Lisa Sargese: Gastric Band Nightmare

Though I am very pro-WLS, not all of us have had very good experiences with our WLS. In fact mine has been a complete disaster and I am hoping to revise.

Unfortunately Lisa Sargese has had an even worse experience.

However we need to hear ALL the info about WLS so we can make INFORMED decisions about our health.

Lisa is “a daily blogger, college professor, counselor, Health at Every Size(sm) advocate and weight loss surgery survivor who embraces the nourishing tradition of eating real food off the farm! ……..Lisa holds two Master’s degrees. Lisa received the ‘Mirror Mirror’ Award in 2009 for her work in body positivity.”

I know you’ll appreciate Lisa’s story about her gastric banding experience.

Lisa’s Gastric Banding Story

Note: In 1988 I was one of the first recipients of the adjustable gastric band as a patient of Lubomyr Kuzmak who practiced in NJ. The FDA was in the process of approving the adjustable gastric band for use beyond the experimental stage. My band was replaced in 1993 after leaking out all of it’s saline rendering it unable to be adjusted. I received a second gastric band, FDA approved and improved. The port flipped over after surgery and rendered the band unadjustable. I lived with it for another 13 years. This type of WLS ( Weight Loss Surgery ) is now called the lap band indicating that it is surgically installed via laproscopy.

“…we must embrace failure;
we must glory in the very
that yield
~ Tom Peters from Re-Imagine

I’m the queen of murk, muck and mess.
If Peters is right, I’ll soon be the queen of success.

I’ve screwed up royally.
Made bad decisions.
Paid the price.

And I’m not sorry.

As a matter of fact, I’m SOOO not sorry, that I can’t imagine doing things differently and still being the person I am today.

My mother will sometimes try to make me admit that I did something “stupid” and I put the word in quotes because, yes, she uses the actual word stupid, but also because I refuse to cop to it.

For instance, how stupid it was to spend all that money and go through everything I went through with the gastric banding operations beginning back in 1988. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t go through that again, would I?

Well, the key phrase is “knowing what I know now.”
I only KNOW what I KNOW NOW because I got through what I went through.
I wasn’t stupid for not knowing.
A toddler isn’t stupid for falling when they’re trying to learn to walk.
A scientist isn’t stupid for trying a certain combination of chemicals to form a potentially life saving drug.

Being one of the first recipients of the adjustable gastric band back in 1988 as part of Dr. Kuzmack’s test group to gain FDA approval for that particular weight loss surgery device was pretty brave on my part.

I was desperate.
I had gained over 100 pounds in a year’s time.
Looking back, I see a number of factors that contributed to this drastic weight gain.

– I moved out of my parents’ house. I was now in full control of what I put into my mouth. No mother-imposed diets, no “who ate all the ___ ?” from my father. I ate like a kid whose parents are away for the weekend, only they were away for good. It didn’t help that I was moonlighting at a movie theatre behind the popcorn stand. It didn’t help that movie theatre popcorn slathered in fake butter was one of my favorite foods in the whole world. It didn’t help that I could eat buckets of it and never get tired of the taste. The unlimited candy supply didn’t help either.

– I was on a too-high dose of a too-strong antidepressant called Imipramine (Tofranil) that caused severe rebound depression, weight gain and intense side effects upon any attempt at withdrawal.

– I was living with an emotionally abusive roommate who resented me for, well, just about everything from my gender to my personality.

– I hated my day job. Quit, then fell into extreme depression.

– I smoked pot during the day, at night, every day and every night and binge ate till I passed out.

– My abusive roommate resented my self-destructive behavior and berated me for it. I remember standing at the refrigerator asking him if he was going to eat a certain container of leftovers. He threw me a dirty look and said, “Go ahead,” then under his breath, “don’t choke on it.” I ate it anyway.

Yet, part of me wanted to save myself. I knew I had a problem and I tried to help myself. I recognized that my binge-eating disorder relied on my feeling sick, full and incapacitated. My research on weight-loss surgeries (and when I say “research” I mean pre-internet research where I went to the library and looked it up on microfilm, microfiche, newspapers, journals, books, magazines, etc.) gave me hope.

The gastric banding created a small pouch above the rest of the stomach. This pouch would fill up quickly with very little food and the patient would feel “full” and “satisfied” the same way one feels when one’s stomach is full under normal circumstances.

This seemed to be the heaven-sent answer for me.
I could trick myself out of this expanding spiral of weight gain by continuing to provide myself with an overly full feeling on a 10th of the amount of food.

I aggressively pursued the surgery.

My mother paid the surgeon’s fee. My father scowled and detached from the entire process saying what I was doing was unnatural and all I needed was some willpower.
Charity Care paid for the hospital fees. I weighed about 280 at the time.

