August 15, 2001, was the day the old me died and the new me was born.
The morning of the 15th, I was at the hospital waiting to have surgery with Dr. Schwartz. I wasn’t nervous about having surgery. I was nervous about surgery not working. Very few people knew I was having surgery. I thought I could have surgery during the summer, take a couple of weeks to recover, be ready to go back to work when the new school year started, and no one would have to know. You see, I was having gastric bypass surgery. I was afraid that if the surgery didn’t work, I wouldn’t know what else to do to lose my excess weight and have the healthy, “normal” life I wanted. More than that, I was afraid that if the surgery didn’t work, it would be yet another failure on my part. I didn’t want to fail. I was terrified of failing. I wanted to continue moving forward with the new life I began when my divorce was finalized 6 months prior.
Although I came out of the surgery just fine, things went bad very quickly. What was supposed to be a one night stay in the hospital turned into 3+ weeks. At one point, I came close to death. I had several complications. They included:
1. intestinal blockage – resulted in a follow-up surgery to bypass blockage on Aug. 17
2. awakening from follow-up surgery still intubated – resulted in damage to vocal cords
3. drop in blood pressure to 70/40 – resulted in being rushed to the ICU (ICU stay for 3 days)
5. abcess in pelvis – both gram(+) and gram(-) bacteria
6. C-diff infection
During this time, I had all kinds of tests – MRIs, CAT scans, blood draws several times a day (eventually I ran out of good veins to use!). I tried to stay focused on the positives and the end result, but I had moments of dismay.
I will always be grateful to everyone who visited, sent messages, and called during my stay at the hospital. I have all the messages and cards saved in a scrapbook. I am especially grateful for (and eternally indebted to) my best friend (and second Mom), Pat, who stayed with me through the worst of this. She offered amazing support and helped me keep my spirits up when it seemed like things couldn’t get worse, and then continued to do so.
Dr. Schwartz said he’d never seen someone who went into surgery so healthy have so many problems. He told me, “You’ve taken a few years off of my life, but we’ve added several to yours.” When I finally was healed enough to be released from the hospital (I had already lost 25 pounds at this point), Dr. Schwartz said goodbye and sent me on my way, but only if I agreed to stay near the hospital. He didn’t want me making the 4-hour trip back home. Luckily, my friend and her daughter took me in and took great care of me.
I finally arrived home 28 days after I left home. I went home on September 11. Yes, THE September 11th. For some reason my rebirth was tied to that tragic event. Perhaps it was to remind me that my challenges weren’t so bad. Perhaps it was a metaphor for rising from the ashes of my prior life. Perhaps is was simply a coincidence. Whatever the reason, I remember the long ride home listening to the reports on the radio and spending much of my recuperation time watching the reports on tv.
In the months that followed, the weight came off pretty easily. By the end of my first year after surgery, I’d lost 120 pounds. There were other changes as well. The journey after my surgery wasn’t only about becoming different physically, but I changed mentally and emotionally too. These changes were much more significant. I celebrated by going skydiving. On August 15, 2002, I jumped out of an airplane. To me, this was the perfect way to celebrate the changes in my life that year. I was no longer afraid to take risks and (literally) throw myself out there. I was free of the insecurities, fears and failings of the past. I’d become the person I’d always pictured myself to be. I was finally ME!
In the years since my surgery, I truly have created a new life for myself. In 2003, I met Jim. Had I not had the surgery and become the person I now am, I would not have been able to accept the love we share. Because of this love, I left my job and home in Orr so we could create a life together. When we married in 2004, I instantly became a ‘Mom’ to his two daughters, Bre and Brooke. Although I did not give birth to them, I love them as my own. They are amazing young women and I am so grateful to have them in my life.
In 2004, I began a new teaching job at Fridley High School. During my time in FHS, I have become a much better teacher (sorry to my former students in Orr – I wish they could be in my classes now). I have learned a lot from my colleagues, and have been given the chance to develop my professional practice in ways I had not done before. I was humbled in 2009, when one of my administrators nominated me for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. I was selected as one of 3 finalists from Minnesota. It was such an honor.
After many trials, medical issues, tests, additional surgeries and procedures (some related to the complications from my gastric-bypass surgery), Jim and I have two additions to our family. Van was born in 2008 and Karston was born in 2011. My family is my greatest joy. I truly am blessed.
The journey of the past 10 years has brought struggles and adventures, challenges and blessings. The first year post-op was all about how much I lost. Since then, it’s been about how much I’ve gained. Yes, there’s some weight gain, but I choose to focus on what I’ve gained personally and professionally. Most important of all, I’ve gained a family. I’ve gained an incredible, loving husband, 2 wonderful daughters, and 2 amazing miracles that call me Mommy.
While I may not be a “perfect 10,” the past 10 years have been a perfect journey to discover the real me.