desk

I feel pretty good about my to-do list. I still have more I want to get done. We'll see how it goes this month (so far I've only done one thing on the list).

Other. It was wonderful having my mom stay with us for over a week the end of June. I find myself missing her while I watch tv. It was fun to chat with her while we watched. She was perfect company. I can't imagine what my household would have been like that first week or so after my surgery if she hadn't been here.

My birthday was in May. Steve totally spoiled me, like usual. I'm now 35 years old and am loving this age. It feels good - not too young but still pretty young.

I'm sure I'm missing so much, but that's what I get for doing such a belated update. :)

Hope everyone is having a great July!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Sleeping Troubles

I used to pride myself that I was an excellent sleeper. Yes, it took me awhile to fall asleep at night, but once I was out, I stayed out until morning. Little did I realize how precarious my sleeping rhythm truly was.

Sure, there were the odd sleeplessness occurrences. I distinctly remember three times when I suffered from insomnia. The first time was my first year of college, in my dorm room at the University of Utah. For over a week I couldn't stay asleep once I finally managed to fall asleep. I discussed it with my mom and she did a little research. She called me back awhile later with her findings. Sometimes if one does other things besides sleep in one's bed - like doing homework, reading, watching tv - then your body fails to treat your bed like a place to sleep. I started doing less on my bed (which had been doubling as my couch, especially since it was smack dab in front of my roommate's tv) and soon I started sleeping like myself.

The other two times occurred much later and were only separated from each other by one year. Both times shared something, I was stressed and didn't realize it. Stressed about a decision or more precisely, the direction my life was taking. Both lasted about two weeks and didn't end until I realized the cause and started to do something about it, even just to acknowledge the stress that I hadn't felt but my body had.

These three times were nothing compared to the eye-opening experience of sharing a bed with a man. I swear I didn't sleep well for months! Every time he turned over, I woke up. If he got up to use the bathroom, I was awake by the time he got back into bed. The man thought I was a vampire who never slept because he never saw me asleep. It was at this time that I realized that I wasn't a naturally gifted sleeper, I had just been lucky enough to have the right sleeping conditions for myself for a long time.

Steve taught me the meaning of a true sleep genius. The first time we shared a bed, after we said good-night the guy was asleep in 5 seconds flat. And not just a light slumber. I was able to get out of bed, grab a snack in the kitchen, eat it in bed, and read a little without him so much as change his breathing. I was impressed.

Nope, I am a light sleeper. I mean this in two ways, actually. First of all, I don't sleep soundly at all. Like I said, any movement would wake me up. Same goes for any sound above that of a distant train horn and any light brighter than a dim night light. Steve bought a new alarm clock just for me since at first I didn't have a night stand on my side of the room and was always asking him the time. This new alarm clock could project the time on a wall or even the ceiling. It was pretty handy. And pretty bright. I couldn't sleep with it on, so it had to go.

However, I need light in order to sleep. Looking back on my life, I realize that most of the time, there's always been some outside light source that gently lit up my bedroom (a street lamp, lights from a nearby business, etc.). Steve, having to sometimes work nights and so sleep during the day, likes to have heavy curtains that make the bedroom feel like it's permanently midnight on a starless, moonless night. Turns out, I get night terrors. I'm 35 years old and I get night terrors. If a room doesn't have a teeny bit of light in it, I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat terrified out of my mind over something or other. So, we bought a night light for our bedroom. I'm 35 years old and I have to sleep with a night light. Hence, the other way I'm a light sleeper. On our cruise, the first two nights, I woke up so afraid that I started moving what little furniture existed out of my way so I could get out of the room. We finally started leaving a table lamp on and covering it with multiple towels and jackets (because it couldn't be too bright).

Lately, I can't sleep through the night. I'm finally (after over a year of marriage) getting used to sharing a bed. We have the right amount of light and the temperature is perfect (I decided this post was getting too long to go into my temperature requirements and figure they're pretty standard - not too hot, not too cold). I don't feel overly stressed about what's going on in my life; in fact, I'm quite pleased with my life and some of the changes that have been happening and that are about to happen. However, I can't sleep past 3am without waking up. At first, I had to wake up then to take my next dose of pain killers after my surgery. Now, I wake up having to pee like a race horse. I used to be able to sleep through the night without using the facilities. The worst part is that once I get back in bed, I can't go back to sleep. I know that a huge part of that is the inability to get comfortable. I have to sleep on my back with my head and knees propped up with pillows. If I try to shift to my side, within minutes my stomach muscles throb then become really painful. I'm not used to sleeping on my back nor sleeping without changing positions. And I'm sore. Usually not in pain, thankfully, but almost constantly sore. Tight may be a better description. Like my stomach muscles and skin are being continually stretched. It makes sense, given the procedure of the surgery, but it can wear on me sometimes - usually at 3am.

