A chapter from my book ‘My Big Fat Fat’ (2018)
A humorous and touching account for those losing or coping with excess weight. With her laugh-out-loud humor, Samantha Dee covers all subjects from beauticians to socks in this easy to read A to Z guide on weight loss, maintenance, and ways to nourish your self-esteem.
G is for… Gastric Band
Ah, I’ve skirted around this subject wondering how to open it. But after last night I know: Unless you are right in the head, and can deal with this permanent, lifelong thing, DON’T do it.
I have a Gastric Band. Let me share my experience.
I had severely low self-esteem at the time I started researching the Gastric Band, in 2009. My auntie came with me to see my doctor, who basically said that I wasn’t fat enough (I needed to be over a certain weight, despite already being 100 pounds overweight at the time of my visit) or ill enough (I had to have Diabetes, and didn’t) for a Gastric Band.
I hadn’t sobbed so hard in front of a stranger my entire life than on that particular day.
Despite that set back, I still went ahead with the thing privately. I researched for weeks and I found a private company who were offering Gastric Bands for about six thousand pounds.
My auntie (who was also my Godmother) offered to lend me the money. I was earning well by then, so managed to pay her back quickly. I made a video of my pre-op shopping list (as you do when you’re a ‘YouTuber’ – as this was to be my life for at least three months, post-op:
Chewable calcium, chewable vitamins, chewable vitamin-C, chewable B vitamins, Gaviscon, Rennie Deflatine, a smoothie maker, ‘smart’ scales with body fat BMI monitor, a hand liquidiser, measuring spoons and cups, the Weight Loss Surgery for Dummies book (which should have been called …IS for Dummies), the Recipes for Life After Weight Loss Surgery book (which I haven’t read to this day), the Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery book (ditto), vanilla whey protein powder, pineapple juice (I have no idea why this specifically, I can’t remember), skimmed milk, bottled water, meal replacement drinks, hot chocolate drink sachets, fruit smoothie drinks, sugar-free jelly pots, coffee drinks, dream topping/whipped desserts and non-fat yoghurts.
My first consultancy visit, was with a Consultant Surgeon in Southampton, who had a face like a slapped ass, and manners to match. She was utterly un-interested in me, my problems, or my reasons for getting a Gastric Band. She literally sighed before she started talking, and to this day, I don’t remember what she said, I just remember wanting to be out of there as quickly as possible.
My operation was booked for the 26th of January 2010, and my father drove me up to the hospital in Manchester where I was to have the op. We stayed in a hotel. We arrived at the hospital the next day at 8 a.m. and, after discovering that a ‘meal replacement’ drink didn’t count as liquids (Nil-by-Mouth for 24 hours obviously), I was shifted to being last on the list for that day.
We waited in my hospital room for eight hours. During that time, I was measured for compression stockings and the anesthetist visited. When the time came for my op, I changed into the sexy, backless, cotton gown and was walked down to theatre. I was put onto the operating table and lay there for at least ten minutes, absolutely alert and conscious, while everyone was milling around getting instruments and whatnot. I remember thinking, You had better knock me out right now or I’m walking. There’s something very wrong about being awake in an operating room.
After the op, I had to spend the night in the hospital, which I absolutely hated. I hate hospitals. All that artificial heating. I remember Dad coming in and I asked him to open a window. It was so hot and stuffy in there. Not long after he left, a nurse came in and closed the window again.
The next day I was offered tea and yoghurt and the surgeon came around to see me. Again, I don’t remember much about what he said except, ‘Your liver was huge!’ (They have to lift the liver to get to the stomach where the band is attached.) And that I was to be on soup and liquids only for fourteen days. After a month, I’d have to make an appointment for an ‘x-ray fill’, which is when they inflate the band with fluid to make it ‘active’.
The drive back was traumatic. My poor Father had to deal with me yelping whenever he drove over a bump in the road and eventually we had to stop so that I could take some painkillers for the remainder of the three-hour trip.
For a couple of days afterwards, I had severe pain around the shoulders (the gastric area is inflated with gas to perform the keyhole surgery, and the pain was from the gas rising to expel from my body). For three days, I had to inject myself in the stomach with Heparin. Post surgery exercise shows how desperately ill I was.
A few months on from the operation, on the 6th of March 2010, I re-visited the hospital for my first fill. Called the ‘x-ray fill’, this is where you stand in front of an x-ray machine, so that the consultant can stick a needle into your band port and fill it with liquid. I felt like I was in The Matrix.
I arrived on time. When I was called, the guy didn’t say, ‘Hello’, didn’t say, ‘How have you been?’ Nothing. There was no consultation whatsoever.