This surgery was NOT laparoscopic. He gutted me from stem to stern like a fish. The incision was a full 12 inches long (I just pulled out a ruler and measured the railroad track scar on my torso). Healing was painful. They kept me in the hospital for 10 days post op because my lungs wouldn’t clear up. I ran a low grade fever for days. The nurses were unkind. They scolded me for not wanting to get up out of bed. They scolded me for the condition of my lungs. They scolded me for keeping baby food in a drawer next to my bed. The pureed chicken they tried to feed me made me sick just to smell it. They had no sympathy.

Even the surgeon himself said he knew I had sneaked in food from the outside.
I protested that I wasn’t trying to sneak anything, that the hospital food was disgusting.
What was the difference if I ate pureed fruit from a jar or pureed crap off my hospital tray?
Wasn’t all pureed, baby-food consistency stuff created equal?

He told me I was trying to cheat the surgery.

It didn’t seem to matter to anyone that I couldn’t hold down any food at all whether it was my contraband baby food or the putrid hospital meat. He was happy I was puking. As long as I was holding down water, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t eat.

A few days post-op made me realize that I had been lied to.
There was no “full” feeling or satiety.
There was only pain, like swallowing a whole peach pit and having it lodge in my esophagus.
The peach pit feeling happened immediately upon ingesting anything, including water.
Water, food, anything sat there at the small opening to my stomach trying to fight it’s way through the tiny passage way made super-tight by the restrictive band.

If I moved around, danced and burped, eventually liquids and certain soft foods would get past the band. They sent me home in that condition.

I ate and puked for a year.
I lost 100 pounds.

But, and who doesn’t love a big but…the puking did some serious damage to my insides. The band itself was digging into my stomach. The involuntary vomiting caused swelling and irritation that wouldn’t abate. The doctor had to keep loosening the band so that I wouldn’t dehydrate from lack of fluids.

How was this adjustable gastric band tightened and loosened? The band itself was inflatable with saline solution. Imagine a stretchy belt around your waist, an inner-tube style belt that is full of water. If more water is injected inside the belt the belt gets tighter. Let some water out and the belt gets looser.

The gastric band could be tightened or loosened by the injection or withdrawal of the saline solution through a reservoir attached by thin tubing to the band itself. The reservoir sat under my skin near my navel. A giant exray machine hovered over me as the doc watched a TV screen that directed him where to stick the giant needle that would inject or withdraw the saline.

Over the course of that year he withdrew the saline several times until the band itself was empty. The daily puking was irritating my stomach lining so badly that it swelled to the point of not allowing even water to pass through. The only hope of loosening the band was to replace it.

Eventually the surgeon had to open me up, same 12 inch incision, and surgically adjust the band. That’s when more problems started. He decided that as long as he had me “open” he’d replace the old band with a newer model. Bad move.

The newer model failed. It sprang a leak inside me. It couldn’t be tightened at all. I was able to eat normally and I started to gain weight back.

No way to fix it without surgery. He gutted me again to replace the band entirely. This time, the reservoir flipped over inside me and he couldn’t get the needle in to tighten or loosen the band. Again, no way to fix it without surgery.

I threw my hands up.
I was tired of the surgeries.
Tired of the stem to stern incisions.
Tired of the vomiting and restrictive eating.

I imagined being free of the band, of being able to eat raw vegetables and salads, whole grains, brown rice, fruit!

I decided to try to lose the weight naturally by eating right.
I decided to get away from my abusive roommate and move in with my boyfriend.

Another mess.
My ne’re do well boyfriend cheated on me relentlessly.
He was a demon to live with.
My eating was out of control again.

That was 1994, the year I started Montclair State University as a freshman majoring in Philosophy. One good decision among many bad ones. Bad food choices, mostly.

The band inside me allowed anything I wanted to pass through so binge eating was my drug of choice. The scar tissue from the multiple surgeries caused thick, web-like scar tissue inside me giving me a chronic cough, GERD and every once in a while, spontaneous vomiting. Removing it is what caused such trouble for me back in August 2006 when my brilliant surgeon, Dr. Daniel Davis, went in laparoscopically to remove it and do a magical gastric bypass on me to save my life.

Sure, I could say getting the gastric band was a stupid thing to do, but why would I do that?
In hindsight, I would not have done it, but that’s hindsight.
Having already learned the hard lessons, it’s easy to look back and say “I shouldn’t have.”

I’m where I am now as a product of my mistakes, a product of my hard life lessons, a product of my past.

I’m not stupid, I’m learning.

I failed so that I could succeed.

I wouldn’t trade all the wading through the muck and murk for an easier path because then I wouldn’t have learned as much.

Thank God for my muck, murk and mess.
Thank God for my hard lessons.

Now it’s time to innovate.
Time to succeed.

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One Response to Lisa Sargese: Gastric Band Nightmare

  1. Lowinsky,beats detox Henry Leland Clarke, Robert Middleton, George Rochberg, Peter Eliot Stone, and Henry Weinberg.

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