Category: <span>Sickness</span>

It’s well reported in the media that older people are more at risk from serious complications if they catch COVID-19. However researchers are have also identified that obese people are also a high-risk group.

The reason that obese people are at such a high risk is because they are more likely to have other health concerns such as: asthma, sleep apnoea, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and an impaired immune system.

These health conditions make it more difficult to fight the coronavirus, and as such a high number of those admitted to intensive care are obese.

The Irish government have acknowledged this increased risk for overweight people, and it’s reflected in their plans for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

Here’s the current order for vaccine rollout:

The seventh group includes people with a whole range of conditions, which includes obese people with a body mass index of over 40.

That puts morbidly obese people in the queue right after older people and health care workers.

Mental health

In addition to the physical risks from being obese, there’s evidence that obese people have also experienced a negative psychological impact from the COVID-19 virus.

A study has found that obese people during the pandemic have experienced:

  • A negative effect on their diet. When furloughed or working from home, people have found that they eat more and make poorer choices about what to eat – primarily because of the proximity of food.
  • A negative effect on their exercise. With gyms and swimming pools closed, it’s have a big impact upon people’s opportunity to exercise.
  • An increased sense of fear, anxiety and stress. Some obese people are terrified to go outside, as they realise they are at high risk if they catch the virus.

All of these can lead to a poor mental and physical health – as often the two are deeply interconnected.

Sickness Surgery

With weight loss surgery, a lot of emphasis is put on the physical changes that happen to the body, and what toll the surgery may take on someone’s physical health. However often the emotional health of someone getting surgery is ignored.

Having bariatric surgery often means a huge change to a person’s life. Quite apart from the physical toll of the surgery itself and the recovery, there are substantial changes to a person’s diet and their relationship with food. Before and after surgery, what we can eat will change substantially, and that can be very hard for people to come to terms with.

Many obese people use food as an emotional crutch. It’s used as a reward, or as a means of consolation. We might over-eat in response to a whole range of emotions such as stress, sorrow, grief, happiness, pain, and so on. And we will often over-eat to try and suppress or drown out those emotions.

The act of getting bariatric surgery is very often only the start of the journey in dealing with a food addiction. It’s a tool to help us press the reset button for our overeating. But with it comes a whole range of emotional issues that need addressing.

Isolation and loneliness

A lot of people might feel reluctant about telling others that they’re having weight loss surgery. They might feel that people might judge them negatively for not being able to manage their weight without resorting to surgery, and maybe even feel ashamed.

Others might be open about their surgery, but still come across strange reactions from those they tell, maybe because of a lack of knowledge about weight management issues, or a lack of empathy to understand their past struggle with weight.

All this can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. It can feel like nobody else really understands why you’re having weight loss surgery, and what effect it might have on you. Some might not have anyone to talk to about it, and that can make the bariatric journey feel quite lonely.

Mourning the loss of food

After bariatric surgery, gone are the days when we can enjoy a hearty meal. Gone are the days when we can binge eat a whole tub of ice cream. Gone are the days when we can enjoy the same portion sizes that we’ve enjoyed in the past.

Eating after weight loss surgery means that portion sizes are significantly smaller, and the types of foods we can eat are also restricted. We have to avoid sugar or else face the horrible effects of dumping syndrome. And to get the best weight loss results our diet needs to change to be protein-rich, and also low in fat and carbohydrates. And some of the tastiest foods we enjoy are pumped full of sugar, fat and carbs!

And so, when coming to the realisation that we can no longer enjoy the foods we used to eat, we often go through a period of grief and mourning for those foods. And that period of mourning is tough – especially if those foods played a big part in our old diet.

Emotional trauma of the operation

When recovering from any operation, we tend to concentrate on the physical recovery. We talk about how well the wounds are healing, or how bad the pain is, or whether there are any complications.

What we don’t always call out is that having an operation – any operation – can cause emotional trauma. This might have been ignored or suppressed on the run up to surgery, as we concentrate on our pre-surgery diet and focus on the big day itself. And it might only be after surgery when we get home that the emotional toil catches up with us.

And it’s important to recognise that it takes time to get over this trauma. A body might physically recover quite quickly, but it might take longer to process through the emotions – such as anxiety and worry – from the surgery.

Lack of support from friends and family

Many friends and family struggle to understand the weight-loss journey, unless they themselves struggle with their weight. They don’t understand that the surgery itself is only the beginning of the journey. They might worry about the risks of the surgery itself, but once you are over that, their concern might quickly slip away.

Unless they have taken the time to educate themselves about the bariatric journey the probably can’t empathise with the ongoing weight loss journey that follows after surgery. And at social events in the future they might not fully understand they you can’t eat and drink in the same way as before.

There are some cases where friends and family – and even partners – trying to sabotage someone getting weight loss surgery. On a purely selfish level they might not want their loved ones to lose a lot of weight, because it has the possibility to change the dynamics of the relationships.

