Neil Gaiman says:

Neil Gaiman says:
pic by Allan Amato

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 2010

2010 was an exciting year, full of change, travel and new beginnings. Mid-February, I was admitted to hospital in Utica, NY for a gastric bypass. The surgery itself took longer than my Mom would’ve liked, but I was grateful to have Dr. Fitzer’s time well spent getting everything ‘just right’. I’m relieved to have a new lease on life: one without pain, or the mobility issues that had become a way of life, or the looming threat of diabetes.

May was another beginning in my life, with the birth of Brain Power Studio, headed by Beth Stevenson. A lifelong childhood friend and creative powerhouse, Beth had a vision to create great children’s programming, educational content and publishing. Thankfully, she also pictured a certain writer-artist in the mix: me! The studio launch happened in June and we received excited accolades and many toasts. ‘Overhead Bob’, our stalwart figurehead was present, as was ‘Team Zero’. We posed, were quoted and made toasts of our own.

At the end of July, my Mom and I headed to the States once more. We crossed into Vermont, drove through the breathtaking mountains of New Hampshire and into Maine. We stayed in Bangor (and even visited Stephen King’s house!) We headed back into Canada near St. Stephen. The Duty-free store had a back window where you drove around to collect any alcohol you’d picked up, to ensure that the booze was Canada-bound. It felt like something from the old ‘prohibition’ days!

We visited lovely St.Andrew’s-by-the-Sea, caught the ferry from Saint John to Digby, then drove to Lunenburg. We had great travel luck and enjoyed tasty food and friendliness wherever we went. Thanks to our GPS, losing our map in the States didn’t set us back too much. We caught the Ferry to PEI and made our way to Charlottetown, the ‘Birthplace of Confederation’ There, we caught up with Troy, Carol, Alicen & Hayden, met new friends and enjoyed great music. I was able to share the lovely beaches and scenery with Mom and enjoyed wonderful Island Hospitality shown by Troy’s folks as they hosted a delightful brunch for us. We left for Miramichi that afternoon and had a great time reconnecting with Robbie, Bobbie, Chloe, Piper and Briar.

Mom and I had a blast going on a few mini-road trips with the Stewart-Anderson clan, up to Escuminac for fresh lobster, then to Cape Enrage the next day to explore the cobble beach. Everyone found cool fossils! After far too short a stay, we headed west, spending the night at Riviere-du-Loup. It wasn’t long before we negotiated the traffic snarl of Montreal and were safely home, backs slowly unkinking with tasty drinks in hand!

It was so nice reuniting with Clayton and of course Hank! Hank has enjoyed being fostered during all my trips at the cottage with Vicki, Anders, Emilia and Dan. We’re very lucky that he has his ‘home-away-from-home’ available and such loving people to spoil him rotten.

October 13th was a momentous day, as the ever-youthful Clayton turned the ‘big 5-0’. We celebrated over delicious dim sum at our favourite place in Kanata. Clayton and I shared a birthday gift of a PS3 game system and he received lots of new games. We’re still trying to figure out all the controls; but are having fun! Getting a new toy when you turn 50 is probably the best way to describe Clayton’s outlook on life: “13 going on 50”.

I was fortunate this year to receive a pass to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. I enjoyed meeting lots of creative and cool people, catching inspiring animated films and also testing my endurance at several industry parties. It was delightful being able to walk everywhere without worrying about stairs, distance or pain… although by the end of it I was happy to get a rest! It was a thrill getting to be a part of the festival and helping to get Brain Power’s name out there.

Clayton and I continued to coordinate the monthly Ottawa Comix Jam at the Shanghai Restaurant. The Ottawa comic scene is vibrant and the people are fun. We were happy to see a lot of new faces turn up at the gatherings and some great artwork produced. The Shanghai has offered to host an art show for our group next April and we are planning how that will come about. It should be a blast!

Mom and I enjoyed a couple of lovely trips to Belleville: in October to celebrate Uncle Dale’s 70th birthday and in December for the family’s annual Tree Trim. It was such fun getting to catch up with all the cousins, sisters and aunts ;-)

November, I spent illustrating ‘Momma’s Magic’, another children’s book by local author Bobby Salvin, which is at the printers. Once that was completed, I was ready for my next adventure…

