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 “When Things Go Wrong”


Barbara Thompson

Something I have always been known for is my honesty.  It comes through in my book and certainly when I speak to patients. In this issue of my e-newsletter, I would like to address what most people are reluctant to talk about and that is what about when things go wrong.  Weight loss surgery is not without its risks and people should be fully informed when they make the decision to proceed.  Surgeons call this concept  ďInformed ConsentĒ and this is a requirement of the National Institutes of Health before surgery can be performed.

Sometimes I wonder about our reluctance to talk about the bad things.  It is like we are being disloyal to this surgery if we acknowledge the risks. Or perhaps we will have the bad things visit us if we mention them.  Or perhaps we hear enough old and outdated horror stories that are no longer applicable that we feel this constant need to defend the surgery.  Whatever the reason, we do need to recognize the risks.  Now let me make this perfectly clear. It is certainly not my intention to discourage anyone from having the surgery.  I believe more strongly every day that this surgery is our greatest hope for a normal healthy life.

Weight loss surgery is an incredible life saving procedure for thousands of people.  It is truly the only cure for our horrible disease and is our only chance for a normal life. The RNY and the VBG have actually been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health as an effective treatment for morbid obesity.  But there are many factors that come into play during a surgical procedure that can affect the final outcome.  Members of the surgical team are human beings and humans are not perfect.  There are risks with any surgery and some surgeons are better than others.  And being human, some surgeons have their good and bad days.  Mistakes can happen.

But the risks to not have the surgery need to be considered as well. Morbidly obese people are at a very high-risk of life threatening problems.  

Without the surgery we are:

12 Times more likely to die suddenly
10 Times more likely to have diabetes
6 Times more likely to have heart disease

Morbidly obese people are
at a much greater risk of developing:

Respiratory problems
Gall bladder disease
Sleep apnea

I had a conversation recently with a wonderful woman from California who had a terrible time following weight loss surgery.  That conversation brought back memories of my own surgery and is what compelled me to address this issue. I was terrified before my surgery.  What if I died during the surgery?  What if I just didnít wake up? But I did wake up, and I thought I was home free. Well I was told that I had a leak.  As it turned out, I didnít, but I spent a week with nothing by mouth while I endured multiple tests to be sure that everything was OK. I was frightened, but it all worked out well for me.  But it didnít work out well for the woman in California.  Perhaps this is why I was so touched by her. I dodged the bullet. She did not.

She researched her surgery very thoroughly, got through it, but then the problems started.  She couldnít keep anything down.  She had three endoscopies and her stoma would just immediately re-close.  She has been on a feeding tube for a year and during that time she almost died. Her surgeon just didnít seem to take her problem seriously enough.  She finally found another surgeon who repaired the damage done by the first surgeon.  It took him 9 hours of surgery to do it. She is still on the feeding tube but has just started to eat some solid food. But the ordeal has taken its toll. She is now 5 pounds underweight, but her weight loss is finally slowing.  She has just about come out the other side but it has been difficult on her and on her family.

She is the exception Ė absolutely.  But there are so many things about her story that are unfortunate.  The two things that stand out most are her original surgeonís attitude and her online support group that did not support her. She almost died and nobody listened. Whenever she would mention her ordeal on the Internet, she was flamed. She had no support when she was crying out for help. 

So why am I writing this?  I am writing to tell you that weight loss surgery is a fabulous cure, but there are risks. But you are at a greater risk staying morbidly obese. If you have problems, donít panic, but do listen to your instincts. And donít blame yourself and donít feel like a failure if you do have problems. We have spent enough years feeling like a failure.  If you have problems, donít just say that you have failed again. Get help, even if it means finding another surgeon. During our local monthly support group, the question often comes up inquiring how long it took people before they went back to work following surgery.  People will proudly say, ďI went back to work in 2 weeks,Ē or ďI went back to work in 10 days.Ē  I always jump up and say that I went back to work in six weeks.  And I tell people if they are taking longer to heal, not to think that they are failing.  It is not a contest and we all react a bit differently. 

I didnít have the nerve to ask the woman from California if she is happy that she had the surgery.  At this point, she would probably say, no.  Now that she is finally healing and as the memory of her awful ordeal starts to fade in time, I hope that she will someday give thanks for this surgery. My heart goes out to her and I wish her the very best.

In the meantime, if you are the one having problems, be your own best friend by understanding that it is not your failing.  And if you encounter someone who is having problems, reach out your arms to embrace and comfort them.  We are a worldwide community of patients and are all in this together. We need to help and support each other when there are problems and celebrate when there is success.


Copyright © 2000-2013 Barbara Thompson All Rights Reserved