Positive changes that can help emotional health

While it’s important to acknowledge the challenges to our emotional health, and take the time to heal, there are also some ways in which we can all make positive changes to make the road to emotional recovery a little easier:

  • Find support elsewhere. If the people around don’t understand the bariatric journey then support can be found elsewhere. Some hospitals have their own bariatric support groups, and there are a couple of good online forums with people that can offer help and advice. And hopefully by connecting with others getting weight loss surgery, it can help to feel less isolated.
  • Get outside and exercise. Even if it’s just a short 10-minute walk at the start, getting outside for some fresh air and exercise will help with the production of endorphins – which help relieve stress and pain.
  • Find new hobbies and activities. After losing some weight it can often mean that people have more energy and are physically able to do more. This might be an ideal time to take up new hobbies and channel that new-found energy into something interesting.
  • Organise social activities that don’t involve food or drink. Sometimes people are a bit lazy when planning social occasions, and suggest meals out or going to the pub for a drink – activities that bariatric people might feel excluded from. So instead why not be proactive and suggest alternate activities for getting together with people – such as a walk, or a dance class, or a trip to the cinema or theatre.

Does this match your experience? Do you have some advice that might help? Do you have any experience with emotional health that you’re happy to share? Then please leave a comment below:

Sickness Surgery

The amount of time off work needed after bariatric surgery seems to vary quite a lot. Some people take only a week off work, and others take 3-4 weeks, and some as long as 6-7 weeks!

It probably depends a lot upon the type of work that a person does. Those with sedentary desk jobs – and particularly those that are currently working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic – may only need a short time. Whereas those that have physically demanding jobs may need significantly longer before they are strong enough to return to work.

The recovery time in terms of pain can be quite quick. I was off the pain medication within 4 days, and able to sit quite comfortably. So in theory I could have been back within a week.

However the post-surgery recovery is not just about the pain from the surgery. It’s about the body trying to adapt to its new much-smaller stomach. The post-operative diets are pretty restrictive, and lots of people struggle to get to grips with their new way of eating. As such many people suffer from:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal bowel habits
  • Flatulence

It can take time to get used to some of these things, and to feel physically strong enough to work again.

It’s also important not to forget about also the psychological and emotional side of what’s happened. Having surgery is a big event in people’s lives, and it can have a profound effect of their recovery. There may be all kinds of repressed feelings that will need to be worked through. And that’s just as important a part of the healing process as any physical symptoms.

Originally I planned to take 4 weeks off work after surgery, and my employer was being very good at supporting this time off. However I found that I was ready to go back to work after only 3 weeks. I could have even gone back sooner, but I think it was important to take the time to rest and recharge.

Sickness Surgery

Today, 4th February, is World Cancer Day, a day to raise awareness and education about cancer.

Four years ago today, in 2016, I was in the middle of receiving treatment for Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had been diagnosed in December 2015, and at that point was in the middle of receiving ABVD chemotherapy.

Once every 2 weeks this was my view:

I’d be sat in a chair in the oncology day ward for between 7 and 8 hours each visit, as the various different bags of chemotherapy drugs were fed into me. One of the drugs only took 20 minutes to go in, but I seem to remember another one taking over 2 hours. And between each bag of drugs, my line had to rinsed and checked.

It wasn’t a fun time of my life. My energy levels were low, and I had to take a whole range of pills and injections to take between chemo sessions. But the upside was that the treatment worked, and by the summer of 2016 I was cancer-free!

And today the only lasting effects of the cancer are:

  • a small scar on my right collarbone where a Lymphadenectomy was performed to confirm my diagnosis
  • a small scar on my upper right arm where a PICC line was put in
  • some ongoing pain on the souls of my feet from the peripheral neuropathy, which is a long-term side-effect of the chemotherapy

However, even though I had cancer, I count myself lucky. Hodgkins is one of the small number of cancers that doctors use the word ‘cure’ in terms of treatment. And the longer I go without any sign of recurrence, the greater the chance that it’ll never come back!

Of course, being obese doesn’t help my long-term prospects for avoiding cancer again, which I guess is one of the main drivers for me having the bariatric surgery to lose weight.

My Story Sickness Surgery

There’s loads of very scary health risks that obese people face, including Type 2 Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, Stroke, Cancer, Sleep Apnea, and others.

I knew I was at risk of all of these, but for a long time I thought I was bullet proof. I would be the exception to the rule, and manage to be overweight but healthy.

But then 5 years ago that all changed. I had been sick for a while with a bad skin condition, and then I got what I thought were a series of chest infections. What it turned out to be was cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma, and the cancer had spread from my Lymph nodes into my lungs!

Luckily I responded well to the 6 months of chemotherapy and some follow-up radiotherapy, and I’ve been cancer-free since the summer of 2016.

However, and this is a big however, being obese increases my chances of it coming back!

My oncologist has told me on several occasions that he’s worried about my weight. In fact it was him that eventually got fed up of my inaction and referred me to the bariatric team.

And he’s right to have pushed me in that direction, because as it turns out I’m not the exception to the rule. I didn’t dodge the bullet. My obesity most likely was a big contributor to me getting cancer, and yet here I am years later and I’m still the same size!

It’s as if I haven’t learned anything.

So the hope is that by having bariatric surgery I will finally be forced to address my over-eating disorder, and get down to a more healthy weight. Because if I don’t, then I’m definitely on borrowed time.

I’ve already had cancer, I currently have untreated high blood pressure, and I’m probably on the brink of developing diabetes and sleep apnea.

You could say that my health is at crisis point!

Sickness Surgery