You’ll Be Seeing Less of Me

I do enjoy a fun play on words as much as the next person.  No, dear reader, this isn’t a resignation letter or a blog jihad or any thing quite like that.  But the the past several months, my friends and neighbors have been seeing less of me.

It’s not that I’m not around or dramatically changed my schedule.  And while this is a political blog, and I was planning to be more public about this in November, I’ve decided to come out a little sooner (Damn you, Matt Coker, for outing me on Facebook 😉 ). 

Because some folks are starting to notice.  And I’m hoping by telling this story early, that it might offer at least one more person the courage to change their life sooner than later, then I owe it to that person to do so.

Last November, on the Monday of Thanksgiving week, I had gastric bypass surgery at Orange Coast Memorial in Fountain Valley.  Today marks eights months since I began a pre-surgical diet (to loosen up those organs for the operation) and I have lost 159 pounds since then.

My journey actually began in November 2007 with an orientation at Orange Coast Memorial.  I had high blood pressure and had developed sleep apnea, which can lead to a host of health problems.  My work schedule, my children’s busy schedules, and my desk job made regular exercise difficult and dieting, frankly, gets old after a few months. 

I was sitting in a room with extra wide chairs, and I surveyed the crowd. As as big as I was, noted that many others were much larger that I was.  Thus began six months of supervised diet with some modest weight loss.  This was followed by a sleep study (my breathing would stop 85 times an hour and I was always drowsy in the mid-afternoon no matter how much coffee I had), a psychological evaluation and test, a nutritionist meeting, and a pre-surgery orientation.  This was all supposed to take six months, but my insurance company kept dragging their feet.  As we were closing in on a year, it took the threat of a lawsuit to get a surgery date.

So when Alan Bock or Steve Greenhut at the Register start in on the center-right talking points on healthcare, or when other conservative friends ask me if I want a government bureaucrat making decisions about my health, yes, I do.  I do want someone as efficient as a post office worker who can get my letter from Irvine to my sister in Albany for 44 cents in just four days pushing forward on a decisions made between my doctor and I about a procedure my health insurance covers.  This is far more preferable to a profit-driven health insurance professional who adds to his company’s bottom line by denying or delaying coverage.  You see, many people who elect to have this surgery are prone to giving up because they can’t or won’t jump through the hoops held by their insurance companies.  And this is really too bad because obesity (there, I said it) leads to all sorts of other health problems that are much more expensive down the line.

I didn’t do this surgery for me.  I did it for my wife and my children.  I don’t consider what I did to be brave.  You would jump in front of a bus for your kids, wouldn’t you?  That’s how I see it.

Gastric bypass is a surgery where doctors create a small pouch, the size of a large egg, seal off the rest of your stomach and reattach your small intestine to the pouch.  There’s a liquid diet for six weeks following surgery (how much chicken broth can you eat in a lifetime?).  But your new stomach is surgically altered from the size of a small football to the size of a large egg. 

Your fork now handles half-size bites of food which must be chewed down to a liquid (about 25 or 30 times); then you wait 10 minutes and take another bite.  Its take a few minutes for your pouch to tell your brain that its full.  There is a condition known as the dumping syndrome where if you eat too much, too fast or the wrong thing, you feel like you’re going to die for about three hours.  I haven’t had that yet.  If I eat too much, too fast, or the wrong thing, I barf.  I barf about once a week.  You learn from it.

I’ve turned away from processed foods and really dive into fruits and veggies.  Pizza makes me sick to my stomach.  So does most Mexican food and Chinese food (most…not all). Ice cream; out.  Nothing carbonated.  No beer, no soda, no sparking water.  Red wine goes down quite nicely those rare occasions I get to Drinking Liberally. I crave lentil soup, thick vegetable soup, and chili.

Despite this pain and recovery cycle, the surgery is only 85 percent successful.  You have to follow the program. 

My surgery went fine.  I was actually up and walking, very slowly, that afternoon.  Overnight, I got up to use the restroom and was faint and weak.  My nurses (wonderful people; woefully underpaid if you ask me) alerted my doctors who put me through a CATscan.  I had some bleeding in my staple line.  It happens about one in 50 surgeries.  I got a few more units of blood and was stuck in the Hospital through Thanksgiving (A&E had a Godfather marathon on, making it tolerable). I got home Friday and was actually able to rest.  I was back at work Monday morning, moving slowly, but back working, writing, doing conference calls, and my normal routine. 

