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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stupid is as stupid does

Originally published March 17, 2007, in Our Town for the Tracy Press.

The word "stupid" is not one I use often. It was an "ugly word" in my childhood home, meaning it was barely better than profanity. The word still makes me cringe. I’ve even got my husband trained not to use it in my presence.

But sometimes, there is just no other word that fits.
And I’m here now to confess that when looking back on when I fell ill in late January, I am stupefied by my own stupidity.

False sense of normalcy
A lot of gastric-bypass patients talk of being normal, but most of us realize our view of normality is skewed. Normal people don’t eat whatever they want without gaining a pound, no matter what those of us who have been obese tell ourselves. I came to terms with that fact about a year ago.

What I didn’t come to terms with, however, is that I’m not anatomically normal and never will be again. That’s easy to forget after losing close to 200 pounds in a two-year period. My exterior looks normal to the rest of the world. Few people would guess I’ve been morbidly obese for most of my life, and sometimes, I buy into that fantasy.

Take that night in late January when I first realized I was seriously ill. As I mulled over whether I was in serious enough shape to warrant my best friend and husband trekking into the mountains on a work night to pick me up, I had some moments of clarity that didn’t make me feel like the brightest bulb in the drawer.

What’s the worst that can happen?
Trying to convince myself of how silly it would be to have them drive all that way for nothing, I tried to imagine the worst-case scenario. I was one of the few guests at a rural cabin resort. There were no neighbors to hear my cries for help if I were to become truly incapacitated. No phone in the room to call the operator for help. I had my cell phone but didn’t have the manager’s number programmed in it.

Then my thoughts darkened. What if I were to lose consciousness? Nobody would even consider looking for me until an hour after checkout. Looking at the clock, I realized that a lot could happen in the next 14 hours or so. I also knew I was dehydrated, having consumed only about 4 ounces of water in the previous day.

Helping those who help us
I tried to be objective. If I were to pass out, either from the pain or from whatever ailed me, what would emergency personnel think? How would they help me? I didn’t have a MedicAlert bracelet to tell rescuers I was a gastric-bypass patient. My doctors warned me to order one before I even had surgery so that in an emergency situation, it could speak for me if I could not speak for myself. But I never made the time to place the order. It seemed inconvenient to figure out what to have inscribed on it, and though it wasn’t pricey, there always seemed to be better uses of my money.

I considered typing out my medical information and symptoms on my laptop but would medics really think to look there for clues? There was no way to be sure.

I finally called my husband and told him to come get me. Though I still had no idea of the severity of my condition, I realized I was safer at home with someone to help me than all alone in an unfamiliar, isolated area.

Stupid is as stupid does
To be stupid is to act in an unintelligent manner. Ignorance, on the other hand, is to be uneducated. Ignorance is forgivable; stupidity is not.

In hindsight, here were my stupid moves:
  • Not seeking help sooner — There is no guarantee that earlier medical attention would have led to an earlier diagnosis, but I knew the dangers of dehydration and the signs of bowel obstructions long before I ever had gastric-bypass surgery. The moment I realized I could not keep water down, I should have called my husband to pick me up.
  • Staying alone in an isolated area — When I was told to choose temporary lodging for my business trip, a quiet mountain resort sounded like the perfect getaway. And in some circumstances it could have been. But it was not the smartest move for a woman traveling alone.
  • Not ordering a MedicAlert bracelet — Gastric-bypass patients have some serious limitations when it comes to medical care. NSAIDs like Aleve, Advil and Motrin can ulcerate our delicate gastric pouches. Nasogastric tubes, which are inserted through the nasal passage and into the stomach, cannot be used, since access to the remnant stomach is cut off by gastric-bypass procedures. Attempting to insert an NG tube blindly can perforate the gastric pouch — not a good thing. The other benefit to a MedicAlert bracelet is that it can list allergies. Because I’m allergic to a couple of commonly used drugs, that’s something that should be a higher priority for me.
  • Not packing my vitamins — What happened to me had absolutely nothing to do with vitamins. However, I know better than to miss a single dose. The malabsorptive nature of my altered anatomy puts me at risk of vitamin deficiencies. There are few things more important than taking my vitamins each day. I knew when I left Tracy that I had forgotten to pack them. I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to go back home to retrieve them. After all, I was only going to be gone five days. Five days without vitamins would not kill me, but it’s still stupid to rob my body of vital nutrients out of laziness.


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Tonya said...

Thanks for the information, Steve!