I don’t know about you, but I like to browse through my wife’s women’s magazines and see what area of male life they are criticising and have a laugh at some of the letters that they receive. Whilst browsing through one of them, I came across an article on Sharon Bates, who had lost a considerable amount of weight following having a Gastric Band fitted in Lyon, France. Having suffered with high weight / obesity for most of my life, having tried just about every diet going, I was encouraged to read of Sharon’s success and given that my wife had already started to do some investigations into surgery-based weight-loss solutions, I decided to look into in myself.
My wife had already had consultations with surgeons for two different procedures, Gastric Banding and Roux-en-Y, deciding to go ahead with the latter and joined the waiting list for a UK surgeon. I arranged a consultation for myself with a Gastric Banding surgeon in the UK, whom my wife had previously consulted and he agreed that I met the criteria for such a procedure, but I was unhappy with two aspects, one the price which was £7,650 and the other the fact that he had performed less than a dozen such procedures. As Sharon had set herself up a web site to offer an insight into the Mid-Band and arrange for the procedure to be carried out, I made initial contact with her in order to find out more. The information that she provided was very informative and gave me plenty to think about. The major problem was that it required a trip to France for the procedure, which brought with it one major problem – the language.
I have private medical insurance for my family through my employer and so approached them in order to obtain funding clearance, only to be told that they did not cover obesity-related issues. I pushed the issue as far as I could, but to no avail, they wouldn’t budge from their stance, which I have subsequently found out is the same policy for all other medical insurers. Nevertheless, I was sold on the Gastric Band concept by now and nothing was going to deter me in finally being able to make my dream of being an ‘ordinary person’. I approached my doctor, whom I had a good relationship with already, and she offered her full support, so that was the final hurdle over with.
After a number of weeks of email exchanges with Sharon, to allay my many fears, I gave her the go-ahead on 17th August 2003 to make the necessary arrangements. Within two days, Sharon confirmed the request and asked that I complete a health questionnaire. I also made arrangements for the required Gastroscopy and Ultrasound Scans to be paid for by my medical insurer, so I could have them performed in the UK and save some of the cost of the operation. Ten days later, Sharon emailed me to confirm my consultation and surgery dates of 17th and 19th November 2003 – what had I committed myself to?
I spent the next three months preparing myself and getting everything ready. I researched and booked the flights, accommodation and made myself some cards (business card sized) with the addresses of the hotel, airport and hospital on, so I could show these to people to ensure that I got to the right place. I prepared a folder with all the information in that I would need to take with me. Sharon kindly supplied me with some spare bus and metro guides that she had brought back with her from her regular trips to Lyon along with plenty of supportive information which she emailed to me. I must admit I put on quite a few pounds during this period, thinking that I would never again be able to eat my favourite foods. The week before surgery was carefully planned and I decided exactly what meals I would enjoy for my seven ‘last suppers’, of which one of them was to celebrate my birthday.
The flight was important to me and I wanted to make sure that the return journey was as comfortable for me as possible, so my flight was booked as Business Class to ensure that I had a good seat with plenty of leg-room. As I was not interested in spending time shopping or sightseeing, the flight was booked to get me into Lyon Saint Exupéry airport on the Monday morning with enough time to drop my luggage of at the apartment (bearing in mind that you cannot check-in until after 3:00pm) before travelling to the clinic for my consultations, allowing for the 45 minute Taxi ride which cost 38 Euros. The return flight was arranged for late on the Friday morning, allowing enough time for my body to settle down after the X-ray procedure on the Thursday – the fluid they give you to drink at X-ray means you will have the run’s for up to 24 hours!! I also made arrangements for the airline to have some fruit yoghurts and fruit juice for me, as I knew I would be unable to eat their normal meals. The accommodation was booked as soon as I received my dates for surgery. Using Sharon’s list, I researched the various places on the Internet and finally decided on the Apart’hotel Citadines Lyon, Part-Dieu. It was close to the ‘Metro B’ line, which made for easy access to and from the clinic and other parts of Lyon should I wish to explore.
In hindsight, it is well worth making sure that you have a kettle to boil water, even if you have to take a travel one with you, as the only thing you can digest in the first few days are tea, coffee or thin soups (cup-a-soups I found ideal). I made do with a saucepan to boil the water, but it takes much longer than a kettle. Something else that I learnt the hard way is that although I only slept in the apartment for the Monday and Thursday nights, I had no alternative but to pay for 4 nights. If you are travelling with a companion, this wouldn’t be applicable, but if travelling on your own it is something you need to budget for. It is worth mentioning here that I was determined to make the experience as painless as possible and therefore I didn’t cut corners on expenditure. Yes, I used the Metro a few times, but when I arrived at the airport there was no way I was going to attempt to grapple with trains or buses, the same with my initial and return journeys to the clinic – use a taxi. When I had time, I used the Metro and buses – a short hop on the ‘Metro B’ line to Saxe-Gambetta, change onto ‘Metro D’ and go to the end of the line Gare de Vaise. From there take the number 89 bus to the stop outside the Clinique de la Sauvegarde. Buy yourself a 1-hour travel pass ‘Ticket Liberté Journée – 1 Jour’, which are available from any Metro or Tram stop via automated machines that have the facility to select English as the language.
