Fat is a fatherly issue
May 4, 2010 4:36 AM   Subscribe

My father is getting lapband surgery. How do I be supportive when I'm scared shitless?

So, my Da is fat. He always has been. He's also always been terribly lax in health care - very typical 'male' according to people. He has back issues from car accidents during his misspent youth, knee issues from physical labour, hearing loss from his job and an assortment of other things. My mother swears he's depressed too. So when I rang tonight he told me (off hand and sounding kinda nervous) (it's hard to judge - I've never heard him be nervous, but when he sounded like my little brother I figured something was off) that he's going through the consults needed for lapband surgery. So this should be a good thing, right? Diets haven't worked for him, exercise is problematic and damn it, I want him to be around and healthy to know my daughter.

But I find myself terrified (what if he dies) and angry (Jesus dad, just stick to a fucking diet*) and sad (what if he's doing this because he's misinterpreted my prods and pushes to see a doctor/get his knee fixed/get a hearing aid as prods to lose weight). I want to support him - he says he's done the research, he's had friends do it successfully and he wants to do it. I just don't really know how when I'm so angsty. I've done a bit more research and I'm less scared but I want to not be a dick about this. It's likely my sister will be so it's up to me to be a little more adult about it all. But how do I do it? I don't want to lose my Da, I don't want him to be sick all the time but I know I can't change his mind. So mefis ho have had the surgery or who are the loved ones of those who have, what should I do? What can I do? Tell me success stories and positive outcomes please?

*I'm well aware this is not as simple as stated but that's how I'm feeling and I REALLY don't want that coming through when I talk to him
posted by geek anachronism to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've known several friends who have had either bypass or lapband surgery, and all of them would fall in the "success" category. The thing that stands out most for me is that the overall impact on quality of life--being able to be physically active, having more energy, being able to buy regular clothes and feeling good about your appearance, etc. If you've never been obese, you may not have a full understanding of how deep of an impact those kinds of things can have on your life, or how they can more than compensate for all the misery of recovery and the ongoing non-trivial dietary restrictions.

On the logical side, keep reminding yourself that statistically speaking, he is much more (like, vastly more) likely to die from complications from being obese than from complications from lapband surgery.
posted by drlith at 5:04 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: I had gastric bypass surgery (the RNY type) 13 years ago and I do think it's one of the best decisions of my life. I still have issues with my weight but the surgery gave me tools to manage it and that's been a great help.

I hear your fears (and judgements too) about all this and it's so easy to sit on the sidelines and say "just stop eating so much". There are people who have starved themselves and cannot lose weight. Would that it were so easy to "just stop eating". We'd all be much better off. The surgery is NOT a cure but, as I said, it's a tool to aid you.

Trust your dad to know what he needs and wants. If he's done the research and talked to friends who have walked that road and feels confident this is right for him, allow him that choice and be supportive in the very best way you can. Vent your fears and frustrations to friends but do be supportive of your dad's choice. It's his to make.

I wish him great success with it. I have never, ever - not for one moment - regretted my decision to have the surgery and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. (Only this time, I'd be sure not to start eating sugar again. OY!)
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:56 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: You have nothing to worry about. I have a Lap Band. Lost over 100 lbs. (then put much of it back on for unrelated reasons but that's another story...). The only unpleasantries he'll go through are the first 3-4 weeks while he's healing, his incisions will be sore.

This is a laparascopic procedure, meaning the band is installed via several very small incisions; the doc will not be opening up your dad with a huge chest-to-navel cut like old fashioned surgeries. I have 5 tiny 1" incisions on the abdomen that healed into barely noticeable scars. After the healing stage the rest of it is easy-peasy; he'll just be less hungry so he will eat less. The band is a sort of adjustable ring placed on the top of the stomach that creates a small "pouch" where your food lands after you swallow it. The food then takes a while, because it has to go through the band, to move out of that pouch into the stomach where it is digested normally. But your "fullness" sensors are in that pouch up top, so since the food slowly empties from that part, it tricks your brain into thinking you're done eating. Imagine his stomach like an hourglass and the food moving slowly from the top to the bottom. Over time, he will need to have his band tightened a few times to keep too much food from going through too quickly (which results in eating more.) The band is adjusted tighter or looser by a doc with saline injections at a quick office visit; there is a "port" placed just under the skin of the abdomen with a tube that goes to the band. Doctor adds or removes saline through this port; it doesn't hurt.

The band is not like other procedures: Others like the roux-en-y (RNY) gastric bypass or duodenal switch are much more invasive and involve cutting parts of the stomach and/or intestines, and reconnecting them in different ways to surgically create a tiny food receptacle forcing the patient to eat less (or they will have a lot of pain or vomiting if they eat too much). Those surgeries have much higher risks, and the patients need to take vitamin supplements and be careful of malnutrition and sickness because, with missing or rearranged pieces of their digestive organs, their food does not go through the entire digestive process. The Lap Band does none of this; dad's organs will stay intact. He will not die, he will not be barfing all the time, he can eat normal food but much less of it.

Please educate yourself on the Lap Band. He will be very happy with it, and I think your family will enjoy how happy it makes him.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:02 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I didn't have the lapband, but I did have a different surgery.

what should I do? What can I do?

Be as supportive, encouraging and helpful as possible. There will be a learning curve and adjustments he'll have to make for quite a while. He will not be perfect. He'll make mistakes and "bad" choices, but instead of "I told you so", try to help him work his way through it.

Do NOT flaunt the foods you can eat that he can't.

Do speak positively about him to other family members when he's not around, especially to those who are quick to disparage his decision. Be aware that some people are going to be jealous if your father does really well. It's bound to happen.

