Ruth's story - 6 months after a gastric sleeve

Ever since I was run over by a motorbike and had to spend 6 weeks in hospital and another few months in a wheelchair I have always been overweight.

I made peace with myself and, in my twenties, being the largest among my family and friends simply did not bother me. It never stopped me doing what I wanted to do. When I was diagnosed with diabetes things were also manageable but it was when I began to take insulin that I hit a real problem. I have insulin resistance and it did not really matter how much insulin we threw at it, my sugars were still rising. I was taking Metformin, Gliclazide, Victoza and two kinds of insulin every day.

I found Professor Humadi by chance. I needed a surgeon to remove my gall bladder and when I met with him to consult on this, he suggested bariatric surgery. His calm and attentive manner impressed me and I discussed him with my GP who was impressed with his resume and the fact that he worked for the NHS as well as having private patients. My BMI was not high enough for NHS funding so after further consultation and a period of time to save up enough money, I underwent a sleeve gastrectomy.

The whole experience was made so much more pleasant for me by the support team. Melanie, Professor Humadi’s secretary, and Shelagh were both unfailingly kind and encouraging and spent a good deal of time with me answering my questions and offering support. The liver shrinking diet was tough; I will not deny it, particularly since I was still at work throughout. It is only 14 days but it does seem longer and it is a real challenge but the thought that if I did not stick to it my surgery would be cancelled kept me going. Distraction is the key here. Oh, and staying away from the TV which seemed suddenly full of adverts for delicious carbohydrate laden foods.

I found the Spire Thames Valley hospital friendly and calm and spotlessly clean. I was met at reception and taken to my room which was very comfortable and looked out onto a small pond which was great entertainment for my family throughout my stay who enjoyed watching the moorhens and deer. The ward staff were fantastic too and were never too busy to answer a question or to have a chat.

I felt supported throughout by the whole medical team and by the physiotherapist who visited me twice in my 5 days stay (2 nights longer than expected). The physio visited me once while I was more in bed than out and then again to show me the best way to go up and down stairs and to give me advice about keeping active. I have also received dietary support throughout, mostly by telephone for the sake of convenience. Melanie has always responded really quickly to my emails and has phoned from time to time to check that I am ok.

I felt exhausted after the surgery; no doubt the effects of the anaesthetic. Whenever I felt any pain I told the nurses and they administered medication. I slept quite a bit and found the booties which inflated and deflated to avoid thrombosis rather pleasant. There was some oral medicine given to me on the first day and I was asked to make sure it was dissolved thoroughly before swallowing. I did the best I could but it wasn’t enough and I simply cannot describe the pain! The staff answered my emergency button very quickly and took away the pain. After that I learned to take a small sip of water and hold it in my mouth to help dissolve the Fast Tabs and was pain free after that.

I am six months post op now and life certainly has changed. After a short spell on insulin, I am now off it altogether and only taking Metformin. At the three month mark I did start to lose my hair and was afraid that I would go bald. This did not happen. 3 months later my hair is a little thinner over all, but it is only me and my hairdresser who have noticed. My energy levels did not return to “normal” until around the 5 month mark, but I have been able to do what I wanted to do since the 2 month mark – just a little slower and in small bursts with rest in between.

I bumped into someone I had not seen for a couple of years and they actually walked past me. They did not recognise me at all. (I do admit to getting a kick out of that). I have dropped 4 dress sizes! I will admit to being surprised at how cold I am now that winter is approaching; I used to be in a t-shirt still in December but now I have invested in the some thermal underwear. I am also surprised and a little freaked out by the bones which are appearing. I did not know I had them. The biggest change for me though, is not needing insulin and the comfort that, should I need it in the future, the part of me which made me insulin resistant has been removed.

My advice to anyone considering bariatric surgery is “Just do it!” Any pain is temporary and soon forgotten. It is serious surgery but does not feel traumatic in any way.

If you have decided already my top tips would be:

  • When you leave the hospital ask someone to bring you a pillow from home. Place this in front of your body and under your seat belt in the car to remove the pressure of the seatbelt on your wounds.
  • Take a sip of water when dissolving the Fast Tabs in your mouth.
  • Get up and walk about as soon as you are able – it really does aid faster recovery.
  • Get some protein shakes or powder and add it to your food as soon as you are able.
  • Freeze some squash, or buy some ice pops for your return. It is easier somehow to lick a lolly than to sip a drink.