Fortunately, I know that like the times in the past where a good night's sleep has eluded me, this time will pass. Someday, I'll sleep again. If nothing else, I've learned that I may not be a naturally gifted sleeper genius like Steve, but I do learn how to find my way to sleep eventually.

Thank Heavens!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Surgery and Recovery

Two weeks ago, I underwent a tummy tuck. It was a choice I made with the help of my loving husband who totally accepted my body the way it was...and who understood that the biggest handicap for me to being able to do the same was my tummy.

Three weeks before the surgery, Steve and I went to a pre-op appointment where I learned just how different recovery from a tummy tuck is compared to lap band recovery. I learned about drains, binders, narcotics, compression stockings, and not being able to be upright for up to 10 days. I called Mom, who had agreed to care for me for the week following the surgery, and informed her that it was going to be a bit more of a challenge this go-around. She decided, most graciously and generously, to stay 10 days instead of 7, and we all mentally tried to prepare.

I didn't really start to worry about the actual surgery until the week before. During this time, I learned that not only had my uncle been diagnosed with cancer but that my sister-in-law's mother had terminal cancer and my stepsister has lymph node cancer. Mortality started to appear a lot more fleeting. Then I had dreams involving my deceased grandmothers. In one, I introduced Steve to my dad's mom, who passed away several years ago. She approved of him, by the way, which doesn't surprise me at all. I didn't really believe I was going to die, but I was a lot more aware that death is always on the table when you are too.

My surgery was the first one of the day, so Steve and I arrived at 6am. I like having early morning surgeries; best to get it done with and on to recovery. I think the person being operated on is kind of lucky - they miss all the wait time. One moment they're cracking jokes to the nurses and the next they're waking up. My first thought when I woke up: Thank you, God, for letting me wake up in the doctor's recovery room and not on your doorstep. The recovery nurse commented later that she'd been surprised that I woke up so quickly and that I was so chatty after having gone through major surgery. I told her that I'd been told the same thing after my lap band surgery. I guess anesthesia has that affect on me. And, I have a natural affinity for loquaciousness.

I won't go into the details of the surgery here - if you want them, feel free to call or email me and I can relate to you all that the doctor did. Basically, 6 lbs 2 oz of skin and fat were removed from my body. My bariatric surgeon had said that it would be 10-15 lbs but my plastic surgeon said that's a common misconception and usually only 2-3 lbs are removed. So, I really did have a lot of excess material down there! Steve said my surgeon sounded pretty excited about the weight that had been removed. I guess I am, too, but as I told him, I didn't do it to lose weight but to gain a figure.

Once I was awake and a little more coherent (and had told the recovery nurse most of my life story, I guess), she brought Steve in to see me. A very, very short time later, I was in a wheelchair being wheeled to the car and sent home to recover. It seemed a little strange to be going home so quickly, but frankly I was relieved to be able to go home instead of being made to wait any longer.  I longed to be tucked into my own bed. I'm sure the ride home was painful because I remember being in pain the first two days, despite pretty heavy narcotics and muscle relaxers, but the ride is a little drug-induced hazy. The drugs took the edge off of the pain, for which I was very grateful. Surprisingly, they didn't put me to sleep like everyone thought they would, so I was pretty alert most of the day after getting home. Steve ended up having to take care of me and my needs more than either of us thought he would have to that first day, thinking I'd sleep the whole day.

The next day, Saturday, my mom came. I love my husband and he is a wonderful nurse, but my heart leapt for joy when I heard the sound of my mom's voice. She had proved to be a wonderful caregiver when she helped me recover from my lap band surgery, and there's no one like one's mother. She was a blessing the whole 11 days she stayed with us, especially since this recovery was a lot more difficult than my previous surgery and my life has more to it now - a dog, a garden, a home, and a husband that all needed to be cared for in different ways.

Although I was in constant pain those first couple days, it was a dull pain that I could live with. I ate light but fairly normally; soup, oatmeal, crackers, popsicles, pudding. On the third day, I started moving around more and spent a few hours sitting in the living room when my brother came to visit. I'm guessing this extra movement must have caused some extra swelling because suddenly I couldn't get anything to go past my lap band, not even water. It would go down, sit in my pouch, then come back up an hour or so later. This went on for a few days and didn't let up, even when I stopped moving around as much to try to reduce whatever swelling had occurred. We finally started contacting local bariatric doctors to try to get in to have the saline in my band removed so it would loosen and allow food and water to get to my stomach. No one would get me in despite it being somewhat of an emergency. I wasn't in good health by Wednesday, physically and mentally I was depleted and desperate. Mom and I started contemplating driving to my bariatric surgeon in St. George to get my band loosened and called their office to discuss it. Fortunately, my surgeon told his staff about three hospitals in Salt Lake who can perform the task needed. I called the first one and was told to come in whenever. I asked if someone would be there who could do it and he said that if there wasn't they would just call the bariatric clinic across the street and steal one of their doctors. Hmmm. I asked the name of the clinic - it was one who couldn't fit me in to their schedule. I called that clinic back and told them that if they didn't get me in the next day, I'd go to the emergency room and they'd end up having to send over one of their doctors anyway. I got an appointment for 4:00pm.