LAS VEGAS! Mom and I skipped town Dec 9th and winged west on Westjet’s inaugural non-stop flight to Nevada. Complete with showgirls, an Elvis impersonator, free drinks and prizes, the flight was a hoot! We stayed at Bugsy Siegel’s famous hotel ‘The Flamingo’, where Hunter S. Thompson had penned ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. It was a beautiful place with a bird sanctuary and marble opulence everywhere. But, the main attraction for us was across the street at Caesar’s Palace. Saturday night, we attended the last show of Leonard Cohen’s 3 year tour at the Coliseum. What a treat! This 76 year-old, full of grace and generosity, love and heart, backed by some of the most talented musicians in the industry, wowed us for over 3 hours. Ovation followed ovation and encore followed encore. He dusted off songs from 30 years ago and rolled out his hits. Polka-dot blouses fluttered in the air and the crowd breathed sighs of amazement as ‘Hallelujah’ soared over us. It was an incredible, memorable night—where everyone wore fedoras and roses cascaded over the stage.

We spent a day recovering, then ventured to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Words and pictures fall short of describing the natural beauty of this place. I was shocked seeing people far past the ‘safety barricade’, posing with small children inches from the precipices however. Apparently around 15 tourists plunge per year. We kept our distance, and used up the batteries in both our cameras shooting a pile of pictures.

We also spent time at the slot machines, and a couple of nice wins paid for my tour of the Canyon and also a Burlesque show! We hoofed it all around, rode the monorail and the bus, explored the Luxor’s display on “Bodies” which was intense and humbling. We also paused at the famous Gold and Silver Pawn shop and poked around. No deals there, but plenty of great history my Dad would’ve enjoyed.

I realize that this year’s traveling would’ve been impossible for me last year. The little things had the biggest impact: doing up a seat belt on a plane without an extender, walking up a flight of stairs without a cane; walking up stairs on a double-decker bus, sitting in a booth at a restaurant. Simply having the energy to do all of these things. Surgery is partly to thank for this, but the other part is the support and love from my family and friends during the long road to healing and losing over 100 lbs.

I send our best wishes out to you for the season, may it be one of happiness, relaxation and peace. However you celebrate the holidays, may you spend it in love, held warmly and firmly in the embrace of people who care for you and keep you close to their hearts. May the New Year bring equal measures of goodness, luck, health and beauty your way.

Big hugs and plenty o’ love,
Suzanne & Clayton

Friday, June 04, 2010

For the record

It's been a few months since my surgery and I thought I'd update how I was doing... I've had a few trips back to Utica, NY for check-ups, and apart from my usual border-crossing anxiety (which is only equalled by my Mom's bridge-crossing anxiety) all has been well.

It took some time getting used to my new physionomy I can tell you. At first it was pretty easy to strictly adhere to my laminated sheet that was on fridge. The sheet was the food bible that would help my new stomach (a pouch that in its infancy could only hold about a teaspoon or two of food) heal and grow a bit more robust.

The toughest part at first was remembering to drink. The pouch was so small and tender, so nascent, that glugging water was impossible. If you forgot to drink enough, you just had to really pay attention the next day and remember to sip all day long to ensure that you eventually got your 64 oz. fill in. I still don't drink enough, but it is not because I can't physically do it. It has to do with how liquids and solids interract in the small stomach.

The gastric bypass ultimately is a tool that you can use to help you lose weight. It is a permanent tool that patients will always have access to, and if used the right way, the weight does come off almost miraculously. I can attest to it because every day I hop on my scale and wonder if this is really happening. I weigh now, what I did when I first went to college, back in 1997. I've dropped about 80 lbs. since February 10th and it continues to drop at a fairly steady rate. I feel like I look the same, since I see myself every day, but people who don't see me that often have commented that there is indeed, less of me.

Over the last few months since surgery, I had to slowly rebuild my tolerance to certain foods. When I began, my new stomach not only could not handle large amounts of food, but could only handle specific textures of it as well. Think soft. UBER-soft, if you will. After almost three weeks of yogurt, oatmeal, apple sauce and cottage cheese, I was really ready to graduate! It was a relief to move to semi-solids and protein that didn't come in a shake! Again, after another three weeks of tuna, salmon and for a change, more tuna and more salmon, I was very relieved to note that my laminated food guide said that I could try moist proteins (ground beef, chicken), bread(!), fruit and VEGGIES. Raw, crunchy veggies were what I think I missed the most.

So now I can eat pretty much what everyone else eats, except that it has to happen very, very slowly and the quantity is about 1/4 the size of a regular meal. Food has to get chewed extremely well and doesn't get accompanied with liquid. The reason this happens is so the small pouch stays full longer. If you have a drink with your meal, basically whatever you ate turns into 'soup' in your stomach and dribbles out the tiny aperture at the bottom. Then you are hungry pretty much instantly. The gastric bypass doesn't de-calorify the foods you eat, it just helps you feel full faster (because it is very tiny). The message gets to your brain quickly and you have to comply (and stop eating). Even though my new stomach can only hold about 1/2 - 1 cup of food at a time, when it gets full, it feels as though I've been to a buffet and am pushing plate #3. You know when you realize you should've worn your stretchy pants and not your jeans? That's the feeling you get!

