|Patient three, Kim
Today is Monday, May 29. It's been one week since my nightmare ended, but
it feels like years. Already the horrors of those months are fading to the
back of my mind like a bad dream. My recovery has been so peaceful that I
find it hard to believe I used to be so agitated I never sat still. I've
gathered my thoughts on the whole experience and I'm writing down what I can
remember. Perhaps, hearing what I went through can help another suffering
the same way.
When did my private hell begin? It's hard to say; one thing led to
another. The lines are so vague they blur together into a horrible
continuum. I have always been a highly emotional girl, sensitive and
self-doubting. But it was around Christmas time of my sophomore year that
things began to change for me. My first boyfriend dumped me. And like any
girl I was upset. But I carried it a bit farther than most. I just couldn't
seem to get over it. That is when I decided I was "too fat" to get a guy.
But rather than doing something about it, I sat around moping and eating ice
cream and potato chips, getting more miserable everyday. My best friend was
suffering from depression, and I felt alone and abandoned. My Mom tells me I
walked around with a "dark cloud" hanging over me. By Springtime, I decided
to start exercising and just be happy with myself. By Summer, I felt great.
I was very active-babysitting, full-time, riding my bike ten miles daily,
hanging out with my close friends. By the time school was beginning my
Junior year, I was flying sky high and felt invincible. I went into the
school year with lofty goals, set to pull back up the grades I'd let slip the
year before. Little could I have known that soon I'd be plunged into the
darkest, most trying ordeal of my life. Around Christmas, I began to feel
I started this new aerobic deep-breathing exercise program. Fifteen
minutes a day and you can eat anything you want to! "Great", I thought. "I
can't go wrong with that". And for a while it worked. I ate a cookie or
two, candy, and junk every day and lost five pounds by New Year's Eve. I
weighed about one hundred and twenty five pounds. But I began to notice my
clothes fit rather oddly. One day my jeans would be loose, three days later
I couldn't get them on over my thighs. And I'd always had nice, concave abs.
Now I began to get a roll I'd notice when I sat. But still the scales
stayed the same. I began stressing out and exercising twice a day
obsessively. I also became so constipated that I couldn't manage a bowel
movement without strong laxatives. My family doctor prescribed more fiber.
But I got worse. I ate only tiny meals and exercised forty-five minutes or
so every day. My world revolved around exercise. At school I'd spend all my
morning classes talking myself out of buying lunch. "If you eat those
chicken nuggets you're going to get fat!!" I was sure that if I bought lunch
rather than a fat free pretzel, I'd magically add five pounds overnight. I'd
be so stressed, I wouldn't even pay attention to class. Then I'd give in and
end up buying the lunch anyway. And I'd feel ridiculously full the entire
day , so I'd go home, refuse to eat dinner, and go work out in my basement.
Around mid-February I got so disgusted with my life that I went to Mom for
help. We talked, and she suggested I try talking to my Vice-Principal (who
doubles as a student counselor). I consented, but I knew that wouldn't help
me. And he did feel I needed to talk to someone. Not a "shrink"
though-" an old friend over on Pierce Street". He sent me to Dr. Smedley. I
remember first walking into that office which is now so familiar to me.
Decorated like a study or a country den, the atmosphere immediately intrigued
me and set me at ease. After a brief, convincing examination, Dr. Smedley
had me diagnosed= not as an anorexic, as I had expected, but as having
gallbladder disease and an underactive thyroid. I was relieved; I'd known I
wasn't "crazy". He told me to go on his low fat diet for three weeks and
come back. In those three weeks, I quickly learned what foods I could eat.
When I mistakenly goofed, I was crippled with severe cramps all up and down
my right side. But the gasiness and bloated, horribly "full" feelings
subsided. I still got constipated. In those first three weeks I dropped
another ten pounds. I now weighed in at 115lbs, and loved I! Dr. Smedley
explained how my weight loss and other factors pointed at my gallbladder
disease. The proof was all there, he assured me. He told me to go another
three weeks, and then we could discuss surgery.
I was ecstatic. I could already envision myself chewing down on burgers
and fries like a normal teenager. But my Mom was still uneasy and my father
remained adamantly skeptical. He constantly made jokes about my weight loss
or eating too little, to which I would respond, either with tears or angry
outbursts. A cloud of perpetual tension hung over our house.