After some prodding and poking, I was told that I couldn’t have my first fill, as my port (which ‘sits’ flat in the tissue of your stomach near the surface) had healed sideways so I’d have to have another operation to re-position the port, so that it was facing outwards and flat.
On the 14th of April 2010, I had another operation to re-position the port. I hated that hospital too, and refused to stay the night there. I had just discovered my boyfriend’s profile on a dating website, so, you know. Not great timing. I was stressed, anxious, hot. I remember that day as bordering an all-out panic attack in the hospital room until my wonderful Dad came to get me.
I had my first ‘proper’ fill on the 3rd of June 2010. I have a 14cc band and it was filled to 7.5ccs. Post fill, I had to be on liquids for a couple of days, then soft foods (bananas, etc.), and then ‘normal’ food.
Now, let me tell you something about the band and what it does. The band basically is an inflatable band around the top of your stomach (think swimming arm bands). When you eat, the food sits just above the band in a much smaller space and makes you feel full on much less food. Two days after my first fill, eating half a banana felt like I’d stuffed a three-course meal.
The amount of fluid in your band will gradually increase until ‘optimal’. The way you know what ‘optimal’ is: if you drink water and spit it back up (a semi-puke) – your band is too tight.
Since there was no post-op care at the private hospital I went to, or available on the NHS, I had to find a community of ‘banders’ to answer simple questions like,
‘Does this feel right?’;
‘How much should I have my band filled,’ or
‘What happens when you have a ‘stuck’ issue?’
It was this community I found on YouTube.
‘Stucks’ are really awful. Basically, you have to chew your food three times as much as you normally would (that’s at least twenty times) and eat much slower, assessing if you’re full, and stopping when you are.
If you don’t, extremely serious complications will occur, and you will be unable to ingest anything, even water, until the piece of food you haven’t chewed properly either comes up, or goes down. Eventually, permanent damage can ensue, or much worse: the whole area (the ‘pouch’ above the band) can collapse over on itself and could prove fatal.
Equally, if you eat too quickly, the same will happen. It starts with feeling like you’ve got a lump in your throat, only slightly lower. Then your mouth starts watering (like it does right before you’re about to puke), depending on the seriousness of the event, you will start spitting foam, and then the proper puking happens.
Only it’s not stomach-acid puke, it’s basically all the food you chewed and swallowed, with this really gunky saliva that’s thicker than spit and really elastic. This will go on until you upchuck the piece of food that got stuck. After that, you generally feel pukey and shaky for hours afterwards. It’s not uncommon to also suffer headaches.
My worst ‘stuck’ episode started when I was at work one day. I’d pre-prepared daily salads including chopped cucumber. There was one thin slice of cucumber that I hadn’t chewed up properly as I was eating too quickly. I was spitting foam and gagging for about eight hours from that point.
I was pretty scared, so I phoned the independent nurse who had visited my home for regular fills, and she said to hold on to the top of a door and drink tea as hot as I could manage (not at the same time) to try and work the piece of food through, or out.
Eventually, the piece came out. I was exhausted, felt wretched, and rarely made the same mistake again. In fact, I’ve never eaten cucumber since. I even photographed the piece that came up. (People Facebook everything these days, don’t they?)
After that, as I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to begin with, I just kept on ‘testing’ the band.
Whilst I never recreated cucumber-gate, I aggravated the band so much that I inflamed the area around it, which eventually caused serious episodes of acid reflux at times when I wasn’t eating. At one time, it occurred while I was driving (see Acid Reflux*), and that was my turning-point: I had to get the band ‘de-activated’.
Deactivation means that I had all but 1cc of fluid taken out of my band. I can never have the band removed without other possible serious complications and life-changes.
Seven years on, I still get reminded that I have a gastric band, albeit a deactivated one. I still can’t eat big meals; I can’t eat anything too quickly, and I must chew my food to within an inch of its life.
Last night, I ate two turkey steaks, and I didn’t chew them up properly, or eat slowly enough. That was at about 8 p.m. I was gagging and puking ‘til 10.30 p.m., then I went to bed with a sick bag. I woke up still feeling shaky and ‘pukey,’ so I went downstairs and drank some water (to purposefully induce puking, to try and dislodge the stuck food). I puked some more at 11 p.m. My alarm went off for work at five a.m., and I felt queasy, shaky, and generally unwell.
If you’re warped enough psychologically, you’re always going to try and ‘cheat’ the system. My thoughts last night, while puking, were, Wow, I wish this was cookie dough ice-cream. Turkey escalope with garlic butter and parmesan crumb was not the nicest thing to have to taste twice.
It seems I can even have a sense of humour when I’m putting my health (and career) in jeopardy for my frequent ‘howling’ at the toilet bowl.
But seriously, goodness, please don’t do it. It’s just too permanent and life-changing.
* See Also: Acid Reflux