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LAKE PLACID DIET: Bariatric journey begins with major hiccup

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn gives a thumbs up at Adirondack Medical Center on Tuesday, June 7, two days after a surgery to fix a bleeding complication from his gastric sleeve surgery on May 31. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

My belly itches. Take a look at it, and you’ll see why.

Scattered around the white skin — between the man boobs and the belly button — are eight incisions. Each are scabbing at their own pace, and each are surrounded by the red shadow of a Band-Aid that initially covered up an incision, the redness caused by an allergic reaction. It looks like a mess, but I’d rather have this scene from two laparoscopic surgeries than large scars from two open surgeries.

One surgery was planned. The other – described as a hiccup or a road bump by some –was to fix a complication from the first surgery.

As I sit at my dining room table on Tuesday morning, June 21 — surrounded by a blood pressure machine, a red sharps collector with discarded Lovenox (anticoagulant) needles and orders from the Adirondack Health Bariatric Center for follow-up doctor visits — I am documenting my three-week bariatric surgery journey.

Right now, I am feeling better and getting stronger every day. I’m starting to take walks again, eating food rather than drinking my nutrition, and I’m down 45 pounds in the past six weeks. I weighed in at 445 pounds on Tuesday. That’s 15 pounds since the vertical sleeve gastrectomy three weeks ago, plus the 30 pounds I lost the previous three weeks.

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn poses on Sunday, June 19, after finishing a walk up McClelland Street, Saranac Lake, a two-tenths of a mile round-trip from his home. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Round 1

I arrived at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake at 8 a.m. Tuesday, May 31 for my bariatric surgery with Dr. Michael Hill. In my tiny waiting room, I quickly exchanged my clothes for a gown and crawled onto a gurney. The nurses asked me a lot of questions, took my vitals, set an IV on my right hand and made me feel comfortable with a warm blanket on my legs.

Then I waited … and waited … and waited.

I was about to undergo risky surgery, so the extended wait wasn’t welcome. I was trying to stay positive despite the odds. I was told that one in 300 people die from bariatric surgery. Plus, since I take anticoagulants, the risk of bleeding complications is higher. I was nervous, and the small talk between me and my wife didn’t seem like enough comfort at the time.

I kept asking myself, “How did I get here?” More importantly, I asked, “Why am I taking this risk?”

I boiled it down to this: I want to live longer.

The surgery went well. I slowly woke up in the recovery room and was wheeled to my room on the back side of the hospital with a view of a wall. My diet began with ice chips, then light liquids, then heavier liquids such as protein shakes. My belly felt as though I was kicked by a horse. I started walking the halls the first day. And I was lucky to have two visitors the second day, my wife and mother. The cards, flowers and well wishes from friends and strangers helped the healing process.

By Friday, I was able to go home and begin my life with a new stomach — the size of a banana. They call it a sleeve.

Round 2

Late Sunday morning, sitting on the couch, I began to have pain in my left shoulder. Right after surgery, this is normal; the gas pumped into the body to give the surgeon room to work has to escape, and sometimes it puts pressure on the diaphragm, causing pain in the left shoulder. But getting this pain five days after surgery — plus pain in the back left side toward the kidney — wasn’t normal. I figured a small walk would fix the problem, but it didn’t. After two hours, my wife and I headed to the emergency room.

A CT scan revealed that I had a problem. The radiologist thought it was a leak from the staple line of the sleeve. My surgeon thought it was bleeding from the staple line of the sleeve. Either way, he’d have to go in again and fix the problem. So I headed to the operating room one more time.

Dr. Hill was right. It was a bleeding issue along the staple line. This was one of my major worries, thanks to the Warfarin I take to prevent blood clots (I had major blood clots in 2017 and have been on the medication ever since). So he fixed the problem.

I woke up with a drain attached to one of my incisions, to get rid of the blood that trickled into my body. Over the next four days, the hospital staff monitored my blood levels and blood pressure for signs of additional bleeding. On Thursday, June 9, I went home.

Recovery

My second surgery extended my recovery time by another week. That meant another week off from work and another week waiting to lift things, like laundry and garbage bags. I’m supposed to wait about three weeks to resume those and other activities.

In the meantime, my head was spinning with all the issues I was tackling: taking care of the incisions, monitoring blood pressure (which was lower than normal), bridging the anticoagulants from the Lovenox shots to Warfarin, getting enough energy, getting enough sleep, constipation, hydration and getting used to my new stomach with an all-liquid diet. I progressed to the soft food/pureed food stage on Tuesday, June 14.

On Monday, June 20, I was cleared to go back to work. Since I mostly work from home — on the computer — it’s easy to take breaks when I need to and continue the healing.

I recently began walking up and down McClelland Street, Saranac Lake, from my home, for exercise. At first it was a walk to the first light pole, then the second. Now I walk to the top of the street, touch a utility pole and walk back to my house. It’s two-tenths of a mile round-trip. I’m slowly building toward walking a 5k (3.1 miles) on my birthday, Sept. 9.

Again, thanks to everyone who sent well wishes and provided much-needed support during this difficult time. And thanks to Dr. Hill, the hospital staff, the folks at the Bariatric Center and all the wonderful nurses who took care of me — especially my friend Kristin, a guardian angel from the ICU who looked over my care with frequent visits.

I couldn’t have done it without all of you — or my wife, Dawn. She’s been my biggest supporter and has witnessed the ugliest and more worrisome sides of this ordeal. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Let the journey begin.