On the day of the consultations I arrived by taxi at the clinic and was dropped off in the wrong place. There is an In and Out for vehicles at the front of the hospital. With your back to the main road the main hospital entrance in the middle white building, which is where you go for your operation. The consultations are performed in the building to the left and the blood tests are performed in the small single-storey building to the right, ‘Laboratoire de la Souvengarde’. Once you have completed the paperwork with the secretary, you walk around past the lifts to a small waiting room where Dr Frering will come and collect you. I met the other patients for the first time in the waiting room, so you will have a chance to chat to others and arrange any get-togethers for your ‘last supper’. Dr Frering is a really nice man who speaks very good English, so if you have any questions that is the time to ask them. As I had my Gastroscopy and Ultrasound in the UK, I took the results with me, which saved having them done in Lyon. If you are at all squeamish about the thought of having a tube pushed down your throat and into your stomach then make sure you have the procedure performed under a General Anaesthetic. I had mine done under a local and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. If this is done in Lyon you will be taken down to theatre on the Tuesday afternoon/evening for it to be performed under General Anaesthetic following the blood tests prior to admission. Once Dr Frering has finished with you, you go down one floor and once out of the lift, go all the way around to the left and wait in the waiting room to be called by the Anaesthetist. I found it best to pay for the treatment on the Tuesday as I was carrying cash. All I needed to do was go to the main building and see one of the two admissions clerks, which are located immediately on the right through the main doors. Give them your admission form that Dr Frering provided you with and hand over the money.
On the Tuesday, you fast from midnight and report to the Laboratoire for your blood tests to be performed. Once these are completed you report to the main building for admission. You will either be taken to the ward or instructed on which floor to go to. You will then wait in a small waiting room before being taken to your room, which you will be sharing with another person (of the same sex) but not necessarily having the same operation, as they seemed to perform many different procedures from the ward that I was on.
I was awoken at 5:00am on the Wednesday to shower, take my pre-meds and dress in the operating gown (they will have your size, so don’t worry) and stockings, before being taken down to theatre at 6:40am, finally getting wheeled in at around 7:00am. I was the first of the day, so you may go down later than this. When in the theatre, you shuffle yourself onto the operating table and they make you comfortable. Within a few minutes you are under the anaesthetic, but with no warning like they do in the UK, where you are asked to count from 10 backwards and don’t usually get past 6!
I awoke back in my room with no adverse affects from the anaesthetic, but with no recollection of the time, but it can’t have been any later than about 9:00am. I had 5 wound dressings on but not much pain, the incisions being only about 25cm (1 inch) across. Lunch was served at 12:30pm consisting of a clear vegetable broth and although I ate it, I wasn’t really that hungry. I dosed through the afternoon and was served supper at around 6:00pm, consisting of soup, apple puree, plain yoghurt and coffee. They kept me topped up with painkillers and it was soon Thursday. No breakfast and nothing since midnight in preparation for the X-ray which was done at around 8:30am. You stand on the X-ray machine and have around 4 pictures taken, one after each gulp of a clear, non-too-pleasant-tasting liquid from a plastic cup. The Radiologist informed me immediately that the band was in a perfect position and I made my way back to my room. After a token lunch you are discharged with a raft of paperwork and I made my way back to the apartment by taxi – don’t consider anything else following the surgery, it only costs about 16 Euros. I was feeling so upbeat and relatively pain-free on the afternoon that I took a stroll around the nearby Centre Commercial (large shopping centre) and bought some presents to take back home.
Friday was my flight home and just my luck, they served me Champagne just after take-off, which of course I had to refuse as I was no longer allowed fizzy drinks, having to make do with an orange juice, but I was glad of a comfortable seat.
I lost 13lbs in the 6 days to Saturday and a further 4lbs in the following week as I started to include more solid foods, such as thick soups and pureed soups containing solids. By the third week I was able to incorporate dishes such as spaghetti bolognaise without the spaghetti. You are told to ensure that you chew, very well, your food from now on and that is certainly true. I was unable to digest the mouthfuls of food that I was previously used to and have now educated myself to take my time when eating a meal. It took some time before I was able to digest bread, having to follow each mouthful with a drink to wash it down. Often I would find myself having the mouthful I had just chewed stuck in my oesophagus, having to wait until it worked its way down to the stomach, but this was probably due to the fact that I hadn’t chewed it properly or it is of a type that I will never be able to easily digest. It is a steep learning curve following the operation and I had to accept that it would take some time to adjust to my band.
My first fill, eight weeks after the operation, again required me to start the eating cycle again, fluids, purees then weaning myself onto solids, but it was a small sacrifice for the long term achievement of being my goal weight and not be looked at strangely in public as someone that is considered to be abnormal. I have had three fills in total, and at the time of writing this, some nine months post-op, am now settled into an eating pattern – orange juice for breakfast, no lunch and a reasonable evening meal. It took some months to learn to accept the ‘not hungry’ signals and overcoming the mindset of eating three times a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner, only now eating when I feel hungry. Don’t get me wrong, I can still succumb to the temptation of a biscuit, but I have to be strict and only eat one, not the whole packet as before.