The Biggest Loser
God does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without numbers.
God always looked out for my well being, I knew this while in the pre-surgery room at St Luke’s Hospital. I had a variety of feelings, including being overwhelmed, joyous, and grateful. I waited six long months for approval from my insurance company for Gastric Bypass Surgery (GBS). From countless Weight Watchers meetings, to seeing nutritionists and even taking Fen-Phen, I had done everything imaginable to lose weight. Now I was finally going to have my miracle cure from obesity. According to Dr. Thomas Chua, I was morbidly obese, a term I cringe at to this day. Leaving me on February 5, 2002 was the “chubby” adolescence, the “big boned” teenager, the “obese” young adult, and the five-foot-three inch woman who had tipped the scale at 516 pounds.
I was the kid who was always picked last to be on a team. I came in last every year in middle and high school when I ran the mile run that was required by the Presidential Fitness Challenge. I never went to prom or had a serious boyfriend. Most of the boys I met wanted one thing from me, which I wasn’t willing to give. I assume they thought because I was overweight I had low self-esteem. That was the farthest from the truth. I had the highest self-esteem a girl who was overweight could have. I considered myself a T.A.B.-not like the soda. T.A.B. stands for Thick And Beautiful. My father always told my sisters and me we were champions and should think of ourselves as that and nothing less. We were the Cottrell Girls, and no one could take that away. I took that to heart. Even though I was overweight, I kept myself looking beautiful. My hair and clothes were always on point. I can remember clearly a time my mother forbade me from another shopping spree because clothes bulged from my dresser and closet. I had developed a shopping habit no one could break.
Why would I consider undergoing a GBS if I was so happy with myself? That question is simple to answer. Although I didn’t suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes, I did have problems with my knees and with sleep apnea. Walking had become a task for me. At the age of twenty-seven, I depended upon a cane to walk. I could no longer do simple things a woman my age should do without assistance. The pain in my legs was excruciating and unbearable. I took Vioxx like vitamins just to make it through the day. My family grocery shopped and did laundry for me. When I went to the mall, I had to rest every ten steps before I made it into a store. I managed to go to work every day, but that was it. I often cried myself to sleep at night, praying, hoping and wishing the pain would just leave. I asked God time and time again, “Why me?” I never got an answer, but I once heard what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
I had two choices: either knee surgery or GBS. Since I was overweight, knee surgery was out of the question. GBS was going to cure my knee pain and free me from my “sidekick,” the cane. I learned about the surgery from my mother’s first cousin. She was enthusiastic about the surgery because just like me, she had been overweight her entire life. Although she was twenty years my senior, she knew what it felt like to have medical issues from being overweight.
“Hi, Tish,” Lori said.
“Hi, Lori, how have you been?”
“I am doing wonderful. I have never felt better.”
“Yes, really. I am sure your mother told you I had weight loss surgery a year ago.”
“Yeah, she told me, and she told me to expect your call.”
“Well, Tish, you know its hard being overweight and it takes a toll on your body and health.”
“I learned about this surgery from my orthopedic physician. The surgery is not that bad and it is done by laparoscopy. They put six holes in your stomach and use these tools and redo your stomach.”
After a three-hour telephone conversation, she finally convinced me to call her surgeon. The next morning, I placed the call to Wisconsin Bariatrics for a consultation with Dr Thomas Chua. My appointment was scheduled for a week later.
When my parents and I arrived at the clinic, I was given paperwork to fill out. The forms questioned everything from how long had I been overweight to medical conditions I suffered. The nurse called me back to check my vitals and weigh me. As she checked my vitals, my heart fell to my stomach. I hadn’t been weighed in years. I knew I weighed over 300 pounds because my primary doctor’s scale only went to 300. I feared knowing exactly how much I weighed. I didn’t think they had a scale that could get my actual weight, but to my surprise, they did. When the nurse walked me over to the monster I feared, I began to cry on the inside. The monster was going to tell me the truth that I didn’t want to know. As I stepped on the scale, my legs felt weak. I waited for what seemed to be hours for the digital numbers to pop up. The red numbers came up as 516, and I nearly fainted. This was something I kept under lock and key. I didn’t want anyone to know I was that large.
The nurse then escorted me into the examination room, where I waited for the doctor. In walked an Asian man around sixty years old with black hair. He had a calm demeanor about him. He went over all my paper work.
“Well, Natisha, from going over all your paperwork, it looks like you have a fat gene.”
