I've toyed around with the idea of doing YouTube videos. But I'm just not sure if that is the way that I want to document this weight loss surgery journey, or maybe I'm just a little shy. I hate the sound of my own voice, so doing a video so that you guys have to listen to my voice seems excruciatingly painful. I know that YouTube is a popular outlet right now. But part of me is old school and just likes old fashioned writing.
I'm 6 days post-op, off from work and resting and feeling great. I figure it's time to let everyone know how I'm doing and post some pictures in a place that is easy for everyone to access. I have been amazed at how many people are interested in hearing how things went. Or interested in hearing about surgery in Mexico, or just weight loss surgery in general.
I left for Tijuana on Thursday, November 15th, 2018. My flight left Jacksonville around 6 a.m., so I got up at 3 a.m. to get ready to go to the airport. That's also when I decided to do my surgery day weigh-in.
So for everyone who's dying to find out, my official starting surgery weight was 299.8. My starting pre-op weight was 308.6, so I met my goal of weighing under 300 pounds before surgery.
On that Thursday, I flew first to Dallas and then had a layover. Then I flew the rest of the way to San Diego. Let me just say also that flying sucks when you are fat. For the first part of the flight I was squeezed into a seat between two people. Totally uncomfortable the whole time. On my second flight to San Diego I had grace because someone did not show up so there was a seat between me and the person beside me. And they had free in-flight movies so that was a bonus. Since I could not eat or drink anything since midnight, I was sooooo thirsty during the flight.
When I finally got to San Diego, I was so excited. But everything went like clockwork. I received a call about a week before surgery with specific instructions on what to do when I got to the airport. The person also confirmed my flight itinerary. I was supposed to text someone from the transportation team and let them know where I was waiting. They picked me up a few minutes later. There were other people there as well, which was a bit of a surprise because I thought I had already became acquainted to all the folks having surgery on the same day I was. Turns out there was at least two more having surgery, and one person who had to get there a day early. (Those with certain medical condition, high BMI, and patients over 50 have to arrive a day early for additional testing).
One of my honest goals for this experience was to be present for every single thing. This is my first time out of the country, so I wanted to absorb all that I could. It was a beautiful day and gorgeous weather in San Diego. The palm trees reminded me so much of Florida. I was so excited, and so at east on the way to the surgery center. Everything just continued to fall into place.
Getting over the border from San Diego to Mexico was very easy. They don't even stop you. It only took about 20 minutes to get to the surgery center. As you can see in the following picture, I chose Pompeii Surgical for my VSG surgery. When you arrive, there's a lot of paperwork to fill out and sign and this is when you also pay your money. But they are very organized and the process was seamless. We even had fun and took some pictures.
As far as the facility itself, it looks exactly like a US surgical center. Impeccably clean, you could smell the bleach as soon as we walked in. Most of the staff are proficient in English, and when they are not there is a translator with them at all times. Communication is not an issue here. Everyone is so kind and attentive. The fuss over you to make sure you are comfortable and well taken care of.
I was the fifth person having an operation that day. There were surgeries total. There were two surgeons working that day. Dr. Quinones did my surgery. Dr. Saucedo was also on staff that day and did my roommates surgery. When they bring you to the room, they give you a hospital gown, booties, compression stockings, and a hat to put on.
Green is my favorite color so I took that as a good sign. After I changed, someone came in and did my IV. Of course, since I was dehydrated from not having any fluids for over 12 hours, it was hard for them to find my veins. But I'm used to that so it did not alarm me at all. Finally someone found a good one in the bend of my arm (of course). During this time they put another person in the room with me who had also rode in with me from the airport. Her name was Hannah and she was super sweet. Her mom, Missy, was her companion. Hannah was actually number three or four on the list because she went and had her surgery as soon as she was changed and her IV was done.
The entire Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy takes about 45 to 50 minutes. And then about an hour in recovery. So not long after Hannah came back down from surgery, it was my turn. Honestly the time went by pretty fast and I didn't feel like I was waiting that long. I was actually glad for some time to catch my breath. I visited with some other surgery sisters that I had got to know from the Facebook group. Never once did I feel nervous or anxious. I was ready.
Right before surgery my surgeon sat down and had a great conversation with me. He drew out a diagram of exactly what he would be doing. He gave me an opportunity to ask any questions that I had. I feel like I was pretty well-informed going in, so there were just a few things that I wanted to ask like what size bougie he was going to use. He explained that he likes using a 36-inch French bougie because anything smaller has more complications and doesn't usually yield more weight loss. If you are new to weight loss surgery and things like bougie size, I suggest you Google it. It's basically how they measure how big your new sleeve is going to be. But again, because of my research I knew that a 36 was a good size and would definitely allow me to have significant restriction and to lose weight.
After our conversation, the anesthesiologist came out and introduced himself to me. Let me also add that this anesthesiologist was the sexiest man that I've ever seen in my life! I know I probably had a goofy look on my face because I wanted to giggle like a schoolgirl. But I don't remember anything else after he put the mask on my face. Except for waking up in excruciating pain and with extreme nausea.