The first six months after a gastric bypass is called the 'honeymoon' period, since it is the time when the weight drops off the fastest. The clinic in Utica has been very happy with how I'm doing and super supportive. I've dropped 25% of the weight that I'm supposed to (they have a mystical number in mind, and 18 months in which you're expected to do it). Some people drop 30% in the first 3 months, and some less. What I'm really happy about is that my blood sugar is normal and all my other functions appear normal as well (blood pressure too!)

The absolute best thing about dropping 80 lbs.? I can walk. Without pain. I can climb stairs, cut the grass, kneel (not for long) and take my dog around the block. This time last year, I could only shuffle and then, only with the assistance of a cane. I was borderline diabetic (was actually getting insulin when in hospital for surgery!). All of this has cleared up with the gastric bypass surgery, which I firmly believe has saved my life. What life I get to enjoy now...will be of the highest quality and with the most grateful acknowledgment each day for my fortune.

Now I get to start ramping up my excersize programme. I'm anxious to get back into weight-lifting (free weights, not my Self!) Also I want to get back on a bicycle. These are things that had just fallen away from me as I my health degraded... the idea of reclaiming the things I really enjoy doing is exciting to me. Who knows, perhaps in the next 6 months I'll be back belly-dancing and doing those deep knee bends in T'ai Ch'i.


(Below, some Googled images of what 80 lbs. looks like...)

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Incredibly Shrinking Sue

Hi Everyone,

It has been a bit of a while since I posted (although truth to tell, I do have a lot of drafts languishing in the bin). I've found if I'm keeping a traditional journal, I don't blog as much (and vice verse). So, sorry for the long silence. Recently I had to go out of country for surgery and there have been a number of questions about that, so I thought doing a blog would help clear up some of the mysteries. (OOh!!)

February 10th this year found me in Utica NY at Faxton-St.Luke's hospital, being prepped for a Roux-n-Y gastric bypass. I had to get up at 4:30am to be at the hospital for quarter to 6, which was about as pleasant as it sounds! As well, this was day three of my 72 hr liquid fast, so I was not in a pleasant frame of mind. Plus I was scared shitless (no kidding!)

It was cold and dark and the wind was up when we pulled into Parking Lot A of the hospital. Parking is free, which is nice, considering the hours that my Mom spent driving back and forth from our little room a the Red Roof Inn and back to the parking lot. I had my shoulder bag with all my paper work with me (no idea if I'd need it or not!) Plus over the other shoulder, my CPAP machine (sleep apnea therapy device) that the folks in Utica said I'd need to bring. Mom had my clothes' bag, the bag with all my drugs in it and a half bottle of distilled water (didn't know if I'd need it for the CPAP machine, but better safe than sorry!)

In no time, I was getting prepped. Shucked off clothes for a stylin', backless robe (arg), all my clothes went into a bag. It looked a bit pathetic seeing my stuff in a plastic bag with a tag on it. Like I'd possibly never see them again and they would be all that was left of me. Pretty much all the stuff we'd toted up to the hospital through the howling wind was unnecessary, so Mom ended up having to hump it back to the car. Sigh!

We waited in a small ward and I got fitted with an IV port. (*expletive deleted*) It hurt like hell getting that rammed into my left hand. And that is the hand with the nerve damage in it, so you can imagine how it would've felt in the right hand! I was eventually encouraged to hop up on the bed and just tried to breathe a bit. Finally a friendly orderly wheeled me out into the hall and Mom followed along, until she was directed to the 'waiting room'. At least they are fairly pleasant rooms with comfy chairs and no fluorescent lights...

Now I was in the 'Holding Tank', the room you are to lie in until you're queued up to be wheeled to surgery. People asked me questions, ticked off ticks, checked me and waited for Dr. Fitzer to appear. It was 8:20am and I was full of immense dread, doubt, fear, second thoughts, cold feet... well, actually my feet WERE cold, so that explains that...

Dr. Fitzer arrived and explained once more about the procedure and about post-op care of the pouch that he was going to try and make. He basically laid everything on the line about the dangers of not over-filling the pouch (which leads to pouch failure and death). Way to go! Thanks for helping me feel even more terrified right before surgery. But, I have to say, these guys were utter pros and let you know everything up front. I could've said "No" right there and hopped off the table, but I recommited to the damned thing. It was a no-brainer at this point and I had fought so hard to get to where I was lying, I knew that I had to go through with it.