“A fat gene, can you tell me more about that?”
“Yes, from the medical history and what you told me you eat, you don’t eat a lot.”
“Okay, what can I do from here to fix my fat gene?”
“You will certainly benefit from weight-loss surgery, but you would have to be willing to make life changes with this surgery.”
“What kind of life changes are you talking about?”
“Your stomach would shrink to a pouch that can’t hold more than a cup of food, for starters.”
“Okay, I can deal with that. Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Eating would be different, and it would take some getting used to.”
After getting the pros and cons with the doctor, he told me this was a serious commitment and I should think it over and make sure I was ready.
Before I walked out of the examination room, I told him I was ready. I was immediately scheduled for appointments with a psychiatrist and nutritionists and for various other testing to get ready for surgery. After waiting six months, I finally received an approval letter from my insurance company. The nurse called to schedule my surgery date.
I had to wait a month before my surgery. While waiting, I took to praying a lot and asking God to watch over me. The song “I’m Gonna Be Ready” by Yolanda Adams became my theme song. I listened to it a million times before going into surgery. The song gave me strength to go through the surgery and to realize there were great things in store for me.
Before I knew it, the month had passed, and it was the night before my surgery. It was time for the “last supper.” I went to El Greco’s Family Restaurant and had my favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs. As I ate my meal, I was in mourning because I knew it would be a long time before I would enjoy a meal of that magnitude again. After dinner, I stopped at Kopp’s and brought a pint of chocolate custard to fill my sweet tooth forever. As I ate my custard, I packed my hospital bag and my CPAP machine. This machine was for sleep apnea, and I needed it after the surgery to assist with my breathing.
I really believed I was going to lose Natisha. I didn’t want to become anyone different. I wanted to be the same woman who loved her family, friends, music, and life. I didn’t want to become a person who was obsessed with her looks and body. I prayed to God to watch over me the next morning and went to sleep.
My alarm went off at 4:30 A.M. I had to be at the hospital at 6 A.M. for surgery. I arrived at my parents’ home to pick everyone up. I had a strong support system that included my three younger sisters as well as my parents.
We arrived at the hospital, and I checked in at registration. After checking in, I was directed to the inpatient surgery area. I was expected to stay two to three days. After I waited ten minutes, the nurse called my name and escorted me to the back. I was directed to take everything off and put on the heinous hospital gown and lie on the bed. One by one, my family came back to wish me luck. They gave me encouraging words and let me know they would be there when I got out of surgery. An hour later, I was wheeled down to the surgery holding room, where the surgery team inserted an IV into my arm. The anesthesiologist, a Caucasian woman who had moons and stars on her surgical hat, came to talk to me. She had a syringe in her hand. She told me she would inject something in my IV to make me sleep and to count backwards starting with ten.
That’s the last number I remember making it to. I woke up in the recovery room with the same woman standing by my side. She asked me a number of questions. After I gave her the correct answers, she let the nurses know I was all right.
After staying in recovery for an hour, I was wheeled up to my room. I slept most of the night until the male version of Nurse Ratchet came into my room.
“Ms. Cottrell, do you have to use the bathroom?”
“No, I don’t have to go.”
I thought to myself, Why I would need to go to the bathroom? I haven’t eaten since midnight.
“Well if you don’t go within the hour, I’m going to have to insert a catheter.”
He walked out the room without waiting for me to respond. Nurse Ratchet came back in my room with another nurse with catheter in hand.
“Ms. Cottrell, wake up.”
“Are you able to go potty?”
“Well, I explained to you what I would need to do.”
Next thing I knew, I was up in the air, and the catheter was inserted. I was so upset I didn’t know what to do. I spent three days in the hospital. I was sent home on a pureed diet and was given my eating schedule for the next month.
It was a long process learning how to eat again. There were times where I threw up because I ate too fast or the food didn’t agree with me.
The weight melted off of me fast. After six months, I had lost one hundred pounds. Life sure was different for me. The most important thing was I didn’t need my cane to walk again or the Vioxx. I could grocery shop and do laundry on my own. From the looks of it, I made the right decision.