I could hear someone say, "Hollie open your eyes, Hollie open your eyes." But as soon as I opened my eyes I felt a wave of nausea and immediately started vomiting blood. It was horrendous. My whole abdomen felt like someone was standing on my chest due to gas. And then to have to vomit with all of that going on it was so painful. To top it all off, when I started vomiting I also pissed all over myself. They took me back down to my room, but the nausea did not go away. The nurse had to immediately change me into another hospital gown because I had vomited and peed on myself again while coming downstairs. (After my visit they will probably re-think not using catheters.)
I'll save you the details, but this cycle of me vomiting blood and pissing on myself lasted for at least the next 12 hours. All I remember about the first night was continuously having to get up make it to the bathroom to change hospital gowns, and so that the nurse could change my sheets. They tried to give me things in my IV to help with the nausea, but nothing helped. Thankfully I got a little bit of sleep in between the bouts of vomiting. The vomiting is foamy, dark blood. I am so glad that I was prepared for this to happen because I think I would have really been freaked out otherwise. I can't describe how tired I was, or even what was going through my head except for what the f*** is happening right now, and I wonder if they let my family know I was out of surgery. But I was completely out of it. Just out of it.
The vomiting finally let up on Friday morning, but I still felt like s***. Taking a shower helped. It felt good to change into my own night clothes and I also got an opportunity to check out my incisions.
They do two leak tests during surgery, and your third leak test is actually at an outside facility. So around 2 p.m. on Friday four of us piled into a suburban and drove to a Radiology Clinic to do a barium swallow. I was smart and brought one of those little kidney-shaped containers they give you to vomit in. But turns out I didn't need it. Even after the barium swallow, which was disgusting, I didn't vomit again. But I still felt really bad. So I came back to the facility and laid my ass down and slept for the rest of the evening until Dr. Q came to check on me. He went over the x-rays of the leak test and everything looked great. He also said I had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, so the nausea would only get better. We got to take the x-ray home with us.
Now one thing that people say over and over again, is that after surgery you need to walk, walk, walk so that you can get some of the gas out of your system. And even though my gas pains were really bad, I was just unable to walk. I was so tired and I just listened to my body and slept for as long as I could. I was so thankful for a comfortable hospital bed and pillows. When we got back from our leak test, we was offered ice chips and or a Popsicle. I finally got some ice chips later that evening but never had one of the popular Popsicles that everyone else was eating. There was no way in hell that I had a taste for a sweet ass Popsicle after all of the vomiting I had been doing.
I rested well on Friday evening, and even finally talked to my family and tried to return messages from people who were checking on me and getting kind of worried because I sort of fell off the face of the Earth for a day LOL. By the time I got up on Saturday morning, I was definitely feeling a little better. My IV had been removed around 4 a.m. because it was backed up. So they graciously took it out since it was going to come out soon anyway. That gave me a little freedom to walk around the facility without dragging around and IV pole.
Around 4am we were given purple apple juice to drink for our final leak test. After an hour or so if there was no purple dye in our surgical drain, we also got that removed. Of course, I passed and no more drain.
Saturday morning is when everyone who had surgery on Thursday was discharged to either go to the Holiday Inn, or to the beach Recovery House. Your stay at the Holiday Inn is included in the price of surgery. But if you want a more luxurious recovery experience, you can pay a little more to stay at the beach house. There are actually 3 beachfront condos in the same building that you can choose to stay in. Each one has three to four bedrooms and a shared living area. I actually opted to stay two nights at the Penthouse condo. And it ended up being a great decision. I needed that extra day to truly feel like traveling on Monday.
One of the advantages of staying at the beach house is it there is actually staff there that can help you with your post-op recovery. You even get a little cell phone to keep with you so you can call someone if you aren't feeling well or need something. They also escort you around so that you are never alone. If you bring a companion with you, they help them find good food and restaurant spots nearby. But most of those places deliver to the condo. When we first got there, Karina showed us how to make shots with broth and unflavored protein.
This little tiny cup of protein infused broth was literally the first real thing I had on my stomach since before surgery. And guess what? I promptly vomited it a few minutes after I drink it.
I would also like to point out right now that you don't actually drink anything after surgery, you sip. Little tiny baby sips. So far, it's taking a lot of getting used to. It's so weird after completely gulping everything my entire life.
On Saturday evening, one of the other staff members, Luis, came and picked us up and took us to do a little shopping in Rosarito. That is the beach community where we were staying. It was a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to get out and walk and get fresh air. But I totally went straight to sleep after we got back.
Saturday night I got an opportunity to hang out with friends I had made on Facebook who had the surgery the day I did. We were able to compare our experiences and just talk about the future and everything to come. We had came from all over the place... Nova Scotia, Texas and Mississippi.
Sunday morning my surgery buddies packed up and we're gone by 7 a.m. I had several hours to the house by myself (and with the cleaning person) to get my shower and freshen up. I actually spent most of the day Sunday being lazy and watching Netflix. I finished House of Cards (and it sucked). I also spent some time on the patio looking at the ocean because it was just beautiful.