Finally I was wheeled to the elevators, then down one level (no! Not the basement!) It was hushed and the orderly wasn't making any more jokes. I was quiet and apprehensive. The doors to the surgery swung open and I was in a large room chock full of machines and monitors. The lights directly above me put me in mind of the opening to the 'Six Million Dollar Man'.

There were also some lovely flat screen TV's surrounding the surgery area. At that moment I'd completely forgotten that I was to receive laparoscopy surgery and the nature of the TV's eluded me. I was about to pipe up that they must enjoy watching movies during surgery when I finally clued in! Yeahhh.... ok... :-) (Laparoscopic surgery uses cameras to guide the surgeon in their work..they watch via television).

The bottom of the gurney I was on was an inflatable matress. With the touch of a button, the mattress inflated with a wooshing sound and lifted me up from the gurney. With the help of the team, I was moved onto the surgery table, riding the air mattress and making the transfer a snap. What a great idea!

Finally a familiar face from the Holding Tank appeared; it was the anaesthesiologist. Ahh, how nice... finally I could leave the hammering heart panic of a rabbit with its leg in a clamp and just ease right out. I wished the surgeon well (in my head) and followed the directions of the fellow with the gas. A few half-hearted prayers vaguely directed to my Dad and any other supreme power that might be taking an interest wafted out of me as the anaesthetic took hold, then all was black.

Back in the waiting room, Mom had been patient over the time that a normal procedure would normally take; about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs. Finally, a little after lunch, Dr. Fitzer came to her, looking tired. It had taken over 4 hours for the work to be done and he let her know that I finally had my 'pouch'. I'm not sure if it was simply my weight, of the way my body is put together with all of the organs and fat very much centralized (I'm a potato/apple shaped person) or what. Thankfully, these guys are the best, and I was in professional hands the whole way through. The Dr. told Mom I'd be in the recovery room for a few hours, so she headed to the Hotel to rest and get a bit of lunch.

I don't remember much of the Recovery Room. It was brighter than the Holding Tank, and I felt a bit raw. My throat was dry as a bone and sore as hell. I felt a bit numbed out. During the stay people would often ask for my full name before proceeding to either give me drugs or do various things. Two hours seemed to pass very quickly for me, and once again I found myself traveling on the wheeled gurney, under the guidance of a different orderly and possibly a nurse?

They brought me to the bariatric patients' area of St.Luke's and lost my admiration by whanging the gurney into the doorjamb of my room. The pain that came up from my belly was unlike any I'd endured. I let out a protesting howl of agony and glared at twinkletoes who'd pulled the move. The nurse(?) had a few tart words for him, but I don't recall any apologies. Hmm, one can tell that we're not in Canada any longer...

The room was small but well appointed with medical gear, a bathroom, a broad window facing the parking lot and a tall spruce. I was pretty disoriented and sore and unsure of what was going on. A woman took that opportunity to stick her head in the door and say "TELEVISION??" with a foxlike face and bright eyes darting back and forth. I said "No thanks", and got a surprised look in return. It took her 3 days of trying to finally give up on me. I was happy to be in a land with no TV.

Mom appeared soon after that and it was wonderful seeing her. Just squeezing her hand and knowing that it was over and I was safely on the other side felt like a million gold sparkles. Her face was tight with worry, but I let her know I was ok. I'll never be able to make up that time for her that she spent worrying over me in the Waiting Room, but at least now, on the other side, she could see I was alright.

An enormous bouquet of flowers and a balloon from Chester's Flower Shop was brought in shortly after that. It was from Fiona, with the card reading "Love doesn't accept distances. Hugs and love, Sue -- FI". Well, I got all teary seeing the beautiful roses, daisies and carnations. Mom set up all my cards of encouragement from everyone around the flowers and then pressed a fuzzy stuffed animal in my arms. It was a red-brown dachshund. "What do you want to call him?" She asked. I thought for a second, petting the plush ears and looking into the cute face of the critter "Hank Jr.?" We both laughed, and of course it hurt.

