I was considered overweight by the time I was 6 years old, obese by age 8, morbidly obese by 14 and super morbidly obese by age 28. As such, I have learned to live with all of the pains of obesity and regarded them as normal for me. The social stigma, the stares, snickers and outright rude comments were one aspect. The physical pains were something that I tried to just learn to live with, but continued to get worse and worse as I got older and larger.
I first noticed pains in my left knee when I was about 25, when I should have been considered in the prime of my life. Occasionally it was bad enough that I would have a little limp for a few days, and then would recover. I found myself taking more and more Tylenol or Advil to get through the days. At the time, I had a job where I sat all day long, and found myself gaining even more weight. I also started to notice some pain in my back and shoulders. I attributed it to the position I was sitting in while working, not the extra weight that was on my body. At around age 32, I started having significant pain in my ankles and found many days I had formed “cankles”.
I started working in the veterinary field at age 33, and weighed about 340 pounds. I found myself in significant pain at the end of every shift as I would have to be standing 90% of the day, or crawling around on the floor with my patients. I was also becoming extremely uncomfortable as I would have to try to explain the profound effects of obesity on my patients to their owners. How could I talk of such things, and try to get the owners to increase their pets exercise and decrease their calories when I was so obese myself? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
I was in my 6th year of being a vet tech when I was mowing my lawn and stepped in a little pothole. I twisted my left knee and was in terrible pain. I went to my doctor and she was worried that I may have torn my anterior cruciate ligament. She sent me to have an MRI done and meet with an orthopedic surgeon. I had in fact torn 3 out of the 4 ligaments that hold the knee in place.
The surgeon took one look at me and said that he would not perform any type of surgery on me because of my weight; there would be no point. I tried physical therapy, but nothing improved the situation and I limped on my left leg for the next 3 years. I then slipped and fell and did pretty much the same thing to my right knee. At this point I was likely 370 pounds and was in so much pain every day that I could no longer get down on the floor with any patient and was limping on both legs (not an easy thing to do!). My co-workers all had to take up slack on my part because I couldn’t perform my job the way it should have been done.
I was literally in tears every night trying to walk up the stairs to my apartment. I was so immobile that once I was home on a Friday, I tried everything I could not to leave my house until I had to return to work the following week. I had pretty much no quality of life. I was just existing, and doing so in tremendous pain even though I was taking 3000 to 6000 mg of acetaminophen and 1600 to 2400 mg of ibuprofen and 200 to 300 mg of tramadol each and every day! I just couldn’t bear to continue my life in this way.
I finally decided that I had to do something. I went to a meeting to learn more about bariatric surgery options. I went through several months of nutrition consults, doctors meetings and support group meetings, and then decided to proceed with gastric bypass. My surgery took place on March 28, 2013. My recovery was easy and I adjusted to the new diet fairly quickly. I had lost almost 40 pounds since starting in the weight loss program before surgery, and could already notice a difference in how my knees were feeling.
As the weight started to come off I noticed that I was walking a little easier, not limping nearly as much, and had a little more pep in my step (I had been walking even slower than my 88 year old grandmother!). When I had lost about 100 pounds I found that I could start to get down on my knees again, and that I wasn’t really limping anymore! I discovered a new love of walking and really looked forward to the weekends when I could go to new places and walk all around for miles and miles! I signed up for several 5 k events and even a 10 k! (I was still just walking, no running!)
To date I have lost 172 pounds. It is just staggering to me to be able to say that. I have lost an entire adult person! I am still amazed at just what that has meant to my quality of life. I do not have any pain in my knees, shoulders, back, ankles (and no longer have ‘cankles’). I sleep so much better and wake up ready to go and tackle life! I haven’t felt this good since I was a child. I am now anxious to do things I used to dread.
I look forward to trying things I have never been able to do before since I no longer exceed the weight limit, or I can now fit into the seat (roller coasters, sky diving, zip-lining, etc.). I am almost never home at all on the weekends now. I am out and truly LIVING, not just existing! I have even started to do some hiking along our beautiful coast. I can easily walk, run, jump and crawl around on the floor with my patients again.
As we are starting our Biggest Loser competition at Veazie Veterinary Clinic, I find myself much more willing to participate in those difficult conversations. I am also more empathetic with my patients, and now have a story to share with their owners.
I am very well aware of the pains their pets are feeling in their joints, even though most of them will not show it. They have learned to live with the pain of obesity, just as I had. I just hope that my story helps owners to really understand what their pets are feeling, and just how much better they WILL feel when they do lose the weight! I feel like a kid again, and know that my patients will feel like pups or kittens again! And how wonderful will that be? Pretty darn wonderful!
Kerrie, Exam Room Tech