"I think it would be fair to say that my health and quality of life were governed by my overweight....All in all, my whole life has improved dramatically – the more I do, the better I feel and I am able to do even more!"
"The patients I had spoken to at the meeting had instilled great confidence in the surgical team. I knew that I was in the best possible hands and at one of the best hospitals...I did not feel like a statistic, rather an individual and I felt assured the team had my best interests at heart."
"I felt great after the operation – as though I had just climbed Mount Everest...it felt as though I had had an operation on my brain rather than my stomach!"
Prior to my surgery, life was hum-drum, and my social life was nearly non-existent. My movement was restricted by ailments associated with my overweight. I suffered from Type-2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, an irregular heart beat, obstructive sleep apnoea and ongoing back pain (caused by a disc imploding in 1984). I had restricted movement in my right knee following an arthroscopy in 2007, and I had two stents inserted in 2006 due to my angina. I think it would be fair to say that my health and quality of life were governed by my overweight.
As a child I was always made to clear my plate, and I had carried this mantra forward into my adult life – I was a comfort eater. I had always struggled with my weight, and had attempted every diet possible: Slimming World, Lighter Life, Weight Watchers, my own will-power…as well as the see-food-and-eat-it diet and the diet that forever starts Tomorrow! I always lost a little weight, but would then regain the loss, and more. My wife Penny was convinced that it was a matter of self-control, whilst my children had given up telling me to diet. My extended family members were always emphasizing the need to diet, but it was water off a duck's back. My weight was increasing, and this seemed to be the shape of things to come. Although I joked about my weight, in truth I was becoming very demoralized by my lack of success – I recognized that I lacked the underlying will power to stay on a strict diet, and had instead convinced myself that it was "in my genes" to always be obese.
Weight loss surgery was initially recommended to me by my endocrinologist. He recommended that I be seen privately. When he suggested this I thought of the gastric balloon or gastric band, so agreed to his suggestion. He had a colleague who was experienced in this field, and said he would contact him to ask for a recommendation. My endocrinologist had previously referred me to an NHS doctor Mr. - , but I had come away from that consultation knowing for certain that I would never let him near me with a scalpel! In the meantime, whilst waiting for this second referral from my endocrinologist, I took it upon myself to thoroughly research weight loss surgery on the internet. I even enquired about having surgery in Italy.
For me, choosing to go privately seemed to be the best option; it meant that I would not have to wait on a list. In my heart of hearts I knew that my overweight was gradually killing me, and that my health would only deteriorate further. Going privately also meant that I would have a say in when and where I had the operation, and the surgeon who would operate on me. My endocrinologist had actively decided not to refer me to our local NHS Hospital, even as a private patient, so I felt confident that he trusted St Anthony's Hospital and its surgeons.
Weight loss surgery seemed to be the ideal solution to my life-long struggle, but I had to wait for the letter to come from Mr. Fiennes rather than contacting him myself, as I had not been able to find out anything about him on the web. When the appointment letter finally arrived I felt elated.
On the day of the appointment, Penny accompanied me as we set off for St Anthony's Hospital. At this stage we were both still attached to the idea of a gastric band or balloon, so this was what we assumed would be discussed. My primary concern prior to my consultation was whether I would be too overweight for the general anaesthesia – when I had arthroscopy on my knee the anaesthetist had warned me that whilst he could put me to sleep, he could not guarantee he would be able to wake me.
I think it would be fair to say that my initial meeting with Mr. Fiennes was quite daunting – when I arrived, the nurses would check that everything was how Mr Fiennes expected it to be. Needless to say everything was alright and you could hear the audible sigh of relief! He initially saw me alone, and that was an experience, to say the least! At one stage of the consultation he had me in tears, when confronted with my concerns about the operation and my overweight but it was nevertheless a relief to have my concerns out in the open. Penny was then called into the consultation room. Mr Fiennes pulled no punches, and was very thorough – he advised us of the dangers of any procedure, but dismissed the idea of a gastric band or balloon and explained why. He had Penny in tears at one stage, but she soon recovered! Mr. Fiennes assured me that he would not contemplate operating on me unless he had complete confidence in his anaesthetist's ability to wake me. He assured me that his team specialized in and was experienced in dealing with patients of my size, weight and medical history. Mr. Fiennes gave me the contact details of a previous patient who had already undergone a sleeve gastrectomy, who I contacted. Much of what he said greatly reassured Penny and me, particularly the knowledge that he had been up and about very soon after his operation. When at the end of the consultation Mr. Fiennes agreed that I was a suitable candidate, we both felt elated but apprehensive. Initially, I would have to stick to a rigid pre-operative diet of soup and low-fat yogurt, to ensure that I lost the maximum amount of weight before the operation!
I had decided not to tell anyone about the operation, although Penny insisted we tell our daughter, 29 and son, 26. My daughter thought I was mad to even consider surgery because she thought it far too dangerous (though now she can hardly believe her eyes!). Most of all, I was dreading having my drains removed after the operation, because Penny had been in agony when her drains were taken out following the removal of her gall bladder. In the end I felt nothing! Any fears paled into insignificance in comparison to the potential benefits to be reaped – I would recover from the operation and live the life I had always wanted to lead – the one I felt had passed me by for so many years! Before my operation I attended one of the monthly support group meetings for post-operative patients which was very reassuring. I was able to discuss with other patients their experiences of weight loss surgery at St Anthony's. The patients I had spoken to at the meeting all had great confidence in the surgical team.
