Me vs. foodWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Part 1: Man vs. food
Part 2: Men vs. food
I was wheeled into the operating room and transferred to the main table. The anesthesiologist leaned over me with a mask and lied, “I’m going to give you some oxygen.”
I nodded and glanced at the large TV showing my name and case details on the screen. I had chosen to undergo bariatric sleeve surgery to gain control over my dangerously ballooning weight. After six months of preparation and an 18-day liquid diet, I was seconds away from the operation.
It was 10:02 a.m. Sept. 18.
When I woke up at 2:30 p.m., I looked down to see six small incisions where 85 percent of my stomach used to be. I tried to swim to consciousness, but kept falling back asleep.
The first words I heard were from a nurse, who was talking to another nurse. About me.
“His blood pressure is way up,” she said. “At 190. We’re giving him meds to try to get it down.”
I groggily glanced over my left shoulder and saw the red flashing digital 190, which closely resembled the numbers on the hospital scale.
“Wow,” I said with a mushy mouth, “I went into surgery at 350 pounds and I’m down to 190! Nice!”
The nurse smiled and said, “No, that’s your blood pressure. We just gave you Lopressor to help get it back down.”
Even at my heaviest weight, I had been blessed with relatively healthy inner workings. No diabetes and blood pressure that reliably hovered at 120 over 80. The 70-point spike should have alarmed me, but I wasn’t quite awake and I had one finger on a morphine trigger.
I slipped back into darkness. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at Adam Richman, who hovered several feet over my hospital gurney, wearing jeans, a black jacket and a T-shirt with a cartoon pig chowing down on a rack of barbecued ribs.
“Adam?” I asked.
“That’s right, this is Adam Richman, host of Travel Channel’s ‘Man v. Food.’ I travel the country looking for the greatest pig-out spots, and today I am in beautiful Ann Arbor, Mich., where the wolverines fight and the students devour some of the Midwest’s biggest and best sandwiches and burgers,” Richman said.
“Did you bring me anything to eat?” I asked.
“No, dude, your pig-out days are over,” he said, smiling sympathetically.
“You know, I watched an hour of your show every day while I was on my presurgery diet,” I said, still hoping he was hiding a cheeseburger, plate of honey barbecue chicken wings or even a loaf of Zingerman’s fresh bread.
“Wasn’t that tortuous, watching me eat a 6-pound burrito while you were choking down 8-ounces of medical protein?” he asked.
“It actually made me feel better, seeing all those eats and vicariously watching you destroy a 10-patty burger and 4 pounds of fries,” I said. “I can’t explain it, it just helped.”
“Well, good for you, dude,” Richman said. “I just stopped by to wish you well and let you know you can do this. It’s an important decision and you are doing a proud thing for yourself and your family. It will be tough, but I and many others support you.”
“Thanks,” I croaked, teary-eyed. “Have you ever thought about losing a few pounds through diet or surgery?”
“F*ck that,” he said. “Now, I’m off to Boston to eat a 10-pound lobster and 2 gallons of ice cream!”
I shook my head, and he was gone.
“Adam,” I mumbled, fighting to wake up. “Pig-outs. Travel Channel. Dagobah System.”
Another hour had passed and my blood pressure numbers were down to 160.
I vaguely remember my wife and surgeon stopping by to check on me. Everything had gone smoothly, I was assured.
The nurse patted my hand and two assistants said hello as they began to wheel my bed toward the elevator and to my room. On the 10-minute journey, both women talked nonstop about what they were having for lunch and what their dinner plans were.
When my head was mostly clear, I took stock of my surroundings. I was in a small private room. I had an IV in my right hand, heart and vital signs monitors taped to my chest, oxygen tubes in my nose and a catheter draining urine from my body.
“Huh,” I thought. “I wonder how that is hooked up.”
Then I remembered/realized the catheter tube had been inserted through (for the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to the organ as “Sinbad”) and up into my bladder. I had been asleep for the unnatural act of insertion and tried to dwell on less excruciating details, like the severe pressure I felt in my chest, as if someone were leaning on my sternum with both elbows.
When the first nurse appeared, I described the pain and asked if I were having a heart attack.
“No,” she said, “that is from the CO2 they pump into your body while they operate. It takes a day or two for that pressure to dissipate.”
Between the needles, pressure, soreness and that catheter, which had taken on a Stephen King quality of evil in my head, all I wanted to do was sleep. Until the nurses woke me up to take a blood sample. And then when they woke me up to take my vital signs. And then when they woke me up to ask how I was sleeping.
In addition to those challenges, I had last taken a drink of water and eaten some plain low-fat yogurt at 6 p.m. Monday. It was now 8 a.m. Wednesday and even what remained of my stomach was wondering what the hell was going on.
The IV was keeping me hydrated, but the direct oxygen was drying out my mouth to the point where I was ready to start spitting up tumbleweeds. The nurses brought me little swabs my wife could dip in water to keep my lips from cracking like the roads in South Toledo, and eventually a nurse hooked up the oxygen to the CPAP breathing machine I brought from home. That handy device has a built-in humidifier, so I was much more comfortable.
A quick word about the nurses. The two primary nurses working with me were responsive, empathetic and absolutely helped me make the most of a tough situation. One of the nurse’s husbands had undergone bariatric surgery, so she knew exactly what road I was on and was a wonderful sounding board. I know not everyone has the same experience, but every nurse and assistant that aided me was a great help and a tremendous presence.
20 seconds of weirdness
Which is why I can forgive my main nurse for lying to me about the catheter. About 24 hours after the surgery, the IV, oxygen and monitors were removed. All I needed was to have the catheter taken out and I would be able to start walking to avoid blood clots and to keep the weight loss moving. She came in with an assistant (it seemed like every time I was at my most naked/vulnerable/grossly displayed, the assistant was some gorgeous young woman. I suppose a little humiliation is good for the soul). She took Sinbad in hand and said, “OK, this is going to feel weird for about 20 seconds.”
Then, she did the Band-Aid Yank and pulled the entire catheter from my bladder, out my urethra and on its long(ish) journey to freedom. She pulled it like a falling man pulls a ripcord on his parachute. She yanked it like an angry man trying to get his lawnmower started.
Later, when my wife joined us, the nurse said, “Your husband cried like a baby when I removed his catheter.”
“I did not,” I defended myself. “I screamed like a little girl. There’s a difference.”
About 48 hours after the surgeons reduced my stomach to about the size of a small peeled banana, I was released from the hospital. The liquid diet finally ended at 30 days, when cottage cheese and one scrambled egg were introduced to my diet. I never dreamed I would be so excited about cottage cheese. Low-fat cottage cheese. I have been blessed with tremendous support from friends, family and that strange family of friends on Facebook. I have cried randomly, been moody and missed more work than I wanted to.
For one short period, I would stare at the fridge or pantry, take a bite of something I could not have, and do what I called “The Clinton” — chew it until every atom of flavor had been savored, then spit it out in the sink without swallowing anything.
I started Sept. 1 at 380 pounds. As of this writing, Oct. 2, 14 days after the surgery, I am at 315 pounds. I am wearing shirts I haven’t taken out of the closet in two years. I am walking two or more miles every day.
I get tired, but I feel … better.
When my pal Adam Richman beats a food consumption challenge, he makes a capital “M” with his fingers and declares, “Today, in the eternal struggle between man vs. food, man wins!”
I am nowhere near ready to declare that victory yet, but when I break 300 pounds, and then 250, I am going to make a lowercase “m” and declare temporary victory in my eternal struggle.
And I will have earned it.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.