Thus began the longest and darkest month and a half of my life. The
Saint Anthony Diet was reducing the inflammation and preparing me for
surgery, but the diseased organ was still there poisoning my mind day by day.
It is hard to write about this time; I don't remember everything I said and
did, or how each symptom worsened. And there is some I will no doubt keep
forever locked in the vaults of my mind, like a horrible secret.
I began to feel I couldn't control my mind. I'd weigh myself each
morning and tell myself, "See how much weight you've lost and you haven't
even been counting calories. Limit your self to 1500 and you'll be
skinnier". I borrowed Dr. Smedley's F.A.T. Book (Finally Answers To)
from our school library to read up on what I could and could not eat. But I
was radical with the diet. I ate no red meat or even chicken, measured
portions, and refused to touch something if I didn't know its caloric
content. Thus, I flipped if I couldn't prepare my own meals. And I'm
hypoglycemic, but I refused to snack between my three meals (as I had been
instructed to do), and continued my rigid exercise daily to the disruption of
the entire household. But I didn't care; it was absolutely necessary that I
exercise before dinner. I was terrified of missing a day of it. This was a
touchy issue, over which my parents and I constantly fought and argued.
Around this time (April, and I was exceedingly busy at school) our glee club
choral concert was upcoming, and we had practice every night. On evenings
when I'd be stuck downtown all day, I'd pick up dinner (usually yogurt and
pretzels or salad) making sure it was as few calories as I could manage.
Then I'd stumble in, barely awake at 10 PM and force myself to exercise
before bed. Most of the time I operated like an automaton, going through the
routines of my day numbly, feeling nothing but an overwhelming emptiness. My
hormones (sex drive) and emotions faded. I laughed and was occasionally
happy, but it was a fake joy, one I'd force and was acting. Any little
setback/problem would send me crashing back to depression. I began to always
talk of my diet and illness, weight loss, pain, etc. I was basically
incapable of carrying on a conversation about anything else, but the thoughts
of my "fatness" were perpetually on my mind. I hated the stress but could
not stop obsessing over my weight. I had a few dates with a senior, and we
really hit it off at first. I remember feeling devoid of emotion, then, too.
Some small part of me said, "You should be feeling something, either way"
But there was just numbness.
I began finding that I couldn't' produce any decent artwork any more….
I'd always been a talented artist, but now nothing "right"- I'd get
frustrated and give up in about fifteen minutes! And I'd try to read a book,
but as soon as I turned a page, I couldn't remember a thing that happened on
the previous one. The same thing held true for studying for tests, And I
began blanking, a thing I'd never had a problem with before. I'm the "A"
student! I couldn't concentrate in class past the thick "fog" in my brain,
dulling my senses. My hair, always curly, thick, and bouncy, became
exceedingly dull, dry, and lifeless, and continued to come out in clumps. My
skin acquired a drawn, pasty-pale dead look, and when I accidentally cut
myself it bled for days. I hadn't had my menstrual cycle since February (and
then it was irregularly light). I was hypothyroid and perpetually cold. I
could not stand being in a cold room, outdoors or having air blow on me. I
slept with about six or seven heavy blankets in a sweatsuit, and I'd still
shiver. When my friends were donning tanktops and eating Dairy Queen to cool
off in the middle 70degree weather, I was bundled in a sweater and coat
sipping hot tea to stop shivering.
And I retained fluid terribly- in my arms, thighs, and cheeks- from one
day to the next two or three inches would bloat or fade. Before I knew there
was a medical reason for this, I used to think I gained weight overnight!
And even though I now know the cause, I'd still feel "fat" on a bad day. I
felt this constant coat of anger, at no one in particular, just a burning
annoyance at life in general. The slightest little things- a chair creaking,
birds chirping, someone sneezing, certain voices, would grate on my nerves to
the point where I could not stand it! I'd feel my blood boil and literally
go crazy with rage. I'd try to be quiet, but eventually I'd flip and start
raving and reacting. I'd kick the dog out of my way daily and even swing at
my brother a few times. I'd feel no remorse. How dare they get in My way?