With my band loosened, recovery took off! I had the doctor remove most of the saline but I'm only able to eat the amounts I could before my tummy tuck, so I know there's still swelling going on in there. It's good because I'm getting the water and nutrients I need to be healthy but still get the aid of the lap band to prevent over-eating.

We knew the first week would be the hardest and it was, even without my band complication to deal with. I was on a drug regime where I'd take a pain narcotic then three hours later a muscle relaxer followed by a pain narcotic three hours later - you get the pattern. I discovered that lortab makes me kind of goofy when it kicks it, not sleepy. We also had to deal with my drainage tubes and the grenade-looking bulbs that collected the blood/drainage. They had to be drained and the amount measured every 6 hours. Once the drainage got to a certain point, the tubes would be removed, which didn't happen until day 11. My mom woke up at midnight, 3am, and 6am for several days to give me my pills and to drain my tubes and to allow Steve to sleep since he had to go to work. Again, mom's presence was such a blessing!!!

I got the tubes removed this week on Tuesday, day 11. They were just barely below the required amount and I'd been praying with all my heart they'd get below it by this doctor's appointment so I could get them removed. I didn't think to ask and no one told me what getting the tubes removed would feel like. After the first one came out, the nurse said most people say it feels like a pinch and a burn. My second one kind of felt like that but a little worse. The first tube, however, felt like someone had stuck a hot poker inside me then removed it somewhat quickly, burning me all the way out. I've never felt such raw, unhindered pain before in my life. It seriously made me rethink getting the second tube removed. Now that they're out, though, I'm so relieved. I can wear normal clothing (though I don't most of the time since I'm just hanging at home with the dog) and I'm not toting around those awful plastic grenades.

I am, however, stuck with a stomach binder for the next few weeks (six weeks minimum post surgery). You see, not only did the surgeon remove a bunch of fat and skin, but he also repaired my stomach muscles. That repair work is very sensitive and the binder gives it the support needed to make sure there aren't any complications. It also helps the skin form to my new sleeker shape. At first, I hated it because it's uncomfortable, but the first night we washed it and I didn't have it on, I could really tell the difference it makes to wear it. Movements hurt a lot more without it. I now have a couple Spanx-like products that fit better under clothes but that offer the same support. They're incredibly difficult to get on though, so I only wear them when going out in regular clothes; otherwise, I'm in the white binder the doctor gave me.

Each day is better than the next and I'm finally feeling like a person again. I constantly feel my stomach area. I take pain relievers still but a lot less frequently, so it isn't pain I feel but more of a tightness. The sores from my tube area are finally scabbing over and are a little itchy, as is the sensitive area down there that had to be shaved as part of the surgery. I move slowly and a little like Frankenstein's monster, but I know it will get easier and easier. I can even take Sadie for short walks without my cane AND can shower without using the shower chair Steve bought when our lawn patio footstool collapsed under me the first time we used it (causing me a good deal of pain).

My body isn't perfect. It never will be. I still have flabby thighs, pooches above my bum, flabby arms, and breasts that sag without the aid of a good bra. I can live with all of those things. The thing that made me feel like I still weighed 350 lbs, my stomach, is gone. I finally feel like I look normal, like I should. I finally feel like I look like me. Yesterday was the first day I truly felt it. My sister-in-law and nephew came for a visit so I actually got dressed and put on make up. Then today I had a job interview and wore a pair of slacks and a shirt that I would never have worn together because the shirt didn't cover my whole stomach area. I almost cried when I saw how normal I looked. I don't need to be the skinniest person or have the perfect body, I've just wanted to feel normal, and today I felt it. It felt amazing!

So, I took pictures. Here's the before - this is me before my lap band surgery.

This is me today.

I should point out that I took these pictures just barely, not this morning, and I'm wearing the bulky white binder instead of the sleeker Spanx-like thing I wore this morning.

Here are some pictures of the white bulky binder.

Doctor told me that it takes up to 6 whole months before the full results show up (swelling and such), but I must say that I'm thrilled with the results so far! The next few weeks will be much better than the previous two and I'll slowly be able to get back into my normal exercise and life routines.

Has it been hard. Yes. Has it been worth it? Yes. Very much so.