Free at last from my apron of fat
Not long after Debra DeAngelo wrote about belly shame (Introducing the term belly shame and destroying it all at once ), I added my two cents’ worth with “When belly shame is medical, too” (When belly shame is medical, too). In fear and trembling, I took pictures of the enormous panniculus – the apron of fat – that had caused me so much physical pain and discomfort, not to mention a belly shame so epic that the self loathing climbed my soul like a giant ape who has taken residence in the upper stories of a tall building. I was told that I was brave to show it. In a culture that demands physical perfection well into old age, I suppose exposing something so deeply imperfect could be seen that way, but it seemed long overdue to speak my truth about it. It wasn’t as if I could truly hide it. And it wasn’t as if I was the only one, either.
There are a number of surgeries used to divest a body of a panniculus. What I needed was a panniculectomy. Some people get abdominoplasties which also involve cutting and shortening the abdominal muscles. I didn’t need that. Years of athletics have given me tight, steely muscles underneath my squid suit.
I had taken several runs at convincing my HMO that this was not cosmetic – although there is, of course, a cosmetic element to it. The damned thing rested on my legs, cutting off circulation, creating numb, painful patches on my thighs. It got dreadful fungal and occasional bacterial infections, but after a lifetime, I was able to keep those down to a minimum. Their requirement for consideration hinged mainly on having an intransigent bacterial infection that required internal antibiotics and two office visits. I also had to be a certain time out from my gastric bypass with stabilized weight, but it was the requirement for an infection that stymied me most.
Seriously? I had spent 40 years preventing infections! I wore underpants several sizes too large and tucked them everywhere flesh met flesh, every place that could generate an infection. I’d had enough of them to know they had to be prevented. They were horrible – miserable, tunneling infections that raised my blood sugar along with my temperature and made me really sick. And I was supposed to allow that in order to prove I needed surgery to prevent it? I wrote my primary care physician, a doctor so good she apparently has a waiting list, that it was flat out foolhardiness to expect a diabetic to allow an infection that would damage her health in order to prove a need for surgery to prevent just that. Bless her common sense and my columnist writing skills. She replied “You’re right. It’s absolute foolishness. I’ll back you up!”
Thus encouraged, despite the initial denial of my first request and subsequent appeal, back I went to the plastic surgeon who told me rather glumly that it was an absolute waste of time and of his staff’s resources to try again.
“We have to try again,” I told him. “Third time’s a charm. If it doesn’t go through this time, I’ll explore other options, but we simply must. And if we get turned down, I’m writing the Insurance Commissioner with all my mad columnist skillz to make a great deal of noise because this is bigotry. I’m pretty sure if this wasn’t fat related, they would be far less reluctant to cover it.” After all, you want plastic surgery? Have a mastectomy! You can get brand new boobies for free because, after all, what is a woman without boobies? Seriously – as far as I know, you can get reconstructed before you even wake up from the mastectomy!
The lovely plastic surgeon sighed and acquiesced. He would start the process again. He would send his recommendation that this was truly necessary, complete with pictures, but he held out little hope.
That was May 29. Late June, the letter came. The surgery was authorized.
I must have read it three times, terrified that all it said was I was retroactively authorized for the initial exam, but no, it was for the surgery. It really was. I literally doubled over and sobbed. Forty years. Imagine it. Forty years.
I called the surgeon’s office the very next day and took the first possible date – July 8. Miraculously, I had the leave.
I confess, I had a few moments where I seriously questioned why the hell I would put myself through surgery and recovery again. Surgery HURTS. But 40 years of pain – even all the pain of recovery doesn’t compare if you consider 40 years of pure misery.
I made my arrangements. My daughter offered her one-story home and TLC for the initial stages of my recovery. I brought two chihuahuas for comfort.
I wore overalls to the hospital and my daughter put my hair into two tiny braids. I was cheerful throughout the whole process, giggled through the surgeon marking my belly up with a purple marker (it tickled!). They wheeled my bed into the operating room. I smiled at the people looming over me and—
My eyes opened. I was numb and dizzy and disoriented. The nurse was kind. Did my family come in? Yeah, they must have – my daughter took a picture to prove I had survived and posted it on Facebook. I got well wishes and wrote garble. My daughter tells me I discussed elephants and lifted my boobies and announced I still had cleavage.
The next day, I went to my daughter’s house. And oh, it hurt.
The hernia operation – no biggy. The gastric bypass, not even painful within a week. This? Oh My Freaking God. It’s been 15 days and it still hurts. The incision is EPIC. It goes from behind one hip to behind the other. I look like I nearly got cut in half then got reattached again. My tummy is swollen. My daughter informed me, with an embarassed snicker, that I looked like a frog.
I also have no belly button.
But – it’s GONE. This damned fecking panniculus, this thing that hurt and screwed with my back and was hideous and mortifying – it’s GONE! I look down at legs. I can see my female bits for the first time in 40 years. (I have BITS???)
And now, at least in clothes, I actually look normal. I’m not thin, but I’m really not what most people would consider fat. I get smiles, greeted as if I was just anybody because now I am. I don’t weigh over 400 lbs. I don’t have a huge belly that jiggles and bulges and flaps when I run. I just look like anybody.
It still pisses me off that I had to literally transform myself to be considered human again, but at the same time, I would be lying if I was to say I wasn’t beyond delighted by this brand new life. I’m crafting my crone, my elder, my old bat and believe me, my honeys, she’s gonna fly.
And where my belly button is supposed to be, I’m getting a mandala tattoo. Pictures to follow…