From what I have been told, I routinely told my friends to "take a hike and
leave me alone", and then fall to tears later when I couldn't figure out why
everyone was ignoring/avoiding me. I was systematically driving away
everyone that cared for me. I was so absorbed in my self-pity that I felt
alone and abandoned. I gave up exercise as I'd be too exhausted by evening
time, and I needed every spare calorie I ate. I was hypoglycemic, but
refused to snack- I'd exceed my calorie limit. My blood sugar crashed, and
I'd barely drag myself out of school. I was down about 98lbs. Then around
Eastertime, I was put on Synthroid for my low thyroid, and in about five days
began losing the fluid "puffiness". I didn't feel as fat, could actually
begin to concentrate and comprehend at school. And there would be days when
I wasn't freezing! I got a ravenous appetite, and frequently snacked. And I
began going out to places with my friends again. My surgery was scheduled
for May 22- it couldn't be sooner, because I had to make it to a school
function and my prom on the 19th. I looked forward to that day as the end of
my suffering, my relief and salvation. I could imagine myself tearing into
juicy hamburgers and fries, and chocolate, and ice cream! I'd read in Dr.'s
book that for two to three weeks following surgery, one's body was so "upset"
by the anesthesia that one couldn't put on weight. "OK, I thought, two weeks
to eat it all. Then you have to watch again of you'll get fat".
I planned everywhere I wanted to go and what to eat.
As my surgery date grew closer, I continued to lose weight. By the time
my two weeks before my check-up for surgery, I was down to 92lbs, eating
1000calories a day and using laxatives at least every other day to ease the
pain of constipation. Dr. Smedley cut my thyroid dose in half to keep me
from losing any more weight, and to stabilize my system presurgically. I was
down to 92lbs for whatever reason. I was intent on not gaining any of it
back before my operation. Those two weeks were the longest and hardest of my
life. Within three days my skin started getting dry again and I began
retaining fluids. I'd wake up with pillow crease indentations on my face,
and get lines around my ankles when I took off my socks, underwear or bra.
The " fat thoughts" came back with a vengeance and I had myself convinced
that I had to stop snacking because my thyroid was slowing down again. I
lost my appetite and found it hard to get myself to eat much of anything.
And my Mom made me cut down on my activity because I began suffering
faintness and weak spells. And yet, I pulled through. One week before my
surgery I went with my school to Penn State for three days to present a
science project. I won a 1st place award and a special award entitling me to
go to Pittsburgh with it next September. I had an awesome time up there and
became closer to many of my friends.
And the following Friday ,three days to go, I went to my Junior Prom in a
white Cinderella-style gown. (I don't even recognize the skeleton in those
Monday morning they wheeled me in to the operating room at 7:30AM. I
weighed 92lbs and was so dehydrated that the veins in my hands were
collapsed. The anesthetist had to start the I.V. at my elbow. And within
minutes I drifted off into a peaceful slumber, my long nightmare at last at
My operation lasted several hours, and I woke up that afternoon,
insatiably thirsty. Already I felt different- despite the operative pain and
swelling- I was deeply peaceful, relaxed and happy. I didn't feel fat or
angry- that horrible little voice had been silenced. I was discharged from
the hospital the following morning, already eating everything in sight. The
most wonderful feeling was the first bite of solid food I took- a Snicker's
Bar, my favorite candy- I ate that whole thing and didn't get that sick
"full" feeling. And I haven't since!
It has now been one week since my surgery. I can eat anything I want, and
never get that full feeling. The toughest part of recovery for me has been
the gas pressure and its unfortunate spontaneous expulsions. (My family
lights candles whenever I enter the room). It will be six to eight weeks
before I fully recover, and my thyroid has yet to stabilize. (I'm retaining
fluids) but I am patient. I feel as though a great cloud and weight have
been lifted off my shoulders. My sense of humor is back and also my
"sappiness" (movies make me cry again). Odd memories from back in my
childhood have been popping up fondly in my mind. My family and friends
already see great changes in me. I've painted a beautiful painting already.
All my long-dead emotions have begun to reawaken, and I feel reborn. It is
like seeing the world through new eyes.
Granted, it hasn't been all roses. It will be several months before I
feel fully well again. I've begun retaining fluids horribly again- in my
face, arms, and thighs. My stomach is swollen and still sore. I get tired
easily, and feel "huge" from the fluid retention. But I know that will all
fade and soon I'll forget this as well.
I hope that my ordeal can be of some help to other sufferers, and just
know that you are not alone. There is an end to the pain!
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