At least I thought I made the right decision until almost two years later. When I was two hundred and fifty pounds lighter, Dr. Chua wanted me to have a revision. A revision meant my intestines would be shortened and my pouch would get smaller than it already was. Dr. Chua told me I was a success in the medical world, but he thought I could reach his goal weight of 150 pounds. I say his goal weight because I never was small as a child, a teenager, or an adult. I was happy with the amount of weight I had lost, and so was he. I was smaller than when I was in high school. I could actually buy clothes from Lane Bryant. I could finally fit into five-pocket jeans. Before surgery, I could only wear jeans with elastic in the waist and no pockets. Men found me attractive, and I started dating. I decided I wanted a career change and enrolled in college. Things in my life couldn’t have been any better.
Dr. Chua explained the pros and cons of the revision to me. The pros were that I would lose more weight, and feel and look better. The cons were that because he shortened my intestines, my stool would always be like diarrhea and I would use the bathroom more frequently and immediately after I ate. The smell would be unbearable, but it would get better over time but not completely go way. Also, I would not absorb vitamins and could possibly become more anemic. The only things that could not be corrected were the diarrhea and the smell.
After a week of praying and getting advice from various friends and family, I decided to go ahead and have the surgery. The first surgery gave me much of my life back. How could a second one let me down? I had thoughts of being skinny and not having to shop in plus-size stores. People would no longer stare at me, and kids would stop pointing at me. Even though I lost two hundred and fifty pounds, I was still considered morbidly obese because of my height. My self-esteem was not low, but I knew being smaller would boost my self-esteem, and I would fit into society’s perception of what beautiful is.
My surgery was scheduled for July 20, 2004, at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. I arrived at the hospital early in the morning and asked God to watch over me while I was in the surgery waiting area. Thoughts went through my mind as I waited to go into surgery. The main thought was, Why am I doing this again? Why am I putting myself through this again? I am going to have to learn how to eat all over again. These second thoughts did not stop me from going through with the surgery.
This surgery was similar to the first surgery, and everything went smoothly afterwards. I started losing weight immediately. The first month, I lost twenty pounds, and the second month, another twenty pounds. Life could not have been any better. I was beginning to feel a lot better and become more active. I did suffer from anemia, and the diarrhea developed immediately, but I learned to live with both.
Six months later, my weight loss had slowed, but that was to be expected. I was down eighty pounds and loving life. Then one day, out of nowhere, I could not eat or hold any liquids down. I immediately called my surgeon and was scheduled for an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy or an EGD. The doctor would put a scope down my throat to see if the opening to my stomach had narrowed or closed completely. The EGD was an outpatient procedure, and I went home afterwards. I felt better for two days, and then the same symptoms came back. I went back for another EGD, and once again, the symptoms reoccurred. In a week’s time, I had lost forty pounds and was severely dehydrated because I could not eat or drink.
After feeling so weak that I could hardly get out of bed, I had my sister drive me to the ER at St. Luke’s Hospital. I was admitted because of dehydration and a high fever. While in the hospital, I had a number of tests run. My surgeon was called, but he was out of the country, and his partner was taking care of me. Dr. Stan Stewart was young but very experienced. He decided to run an Upper GI. For this procedure, I lay on the cold table with a sipper full of ice cold dye that tasted like lemonade. When I sipped, Dr. Stewart looked at the monitor to see what was going on. The test showed scar tissue had formed and wrapped around my pouch. I was rushed into emergency surgery within the hour.
Dr. Stewart was able to take the scar tissue out. Also he had to remove the clamp from my pouch because the tissue had wrapped around that.
When I woke up from the procedure, I had a tube coming out of my nose. This tube went from my nose down into my intestines. I also had a central line in my neck. Dr. Stewart came in to talk to me and told me I was lucky they discovered the scar tissue because I could have been dead had this gone on any longer. The next day or so, I was given some liquids to see if I was able to hold them down. I was so afraid to try drinking because during the weeks prior to the surgery, as soon as I drank anything I threw it up right away. I put the cup up to my mouth and took a sip, and to my surprised, it stayed down.
After this procedure, I did gain seventy pounds back because Dr. Stewart took apart a majority of my surgery to make me better. This was okay because I could have been dead without surgery. Even though I suffer from complications till this day, I am happy for what Dr. Stewart did. He saved my life, and in my eyes, I am the biggest loser. Although my health is not the best, I can’t take back the decision I made to have a second surgery. I am a success because I managed to lose over two hundred pounds. I am even more confident and my self-esteem is just as high. I thank God every day for my life and for everything I have been through. It has made me a stronger person. Life could not have been any better, and those numbers on the scale are just numbers.