Now began a series of days involving not drinking enough fluids, getting my IV taken out (and then put back in), learning to walk without pain, learning to haul myself out of bed without having to rely on a nurse. Getting asked if I had peed or passed gas (critical things when people mess with your insides I suppose). I regarded my wounds curiously; there were six of them, and of those six only one had been 'bad' (leaking a little for the first few days). The time was a blur of rotating nurses and care attendants, always with thermometers, blood pressure machines (that didn't work on me), blood sugar monitors and then injections of insulin (at this point I was borderline Diabetic --sigh!) There were also injections of blood thinners to avoid the danger of blood clots, and the Spirometer in which one inhales deeply to help the lungs recover from the anaesthetics during surgery.

What I still can't figure out is why these poking, prodding, injecting and taking of readings has to be done in the middle of the night? Like 2:30am? 4:00am? Are these women (98% women anyway) trained in the art of sadism? Why is my 4:00am temperature so important? It was annoying. It was very difficult to sleep anyway, and finding yourself being woken up to have your blood pressure measured didn't help.

Asking for pain medication became a game as well. If it was under the allotted time (4 hrs.) the nurses simply ignored the request. Sometimes, they did that even though 4 hrs. had passed. I was on percocet and was later told by Dr. Fitzer's weekend replacement that I wouldn't be released as long as I was on the narcotic. So, once I clued into that, I stopped asking for pain medication. Unfortunately, the hospital didn't seem to believe in an interim pain reliever, like percocet..then to Tylenol 3 or something? Or even extra-strength Tylenol? I just rode it out and knew it was worth it, if it meant I'd get out of the place sooner.

One of the nicer events was having a shower. It felt good to walk carefully down the hall with the attendant to the Shower Room. It was full of home-made giant PVC chairs on wheels, designed for people who were not in the normal range of weight (say 300 lbs. +) The shower was delightful. It was quiet and I got to just spend time in the warmth, getting clean and feeling the grime and ick of the last few days go away. I wandered back to my room when I was done and of course there were a bunch of people wanting to take my temperature waiting. I dried off and tried to comb my hair but had to wait for the nurses to do their thing.

Sunday, I was finally given the go-ahead to go home (after abstaining from my pain meds for far too long). I was given yet another scare speech about the dangers of pushing my pouch before it was ready. And that it took 3 weeks, not 2, not 2 1/2 weeks for the tiny pouch that Dr. Fitzer had made to heal. If I broke it, the results would be fatal. At least I was in a better frame of mind to accept the speech than when I was on my back in the Holding Tank.

The outside air smelled cold and fresh. I was so happy to be out. It was snow/freezing rain, but I didn't care. Mom pulled the truck up to the front doors and I gingerly climbed up and inside. Every jounce and bump on the road translated to instant pain in my belly. It was curdled with pain and I wanted an acetaminophen (Tylenol). The ones I had were simply to big for me to handle and when we got back to the hotel I used a pill splitter with moderate success on one of the pills (which turned into 3 shattered and pointy fragments). I took the biggest one with a bit of water and juice mixed together.

The hotel was heaven compared to the hospital. The bed was huge and comfy and once I set up my CPAP device, I was ready to nap. I was still extremely tired and sore from the drive down. We watched a bit of the Olympics (skiing) and parts of movies. My attention span wasn't that great. Finally we settled on competitive cooking shows and that was mindless fun. I propped myself up on cushions and snuggled down under the blankets and watched chefs try and make wonders of the world out of chocolate.

I wasn't hungry at all, I sipped my juice/water, later had 1/3 of a Popsicle. This has continued since I've come home. I have protein/soy for my meals, and am slowly integrating soft foods into the rotation. I'm taking B12, 2 multis, a pill to help with my blood pressure and a couple to reduce the effects of stomach acid (to help protect the pouch). I also had to self-inject the blood thinner medication for the first 5 days at home, which was awful. I suck at self-injection (and trying to pretend I was William Burroughs didn't help--thanks Troy!)

Over the last two weeks, I've lost an average of 3 lbs. a day, this morning it's a total loss of about 40 lbs. My legs actually look pretty good (have had continual problems with them for the last couple of years) and I am walking better, and with less pain in my joints. I still fatigue quickly though, but that is because I'm continuing to heal.

I want to thank everyone for their kindness, support, love and hope during this very scary ordeal. It means a lot to me that your thoughts were with me, that your flowers came and uplifted my spirits, that your cards and words helped me get through some of the fear and doubt of the surgery. It is love that lifts us up and the light that sees us through. More news to come! (I hope ;-)


Resources & Info
Dr. Graber & Dr. Fitzer
Dr. Bishop's Ottawa Weight Loss Center
Ottawa Weightloss Support Group
British Obesity Surgery Patient Association

Illustration of William S. Burroughs by Robert Crumb.
Sue with flowers photo courtesy of Keith Savage.