December 11, 2019
By the time I was 5 years old, I was already very overweight and was made fun of by all the other kids in school. As I grew, so did the insults. No one took me seriously, I wasn’t getting any dates, and I was very depressed.
I tried one diet after the next, but nothing worked. So now, not only was I morbidly obese, but I felt like a complete failure by not doing anything about it. To cope with my situation, I became a very bitter and rude person. If people were going to reject me, I was going to reject them first.
It wasn’t until medical school that I discovered the possibility of weight loss surgery. For my clinical rotations, I was assigned to work with a bariatric surgeon. He wasn’t doing these surgeries in that hospital, but under him, I began to read a great deal about the process. The more I learned, the more I knew that this was exactly what I needed.
It wasn’t an easy process. In the US, just because you want a procedure does not mean that they will let you have one. I was just short of the “comorbidity” requirements, which are additional medical complications that arise from your main health condition. For example, conditions like type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea or high blood pressure that result from obesity.
To top it all off, the procedure wasn’t covered by my insurance. And as a medical student at the time, the thought of shelling out $30,000 in cash was completely unimaginable.
I almost gave up and was about to resign myself to a lonely and angry fate, when I discovered the option of getting a vertical gastric sleeve surgery in Mexico. I did a lot of research and found a company that drove me over the border, set me up with a very experienced doctor, and housed me in a hotel during my recovery time—all for just $5,000.
The Benefits of Weight Loss Surgery
Once I had my procedure, everything changed. After I started losing weight, people suddenly started being nicer to me. They also started taking me more seriously. I was no longer looked at as a fat slob who couldn’t help himself. I was looked at as a bright and well accomplished medical student who was on the verge of being a doctor.
This did something very interesting to me. It dramatically changed my personality.
I no longer felt inadequate in social situations, or like some kind of third-class person with something they had to compensate for. As a result, that made me feel more confident, made me an easier person to deal with and has made me more successful in so many different ways in life.
People who know me now, and who knew me back then will tell you that I am a completely different person. I am nicer, kinder, more patient and more respectful. I have far better relationships with my family and I’ve advanced much more in my career.
In my case, getting weight loss (bariatric) surgery was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made—after choosing to go to medical school. It gave me a life.
The Risks of Weight Loss Surgery
But I want to be very clear here, the procedure alone didn’t solve all of my problems. There were complications and I had to make some major changes to my lifestyle in order for the results to last.
About a year and a half after the surgery, I had a couple of episodes of really severe abdominal pain that made me vomit and feel truly horrible. The first episode was very short-lived and I didn’t think anything of it. However, the second episode lasted longer and I knew I needed to seek help.
As it turns out, it was a biliary colic. This is when your gallbladder has stones in it and the stones block the exit to the gallbladder. As a result, the gallbladder squeezes but the bile can’t exit causing severe pain. The solution was pretty simple, I had to have my gallbladder taken out.
This is a very common consequence of rapid weight loss, and there is very little you can do as a bariatric surgery patient to prevent it. Some surgeons have begun prescribing the drug Actigall to their bariatric surgery patients to prevent gallstone formation, but no one is really sure how well this works.
Some bariatric surgeons will actually take the gallbladder out before you have problems by default. It’s definitely not a hard and fast recommendation to do that, but it’s something you can consider. Overall, my gallbladder removal was a very easy one-day procedure and I recovered very quickly, which is usually the case.
Further down the line, I faced another complication. I started having pain when I swallowed and I went back down to Mexico to have an EGD, which is a look at my esophagus. What they found is that I had developed a hiatal hernia. This is again a very common thing that happens to people post-bariatric surgery, where your stomach slides through your diaphragm and a part of it gets into your chest around your esophagus. It’s not that big of a deal, except that you get a lot of reflux.
That reflux had been going on for a while and had created something called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a pre-cancerous condition. Don’t get too excited, it’s not that scary. I will almost certainly die of old age rather than die of esophageal cancer, but nonetheless, it needed to be treated.
For some people, the gastric reflux is so bad that they consider having revision surgery. If this is a possibility that you are considering, here are a few things that you can try first to reduce your gastric reflux after a weight loss surgery.
So, is weight loss surgery worth it? In my case, those two complications were a small price to pay for having a life. It helped give me confidence, improve my relationships, and boost my career.
For anyone considering weight loss surgery, this is an important personal decision that you have to make. There is no right answer to whether the benefits outweigh the risks. The best you can do is to do your research, look at your personal situation, and to make the right choice for you.