“I wasn’t hungry, but I still wanted to eat.”
Elizabeth Wolinsky was 29 in early 2011 when she decided to have LAP-BAND surgery. Although she wasn’t suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, or any other obesity-linked conditions that lead many women to consider bariatric surgery, she was tired of the number on the scale. “I’ve struggled with weight my entire life it’s always been something I wanted to do,” she says.
Unfortunately, the procedure—which creates a smaller stomach “pouch” by placing an inflatable band around the upper portion of the stomach—didn’t turn out exactly as she hoped. While she did lose a lot of weight, about a year and a half later the band eroded into her stomach. In other words, her body tried to reject the band by building up scar tissue around it, which is one of the possible (yet rare) risks of the surgery, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. “I couldn’t eat or drink anything because there was all this scar tissue building up around the band,” says Wolinsky. “It was making the band really tight, and I threw up for weeks.” In the middle of 2013, she had emergency surgery to remove the band.
Within eight months, Wolinsky regained all weight she lost—and then some. At 345 pounds, “I’d had enough,” she says. “I had a long conversation with my doctor about gastric bypass versus the band, and after doing a lot of research, I knew 100 percent that I wanted to do it.”
Despite the complications with her prior surgery, Wolinsky says she wasn’t too worried. With gastric bypass, the size of the stomach is decreased by creating a small pouch where the top portion of the stomach is divided from the rest of the stomach, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. The small intestine is then divided and connected to the new stomach pouch.
In October 2014, she underwent a laparoscopic gastric bypasswith the same bariatric surgeon in Atlanta who removed her band.
Now, having tried out both types of surgical weight loss methods, here are a few things Wolinsky wishes she knew about gastric bypass and its side effects before she did it.
1. “The pain isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
From the outside, gastric bypass is more intense than lap band surgery: After all, they’re actually detaching a part of your digestive system. “I thought [it] would be a lot more painful and a lot longer recovery period,” says Wolinsky. “And while the recovery was longer, it wasn’t more painful. As far as surgeries I’ve had, it was pretty easy.”
2. “Being pumped full of air hurt the most.”
In any minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgery (like gastric bypass), doctors don’t cut you wide open. Instead, they insert small surgical tools into a tiny incision and use a camera to operate from the outside. In order to see and maneuver around, they pump some carbon dioxide into your body around the part that’s being operated on. So in the case of gastric bypass, it’s pumped into your stomach and intestines. Although the gas is let out before the incision is closed, inevitably, a tiny bit gets trapped inside. So patients are asked to keep moving immediately after surgery to help the body move the air out. “Even though you just got out of surgery and you’re tired and in pain, you have to keep walking,” says Wolinsky. “You feel the air travel upward, toward your shoulder. It’s 10 times more painful than your body actually healing from surgery.” Working out all of the CO2 took a few days. “I’m really goal-oriented, so I just breathed deeply and thought about my goal to get through it,” she says.
3. “There was a tube hanging out of my stomach for a week.”
For a week after gastric bypass surgery, many patients have a bag hanging outside of the body connected to a thin tube attached to the stomach; this allows any excess fluids to drain from the abdomen, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. And every day you have to clean it, Wolinsky says. “It’s excruciatingly difficult,” she says. “It’s such a gross and painful feeling, knowing it’s attached to an organ in your body and you can see it.” Fortunately, Wolinsky’s aunt is a nurse and helped her to clean the port until it was removed.