Be a good listener and try not to be too judgmental. He'll possibly want to bitch & moan at times or rave about how awesome things are, be willing to accept that he'll have all these reactions and that it's okay.

It's not easy and it's really a lifelong commitment. I wish your father the best.
posted by SoulOnIce at 6:10 AM on May 4, 2010

I didn't mean to sound flip in my "easy-peasy" comment above. SoulOnIce is correct: it does involve a lifelong commitment. The band is not a "get out of jail free" card. It is possible to sabotage yourself by eating unhealthy things that move through the band too quickly (like ice cream, desserts, rich soft foods). Your dad will need to still make good dietary choices and eat healthfully. But having the band will *enable* him to make those choices because it will make his body feel satisfied with small amounts of nutritious food. The reason diets and "willpower" don't work is because your body stays hungry and that physical gnawing urge makes you want to keep eating. The band takes away that hunger. For many of us, surgical intervention is necessary, and it is not a cop out.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 6:36 AM on May 4, 2010

What I am writing here is not meant to scare you.

My father was a perfect candidate for lapband surgery and had the procedure done this past February. For the first few days it was fine. Then his body began to reject it and he had a very high fever and an infection around the area where the band was. This led to an extended hospital stay where they had to go back in and adjust the band and treat the infection. Normal treatment was complicated due to the band and the way it restricted the esophagus and the administration of food and medicine. Everything had to be administered via IV. Due to his extended periods of laying down because of the pain from moving, he developed thrombosis in his legs which then moved up and caused a lung embolism. He came very close to dying. As soon as the embolism was discovered and could be treated his condition improved dramatically. The pain subsided but the fever and infection did not go away. Finally a few weeks after the procedure the decision was made to remove the band.

He was very disappointed and depressed about how it all went down. He did all the research and consultations but it just didn't work out. This is hitting him hard. The way he sees it, after years of dieting and trying everything to get his weight down, he took a big gamble to get this under control and he failed once again.

So the reason I am telling you this is that you need to realize that even though the majority of the procedures go fine, some of them just don't work out. If it doesn't work out, you have to let your father know that you don't consider him a failure. He's gonna need your support no matter what happens. My dad did it to get as many years as possible with his children and grandchildren. Now he has no choice but to do it the old-fashioned way with better diet and exercise. The good thing to come out of all of this is that he lost a lot of weight in the hospital. He's made a full recovery and is feeling better but we are afraid he might fall into his old habits. We'll see what happens.
posted by chillmost at 6:57 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: My mom had RNY gastric bypass in 2000, before it was a commonplace surgery and the risks were a lot higher. I tried to talk her out of it. I thought she hadn't tried hard enough to lose weight "normally" and that she was "taking the easy way out" and I was so damn scared that she'd die from the surgery or be sick afterwards, etc, etc.

But she didn't die. And she was never sick. She reached her goal weight and then some. She is happy and healthy, her blood pressure is down, she goes to the gym every day - it was the best thing she ever did for herself.

And it took me seven years to realise that, yes, I was terrified that she would die from the surgery, but I was also jealous. It was hard watching her get thinner and thinner with what I perceived to be minimal effort. I hated going shopping with her or going out to dinner with her - she'd eat three bites and be done, and I'd clean my plate.

So in January 2009 I had the same surgery, after insisting for years that I didn't want it. I was fooling myself that whole time. And I've reached my goal weight. I'm not sick. I have never once thrown up. I can eat normal food. And it was the best thing I ever did for myself - but it certainly wasn't the easy way out.

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's normal to be scared for your dad. Just be there for him. Don't give him a hard time. Support him by helping him break his old food habits, but don't be the food police. Once he starts to lose weight he'll feel better and be more inclined to be active - go do things with him! Hikes and walks and things he didn't feel like doing before. He's got a hard road ahead of him and he's going to need you. But he'll also be there when you need him, instead of possibly being dead from an obesity-related condition*.

* My dad died in December 2001, weighing in at 450lbs. I wish he could have had WLS too.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do some more research. Go to the Los Angeles Times website and search archives for lapband surgery. They had an excellent survey recently. Summary: it's dangerous, expensive, and doesn't work. I have a 400 pound friend who had the surgery, and there are many more like him. There is no quick fix. Don't do it.
posted by charlesminus at 11:31 AM on May 4, 2010

I hate to be another bearer of doom, but here's my story:

I had the lap-band surgery two years ago, and spent 14 days in the hospital recovering from a massive infection and having the band removed, along with nearly going on dialysis from the resulting kidney damage. I won't go into the gory details, but it was a painful and unpleasant recovery, to say the least.

I am in no way suggesting that this is a likely outcome for everyone who has the surgery, but I wished that I had gone with my instincts about my doctor, rather than being sucked in by the promise of weight-loss success.

Look at obesityhelp.com and read (many) doctor testimonials to get a clear picture of a doctor's track record from the point of view of his or her patients. Consult the American Society of Bariatric Physicians to find a doctor that is certified/meets their guidelines. Do your best not to let him rush into anything.

If it will ease your mind, go with him to his doctor's appointments. Make sure that he discusses all medical conditions and medications throughly, to get a clear picture of any difficulties or complications they present. Talk to the doctors until you are satisfied with the answers you hear.
posted by lemonwheel at 5:29 PM on May 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the personal insights - it helps to know what I can do. I think it'll help my mother too since she does well with diet/exercise but Da tends to screw it up and make it difficult for her. I did a bit more reading around and I'm less scared (I was getting the more invasive procedures confused with the lapband) but it's still major surgery with lifelong consequences.

I probably should have mentioned that I don't live in the same state so I can't go to doctor's appointments and phone conversations are curtailed by the deafness. I'll still do what I can.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:24 PM on May 4, 2010

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