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Friday, May 21, 2010

Please Think Less of Me

There's nothing duller than talking about personal health ailments. Forgive me if you have been following my weight loss exploits on Facebook and have heard most of this before, but lots of people asked about it at Grand Lodge this week. So I'll repeat it all here. Then I'll shut up about it.

Yep, 275 pounds. I didn't get this way by playin'.
Or by moving, for that matter.

The truth is, I'm a short little squirt.

Doesn't bother me, really. I grew up with a "little" brother who wound up at 6'10", so I never festered with a Napoleon complex. And for the first half of my life, I wasn't a butterball. But over the last decade or so, my weight has ballooned. Much of it has to do with going from film production work to sitting in front of a computer all day and night, and eating literally all of the wrong things, in industrial portions. (They pack Pringles in a can, so you can drink them.) Until now, it has been far easier to answer a doctor's demand that I get in shape with quips like, "Round is a shape. Yuk, yuk, yuk," than to actually do something about it.

The result is that I swelled up like a tick on a coonhound, to well more than twice the size I should be, and along with that have come all the usual suspects: high blood pressure, congestive heart, diabetes, swollen cankles like Hillary Clinton's, the inability to see my own feet, and invitations to play the "Underdog" balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. After several years of dieting and losing the same 25 pounds, only to watch them come piling back on again with 10 of their friends like a bunch of sugared-up third graders at a Chinese smorgasbord, I decided to take a different approach.

Besides, I was tired of being followed by 8 guys in a rowboat armed with harpoons.

On May 6th, I went in to the hospital for lap band surgery. Lap band is a kind of bariatric surgery that does NOT have anything to do with stapling your stomach or rearranging your internal plumbing. It is a laparoscopic procedure that wraps a plastic ring, sort of like a wide wire wrap, around the top portion of your stomach to make it look like the first twist in a party balloon poodle sculpture, creating a restriction that only allows about 4 ounces of room at the top to fill up. Sort of like a gastric version of an LA cop chokehold.

The simplified cartoon version of the lap band in place.

As you digest, your lunch will make it through the restriction eventually, but the general effect is that your stomach simply won't be large enough anymore to contain three helpings of lasagna, a canned ham, cheese fries, a birthday cake and a six-pack of Bud Light. The ring itself has an expandable inner sleeve that can be adjusted larger or smaller through a sort of tire valve stem hidden under your skin. So if you are losing weight too fast, it can be opened up, and if you are not losing enough, it can be tightened.

My starting weight was 275. Yes, thanks very much, I worked very hard to get there. My goal is back to where I should be, at 140, or about half the man I am. Metaphorically, I mean. Realistically, I should expect 100 pounds off in a year. Once my system gets used to the band being in place and everything heals properly, I can eat most things, as long as I realize my new stomach capacity is 4 oz. for the rest of my life. That's one half cup. Which means I'll be taking home lots of to-go boxes and acting like a crazy old man bitching that the portions are always too big. And no more of the ubiquitous Diet Dr. Pepper cans most of you are used to seeing me with - carbonated drinks make your stomach inflate, dontcha know.

As a means of comparison, my friend and Masonic brother Michael D. Virgin recently had the more radical gastric bypass surgery on March 11th, and is already down about 73 pounds. Michael is taller than I am and started out at 495 pounds, so our situations are considerably different. He is chronicling his progress at www.confessionsofasoontobeformerfatty.com

Lap band, by contrast, is a simpler procedure, requiring five small incisions, that does not radically alter your digestive system. As a result, it provides slower weight loss than gastric bypass surgery does. But its incidence of complications and death is much smaller than gastric bypass—frankly, statistically insignificant on a worldwide scale. It is also considerably less expensive. You go home the next day, and recovery is much faster. Gastric bypass surgery can make you lose weight TOO fast, which can cause other problems. But because the lap band is adjustable, if you develop problems because of rapid weight loss, it can be deflated, and the loss can be slowed. And it can, if absolutely necessary, be completely removed.

In any case, bear with me over the next few months as I adapt to this new lifestyle. There may be some crankiness involved. Step one was a liquid diet for two weeks on both sides of the surgery. I stepped up to "mushy food" for the last five days (anything that could be poured out of a blender without the use of a spatula), and now progress to "soft food" (anything that can be cut with a plastic fork). Hormel chili and their roast beef hash are haute cuisine this week. As of today, I'm down 33 pounds.

My first post op appointment was today, and I was informed that I need to faithfully eat no more than 4 ounces at a sitting, from now on. Once the doctor starts filling the band insert, the opening will be not much larger than a pencil eraser. Puking on complete strangers is no fun - it's like being at a Phillies game. Occasionally, I want a Ritz cracker so badly, I would gladly mug a third world grocer for it. But most of the food cravings ended a month ago when I started on the liquid diet. I carefully explained that my life currently consists of driving for days on end and speaking at beef and chicken banquets. It was carefully explained back that, while the surgeon said I should be able to eventually eat steak again, he is not the person who gets the crying 3 AM phone calls that a piece of steak was stuck in the band, unable to go down or come up for four days.

The big lessons today were: don't get cocky that I have been able to swallow things easily this week, because that will soon come to an end; chew everything until it is pulverized before swallowing; and that a four ounce plate of roast beef hash should take 25 minutes to eat.

My surgeon was Dr. Keith McEwen at Riverview Hospital in Noblesville, and he has done more of these procedures than anyone in the state of Indiana. If you are interested in the procedure, info can be found here: http://www.lapband.com/

My father just turned 92. If I don't change the way I'm living, I won't have a chance at getting even close to that. If I lose the kind of weight I need to, the fist full of pills, the five shots of insulin every day, the sleep apnea, the aches and pains, will likely go away. Lap band, or for that matter any kind of bariatric surgery, is not some magic wand that effortlessly cures all ills. It's a tool that forces you to do what your brain and lack of will power won't. If you want to be a total schlub, you can go through all of this, and then ignore being full, start jamming down the food again, stretching it all back out, and gain it back. I have no illusions about what it can and cannot do.

This is a long way of explaining why I'll be regularly picking at my Masonic dinners and turning down free beer from now on. I will endeavor to not become that annoying zealot who lectures about health, diet and exercise. I won't bore you with the blow-by-blow, but will report on occasion for those interested in this procedure.

The first guy who says, "It's not a diet, it's a live-it" gets a punch in the nose.


  1. Good luck Brother Chris! Being a Freemason is not conducive to losing weight, I'm in a similar boat myself.

  2. We all weighed 110 pounds when we joined this fraternity. There's something in all those green beans.

  3. Chris ...hey I like this! You made me laugh on several occasions throughout the blog. Laughter is great medicine for such a tough subject to discuss! I will enjoy following your blog through your weightloss jouney with the LapBand Journey and Dr McEwen.

  4. Chris, I've been working at it the hard way for the last couple of years. It takes a certain amount of persistence, patience, and a helluva a lot of will power.

    Maybe you can start a Masonic "Biggest Loser" trend. You might pick up momentum.

    Especially if we could get Jillian Michaels on board :-)

  5. Good luck sir! Please accept my sincere wishes for your success.

    The Journal would not be the same without you.

  6. Brother Chris: God be with you. The Fraternity needs you for at least another 50 years. Be well.

  7. Chris:

    My Brother, health be with you. Eat well, but healthy and smart. Finally, if you should suddenly show up at our monthly stated, please either ignore or join in our scheduled pig out, er, gluttony, er, planned dinner. Besides, there aren't any calories in Braunschweiger, roast pork, baron of beef, salami, or potato salad, is there?


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