I made it a point to start drinking as much water as I could possibly stomach. But it was so hard because I could only take tiny sips and I still had so much restriction at this point. And to be honest I still had this fear of getting nauseous and throwing up again. All in all I think I finally got about 24 oz of water in on Sunday and I thought that was good.
Early Sunday afternoon is when a new set of surgery buddies came to the condo. These new friends had their surgery the day after mine. I wasn't acquainted with any of these people, but you know I make friends quickly. One of the woman that I had met on the ride into the surgery center was staying downstairs. She had to come in a day early to have tests done, and we were fast friends because she is also an educator and funny as hell. I went shopping again that afternoon, and later on my friend came up she came up to hang out with us for a while.
I had fun getting to know these people as well! One woman was there all the way from Australia. One woman was also from Florida, then the other people lived in Utah and Kansas. We all went to bed fairy early because 7 a.m. comes pretty quickly. And the next morning it would be my the time to go back home. I packed everything and actually had a pretty good night sleep.
On Monday morning I woke up to find out that the border between San Diego and Tijuana had been closed. For weeks there has been talks of a caravan coming through the area through Mexico trying to get into the United States. Our surgery center had already put out a statement guaranteeing that our safety was priority, and that any interruptions in our travel plans due to the Border closing would be taken care of at their expense. So I wasn't necessarily worried. But soon after hearing that news I got the call that the Border was back open and we were ready to go on time, we were just going to use the medical lane.
I had heard stories, but nothing truly prepared me for the US border Crossing in Tijuana. Everybody is out there hustling. And sometimes it would be entertaining if it weren't so damn sad. These people are just trying to make a living, and everyone who approached her car was so nice. I did buy a little bracelet for a friend, because I didn't have any room left in my suitcases from all that shopping I did in Rosarito. Apparently the Border had closed that morning so that border control could put up a new round of barbed wire to keep the Caravan people out. Honestly I think it was overkill.
It took us about an hour to get through the Border even through the medical lane. I made it to the airport safe and sound with plenty of time to spare. My flight wasn't until 2 p.m., so at that point all I had to do was wait. I decided to check up on my work emails and just relax before getting on a cramped airplane. I bought a Gatorade to drink while I waited. The first flight was from San Diego to Atlanta, Georgia. It was around 4 hours long and just very uncomfortable. I did get a window seat, but the man next to me was filthy and I felt like I was squeezing myself the whole time to keep from touching him. I finally finished the Gatorade before we landed. So it took me about 5 hours to finish a 20 oz drink.
When I landed in Atlanta I had about an hour to wait before it was time to finally get to Jacksonville. At this point I bought a protein shake that was pretty high in sugar, but I was desperate for some kind of substance and protein. I was able to finish the whole 10 ounces during my layover. I bought a water to take on the plane with me.
By the time my plane touchdown in Jacksonville, I was so so grateful to finally be home. It was almost 1 a.m., so that meant I had been traveling at that point for about 18 hours. I got home to a quiet house because my kids were asleep, but they had decorated for me and I also had a package from my sister in Delaware. The best surprise was that Clyde finally bought me the bedding set I wanted, so I got to go to bed feeling like I was at a luxurious hotel.
Unfortunately I only got about 4 hours of sleep before I had to get back up to go to work. Yes, I went to work the day after I got back home. I knew it was only for one day, and I had so much stuff to do to get ready for a district meeting coming up the Monday we get back from break that I felt like I had to go. And it actually wasn't even bad. Despite being tired from lack of sleep and traveling, I actually felt pretty good. No pain at all. And I was finally able to really try to get some protein and fluids in because I had easy access to a restroom.
So now it's Wednesday, day 6 post-op. I'm off from work and actually being very intentional about resting and allowing my body to heal. I do feel good, but I don't want to overdo it. Today is also my daughter's 13th birthday, so I will have to get up and leave the house later.
I plan on weighing in tomorrow, and my weigh in day will be on Thursday of every week. Since that's the day that I had surgery, and also the day that I started pre-op. Since now I feel like this blog is going to be a way that I can document this journey, I will really try to be intentional about posting updates... especially with weigh-ins. I'm writing this for me more than anyone. Because I know this is a journey that I'm going to look back on one day. But I do hope that it can help someone who is researching and looking into doing this themselves.
Now that all the traveling and surgery is over, I can honestly say that this is one of the bravest things I've ever done. Not just having the surgery, but also taking the whole trip to Mexico to have it done. Alone. I had several people that I know and love who would have accompanied me there in a heartbeat. But I knew deep down that this was something that I wanted and needed to do by myself. For myself. So that I could only focus on me. And so many times in the process of the trip, even during the dark times when I was vomiting like crazy and sick as hell, I knew that I was okay and that I would get through it. All I had to do was keep pushing to get better. And that's what I'll continue to do.
Please feel free to reach out for more information about Pompeii Surgical. I would love for you to use my name as a reference (they do have a referral program!).