After my operation, I was in the ICU, as all weight loss surgery patients initially are. I don't remember anything of my time there, Penny told me of the superb care I received. The intensivist nurse assigned to me never left except for her meal breaks, when one of the other nurses would cover for her. The doctor on the unit spent a considerable amount of time with me, and the anaesthetist, Mr. Fiennes and Louise all came to visit me a number of times. Afterwards I wrote a letter to Matron expressing our gratitude because I had felt the whole procedure was professionally managed and everyone had done everything they could to put us at our ease. My whole experience at St Anthony's exceeded both of our expectations. Everyone we spoke to - the cleaners, porters, receptionist, nurses and doctors – was extremely helpful and courteous. Penny stayed at St Anne's (onsite accommodation for relatives) and said everyone there made her feel very welcome.
I had my operation at 8am on the Friday morning, and by 1pm on the next day I was ready to attend the regular monthly meeting. I felt really great, and I did not really have any pain, just mild discomfort on my left side where the muscle was penetrated. By this stage I of course had complete confidence in both Mr. Fiennes and Louise. I knew that I was in the best possible hands and at one of the best hospitals. I would say that the relationship between Mr. Fiennes, Louise, Penny and me, and the confidence Penny and I had in the team was enormously important. Whilst I was in hospital, Mr. Fiennes came to see me everyday. He said I could go home on the Monday, but we decided to err on the side of caution and so stayed until the Tuesday morning. I was advised of the date of my post-operative follow up and I was encouraged to attend the regular monthly meetings. We were told that we could ring Louise if we had any concerns or questions, and she was brilliant - on call whenever we needed to speak to her before and after my operation. Louise would ring on a regular basis to see how everything was progressing. I did not feel like a statistic, rather an individual and I felt assured that the team had my best interests at heart. This bond also meant I was keen that they did not lose faith in me, and I was determined not to let them down as I had let myself down in the past.
My post-operative experience was more or less as I had been prepared for it to be; the literature had advised what pain I might experience and how to control it. It also advised what I could and could not digest, and how to progress over time to more normal food. Most importantly, the team all seemed aware that everyone was different and had different needs so there was no rigid control. Instead the emphasis was on taking things easy and on bearing in mind that help was just a telephone call away.
Emotionally, I felt great after the operation – as though I had just climbed Mount Everest! I managed to eat and drink according to the plan. "Bad" foods that I had previously loved now held no attraction for me, and the smell of some food cooking even made me feel ill. It felt as though I had had an operation on my brain rather than my stomach. I now take much longer to eat my meals and Penny often finishes before me. My portion sizes are much smaller and I sometimes leave food. I had difficulty digesting some foods, and some foods make me physically sick. I am still working towards my ideal weight, and for the moment this is my main driving force – I have lost the desire to eat such large portions and I am also determined not to let anyone down who has supported me during this period!
I have noticed a number of long-term changes, the most profound of which would be a vastly improved sense of self-worth. I no longer need to take medication for my diabetes, and the medication for my angina and blood pressure has been reduced. My sleep apnoea has also improved, relieving the pressure on my CPAP machine. My energy levels are much higher, and as my knee and back are much better I am also far more mobile, which has greatly improved my quality of life. I can now go for long walks, and I often walk to the shops rather than driving now. I can mow the lawn in one session, where as I used to do it in three. I get all the jobs around the house done, rather than adding them to a never-ending list. My cardiologist has told me he cannot believe the improvement. My endocrinologist is also very pleased and I am due to have a glucose intolerance test in November to see if I'm still diabetic. The only disadvantage is how secretive I chose to be; some friends and neighbours make comments such as "you don't want to lose any more weight" or "be careful you don't start to regain weight," which can make me angry and upset. All in all, my whole life has improved dramatically – the more I do, the better I feel and I am able to do even more! I even went into the swimming pool when we were in Italy, which was wonderful.
Given the chance again, I would without a doubt make the same decision and have the operation. I could not believe how well I felt just 25-26 hours after the operation, and I was very soon able to go for walks, do gardening and enjoy the good weather. I will need to take vitamin and mineral supplements for the rest of my life, but Louise and Mr. Fiennes are always there to advise me – on nutrition and other matters.
My daily routine has changed, and I now shave every day, make breakfast for Penny, make the bed, hang the washing out, mow the lawn – small gestures which most people consider to be normal, even tedious, but which were an anathema to me before the operation. For me these gestures are a sign of my return to the "normal" life I felt had passed me by; I have even become pickier in what I wear, because a greater variety of clothes fit me now.
I would say that now how I am able to eat in social situations has changed. Penny and I tend not to eat out so much, because I still do have to be very careful about what and when I eat; staying at home allows us to be more flexible. I used to enjoy a glass or two of wine with my food, but tend not to now. I have not had a glass of malt whiskey for nearly a year. The urge to drink has vanished. It is hard to eat at family get-togethers because my extended family is unaware of my bypass. I do have more confidence in social situations now; people do not see me as a threat anymore! Friends and extended family have shown their support in a variety of ways, but some still find it hard to accept that I do not eat the same quantity as I used to.
My outlook on life has changed dramatically; I am even considering doing an Open University degree. Both Penny and I are now enjoying retirement and looking forward to the future. We have a beautiful grand-daughter, who is 7 months old, and we enjoy visiting our son and his wife – without the operation, all of this could have turned out very differently. We are both optimistic for our future together – the physical side of our marriage is much improved too!
"I personally believe the whole ethos of Mr Fiennes, Louise, Dr McCluskey and that of St Anthony's are a perfect match. They complement one another, and are a great team."