(Ed note: New News on Medicare defining Obesity as an illness and covering care. A VBD folks.
Quite awhile ago I wrote a column about coping with loose skin after weight loss. It was a general piece about why and how our skin loosens, who is likely to experience it, what we can do about it, what works and what doesn’t. The upshot is, if you’re left with lots of loose skin more than a year after undergoing a massive weight loss, surgery is your only real option for removing it. It’s not an easy choice, to snip or not to snip. It’s costly, it’s painful, it’s time consuming. It’s a tradeoff, the skin for a few scars. For many people, the tradeoff is well worth the results.
What I hoped to find is Sally, one woman who has been through a massive weight loss (150 lbs.), and a surgery (body lift procedures) so that she could give us more information about the process and the experience of the surgery itself. Sally has been documenting her weight loss and surgery story with the help of documentary photographers and filmmakers, and bravely and kindly offered her help here. Here’s Sally on her surgery:
“On December 22, 2003, I embarked on one of the most exciting and scary ventures I ever faced in my life. I entered Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh to have a lower body lift, abdominoplasty, and inner thigh lift.
“Having undergone weight loss surgery a year and a half earlier should have made this old hat, but this was a more difficult decision. The first surgery was to save my life. Now, 150 pounds lighter, healthy, with a fun, active life, it seemed I was putting more at risk. But I also felt all the hard work and effort I was putting in at the gym and at the table (I will always need to make responsible food choices) was not reflected in my body. I was smaller but still wearing my fat skin, like wearing my old size 26W clothing on my size 8 frame.
“I chose plastic surgery on my lower body because excessive skin on my belly caused recurrent infections in my navel. My insurance company approved payment for removal of the belly skin for this reason, but any other procedures had to come out of my own pocket.
“The surgeon, Dr. Peter Rubin, spent a lot of time talking with me about what bothered me and what I would like to change. He lifted and pulled my skin to show me results I might expect from various procedures. I got excited at the prospect of having thighs that didn’t rub together for the first time in my life! The most difficult part of the appointment was having a 360-degree set of pictures taken of my saggy, naked body for reference. I set a date.
“The morning of my surgery, Dr. Rubin came in and spent a lot of time drawing lines all over my belly, hips, butt and thighs. When he finished, it was time to go to the operating room. I remember nothing after that until I woke up in recovery.
“I won’t lie to you, it is painful. And I think the more you have done at once, the more pain you experience. I felt as though I had been hit by a truck. I had a reaction to the anesthesia as well, which caused me to be nauseated and the room to spin for the first several hours. The first few days in the hospital were very rough for me, requiring a transfusion of two units of blood. But I could already tell, in spite of the swelling and swaths of bandages and elastic binding garments, that things looked better.
“I had literally several feet of incisions on my body. One incision ran around my body at bikini-line level. Two more started at that line, and ran in the crease where thigh meets groin and around the back under my buttocks. Long incisions ran down each inner thigh, ending just below the knees. There were six temporary JP drains installed. These are suction drains that help remove excess fluids from the surgery areas, three on each side. They need to be emptied carefully during the first few days after surgery.
“I walked much like a bent, old woman at first, with a slow, bowlegged gait. Getting up and down from a seated to a standing or a prone position was difficult the first couple of weeks. Having a riser on the toilet and someone to assist me in and out of bed was very helpful. I needed many bolster pillows to be comfortable in bed. As the swelling decreased, I was able to begin to straighten up a bit and move a bit more easily. As drains were removed, four the first week, the remaining two the second week, I was able to move more freely.
“Doing many procedures at once has its pluses and its minuses. The positive aspect is that you only have to go through one surgery and it can save quite a bit of money. The downside is that recovery typically takes longer, can be more painful, and has an increased risk of complications.
“Six months later, I can see the true results. I don’t look like a supermodel, but I do look like the best me possible. My thighs are taught and smooth, I can see the stomach muscles I worked so hard on, and my butt is back up where it belongs. I went from a 33-inch to a 29-inch waist, and lost 6 inches off of my hips and 3.5 off each thigh. I went from a size 10/12 to a 6/8. A whole new wardrobe again. Poor me.
“Because I am so happy with my results, in spite of the pain and recovery, I do plan to take care of my upper body in the future. In the meantime, I can be found lounging poolside in my bikini, the first one I’ve ever owned!
Sally’s weight loss is documented on her website, reconfigured.net, and through materials she’s created with documentary photographers at Carnegie Mellon University. The collected works have been exhibited at Carnegie and will eventually be gathered into a book about Sally’s experience. Here are just three of the photographs by Charlee Brodsky:
And more on the matter: