LAKE PLACID DIET: Reflecting on life a year after bariatric surgery

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn gives a thumbs up at Adirondack Medical Center on Tuesday, June 7, 2022, two days after a surgery to fix a bleeding complication from his gastric sleeve surgery on May 31, 2022. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

May 10, 2022: 490 lbs.

May 31, 2022 (surgery): 460 lbs.

June 6, 2023: 389 lbs.

Total lost: 101 lbs.

Lake Placid News Editor Andy Flynn covers Lake Placid Community Day for the newspaper on Sunday, June 4 at the North Elba Show Grounds. (Provided photo — John Eldridge)

A year ago, I was in a hospital bed recovering from a bleeding complication after bariatric surgery, not knowing whether the risk was worth it.

Today, 100 pounds lighter, I can safely say it definitely was worth it.

The sleeve gastrectomy reduced the size of my stomach by about 80%, and I rarely get physically hungry. It’s the battle of the mind that continues, though, and I struggle every day, just like most people trying to lose weight or keep it off.

A year later, I still have the scars on my belly from the laparoscopic surgeries — two times on the operating room table, one for the initial surgery and one five days later to fix the bleeding from my stomach staple line.

Every time I change shirts, I see those reddish scars and feel the bumps of the scar tissue. They are constant reminders of the risk I took to make my life better. I still have a lot more weight to lose, and although my emotional eating sometimes gets the better of me, I’ll always have the scars to sober me up, face reality and get me back on track.

On Sunday, June 4, I attended Lake Placid Community Day, going from table to table in the pavilion at the North Elba Show Grounds, seeing old friends, meeting new ones and taking photographs of those people for this week’s issue of the Lake Placid News. I was on my feet for most of the three-hour event. That’s something I couldn’t have done before my surgery, when I was walking around with a cane. On Sunday, I didn’t need the cane. I was slow, especially walking up and down the pavilion stairs, but I did it.

Over the past year, my main success is being more active. “Keep moving” is the most popular advice I hear from a lot of people who live longer lives, so I’m listening to them. I’m taking stairs more often, parking my car farther away than I used to and adopting new active hobbies such as gardening.

I’m trying to keep the promise I made to myself in June 2014 after my friend Randy Lewis died of cancer — to stay “Actively Adirondack,” which was the name of her newspaper column and book.

I’m always thinking about the advice my uncle, Joe Rondeau, gave me — “Keep trying new experiences.” After he died of cancer in August 2021, I promised to do just that.

This new mindset and my weight-loss progress got me thinking about my journey over the past year.

Wednesday, May 31 was the one-year anniversary of my bariatric surgery. I celebrated by going to the Adirondack Health Bariatric Center for a check-up, where I found that my blood work was all good. I left on a high note.

One year earlier, I was more somber, more reflective. People still die from bariatric surgery, and some have complications. I was scared.

I still have the recording I made on my iPhone from the waiting room before surgery on May 31, 2022. At just over a minute long, knowing that I was risking my life for this surgery, I wanted to document the reason I was there. It sounds overly dramatic, but I truly didn’t know whether these would be my last words. I probably recorded them to either leave something behind or to remind me later what I was thinking just before going over the trench.

“So, I’m sitting in a wheelchair waiting for my surgery, having the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. And I’m at Adirondack Medical Center, Saranac Lake. And we’re almost ready to go in. I’m nervous, still hungry, and I have the IV hooked up, and just ready to go.

“I’m trying to stay positive. I’m thinking about what got me here. I’m thinking about the future. I’m thinking about why I’m doing this. It’s basically so I can live longer. That’s it.”

It took me years to get to that point — years of hand wringing over the decision, years of yo-yo dieting, years of writing the Lake Placid Diet, years of suffering. Eventually, my quality of life was so bad that I felt bariatric surgery was my only choice to live longer.

Bariatric surgery is not for everyone. I had those same feelings for many years, but I finally realized that the risk of not having the surgery — dying from weight-related conditions — became more than the risk of having the surgery.

If I have any advice for young people, it’s “Don’t be like Andy.” Don’t get to that point of being the largest person in every room. Don’t get to that point of hearing the words from a small child, “Why are you so fat?” Don’t get to the point that you have to walk everywhere with a cane and sit every five minutes before you’re even 50 years old.

Do I still make mistakes? Yes, just about every day. I still have daily battles with my mind to tame the stress eating. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t.

Everyone has daily health struggles, whether it’s about food, nicotine, alcohol, hard-core drugs or something else. I’ve found that talking with people — having a support network — is a great way to get into a good head space about those struggles and learn new tools to deal with them.

Admittedly, I don’t use this resource enough, and it’s something I need to work on as I try to lose even more weight in my second year after bariatric surgery.

I had the choice after the sleeve gastrectomy to go one more step and have the duodenal switch. Last year, my health insurance company approved the two-surgery approach — the sleeve and the switch. The switch combines the gastrectomy with an intestinal bypass.

While the sleeve gastrectomy restricts the amount of food you can eat, the duodenal switch adds malabsorption as a tool for weight loss. Basically, the procedure reduces the path food takes through your digestive system, restricting the amount of nutrition your small intestine can absorb from food.

I’ve decided not to have the duodenal switch, at least not now. The bleeding complication I had a year ago scared the hell out of me, and I swore at that moment, “I’m not going through this again!”

Either way — whether I have the new procedure or not — it’s a lot of work. People think bariatric surgery is the easy way to lose weight, but there’s nothing easy about it. The struggle continues.

So I’ll give it another year. I’ll try to build on my successes, reshape my new lifestyle, stay active and use the new tool I have — the sleeve — to shed more pounds. In another year, I can collect my thoughts and reevaluate my situation. Then I’ll know better whether not having the duodenal switch was a good choice.

Cheers, my friends. Keep the faith, talk to each other about your struggles and keep moving on your own journey, wherever it leads.

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