About two weeks later, I started walking the treadmill at the gym.  It took me an hour to go a mile; I now do two miles in 30 minutes.

The weight started coming off; rapidly. 

Since mid-November, I’m down four suit sizes, three shirt sizes, and 14 inches off my waist.  Even my shoes are roomier.  I made an investment in workout gear that I use.  I have belts that are useless.

People who haven’t seen me in ages are shocked when they see me.  I got tremendous support from Chris Prevatt, Bill Spalding, and Gila Jones along the way.  The standard joke is “I’ve lost an Andrew Davey” and I think I’ve actually lost more than an Andrew Davey.

I was amused by a photo Art Pedroza ran of me on Orange Juice comparing me with a character on “The Family Guy” (a show I don’t watch).  Because Art didn’t know about my surgery at the time and I had already shed about 70 pounds when he ran it.  What does he know anyway?  So while making fun of someone’s appearance, age, profession, is a standard practice at OJ, my blogmates and I simply aren’t going there on this site.   

There is a support group I am supposed to go to every Monday night; my wife’s schedule makes it difficult for me to leave the kids home alone and go.  I do plan to go this Monday.  I’m lucky because have been blessed with a one person support team in the form of the former OC Register “life stories” writer Robin Hinch.  Robin has been my lifeline for countless questions.  She provides me with honesty, encouragement, humility and hope.  I am grateful to her for her friendship and support.  I am doing my best to “be a Robin” for someone else  who went through a similar surgery that I did.  If I give this person half the support Robin has given me, then I’m ahead of the game.

People offer me congratulations.  I’m not sure that’s the right thing to say.  I didn’t win anything.  But I have regained my health, which, while not failing me, had me pointed in the wrong direction. 

I still have another 10 months to go to realize the full benefit of the surgery, and I’m only 9 pounds away from where my doctor says he thinks I will be as a result of the surgery.  I’d like to drop as much as I can.  I am about 40 pounds away from one goal and about 60 away from another. 

I can never thank my wife and kids enough for their support.  It’s times like these when you realize what wonderful friends you have.  People like Mike and Cathy Ciufettelli, Doug and Lori Greenman, Nancy Chan and Bil Murphy, Aaron and Jane Hodgdon to name my neighbors and pals.  My dear friends Paula Brici and Tila Pacheco gave me unconditional support and kept my clients happy.  They are more than workmates; they’re lifelong friends whom I don’t deserve and whose generosity I can never repay.  My great clients who were so supportive and so understanding.  Can anyone really thank their Mom enough?  My siblings? That goes for my mother-in-law too. Thanks to anyone I left out. 

So like I said, you’ll be seeing less of me in the months to come. And by all means, if you are considering this surgery and want an honest answer, ask.

(photo taken May 31, 2009) (That photo with Hillary, October 2005)

  5 comments for “You’ll Be Seeing Less of Me

  1. Aaruni Thakur
    July 15, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Hi, Dan! If congratulations isn’t the right cheer, then I’ll just say keep up the good work!

  2. Misha Houser
    July 15, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    You’re looking rather handsome these days Dan. People who don’t struggle with weight have no idea how difficult it is nor do they understand what it’s like to live with the stigma of obesity.

    I’m happy that this has worked for you. As a fellow “loser” (a term of endearment in my Weight Watchers group), I know how exciting it is to buy new clothes, or fit into old clothes once abandoned.

    What was so amazing for me was being able to walk for more than 10 minutes before being exhausted. Now, being able to hike for a couple of hours in rough terrain, let alone participate in rallies like the Unite Here rally yesterday, it such a pleasure for me these days. Of course, carrying 125 lbs less makes a huge (pun intended) difference. I have a ways to go to catch up with you, but I’ll get there.

    Keep it up Dan, many of us are cheering with you and striding alongside in solidarity.

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    July 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks all; I’m getting tons of offline email too

  4. duplojohn
    July 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm


    You just gave your wife and kids the best gift you could possibly give. YOU.

    Save all the bullshit, you did a brave thing, good luck, and PLEASE PUSH others you meet to consider this option. At the very least you’ll send a message.

    You are a poerful spokesman for life and health (you don’t need to ride a mtn. bike through Caspers in 90 minutes to be a healthy guy!)


    • July 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks DP. Much appreciated. I don’t have the Tri-Bike my wife has but I love a good game of raquetball from time to time.

      Seriously, I’m happy to answer anyone’s questions about this surgery.

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