I marched right up to the front desk and stated my name. The lady told me to wait in the area just behind her.
I didn't wait long.
I stood and followed the nurse into the prep area where a couple of patients had already donned their gown and socks.
I donned mine and struggled into the bed.
The nurse glanced at her chart. "Dr. Hafford will be with you shortly."
Apprehension covered me like a horse blanket, scratchy and hot. I didn't want it. Not at all. The gallbladder surgery had been an emergency situation. This had been elective on the one hand, but necessary enough for the insurance company to pay for it on the other.
Dr. Hafford walked in wearing blue scrubs and her patented smile.
Every molecule of fear and apprehension melted away like morning frost. In fact, I looked forward to my recovery. She reiterated what would happen in the operating room, and would go ahead and run the various tests for leaks while I was under the anesthetic.
The anesthesiologist came in. Dr. Hafford left to prepare the operating room.
The orderlies rolled the bed down a short hallway and into the operating room. It had fewer spotlights, machines, and other accouterments than operating rooms in movies and television did. Naturally.
I helped the staff scoot me off the bed and onto the operating table.
"See you in a little while," Dr. Hafford said.
I turned my head to the left, and drifted into oblivion.
I woke feeling like I had been kicked in the gut in a bar fight. The recovery nurse greeted me and told me that everything went well.
"Dr. Hafford performed the leak test. It's perfect. We'll get you to your room in just a little bit. You won't feel like it, but we want you to walk as much as possible."
"As long as I'm not lapped by a 97 year-old lady, I'm fine."
Bless her heart, she looked at me as though the light had fallen out of my bulb, but this actually happened to me during my recovery from the gallbladder removal surgery.
Maybe she was right, though.
I had just emerged on the far side of bariatric surgery. The sleeve gastrectomy. Three quarters of my stomach gone to join my gallbladder in that great formaldehyde jar in the sky. Kicked in the gut or not, I determined to make it work.
But first I had to pee. I didn't feel like I had to pee, but the nurse said she wasn't going to leave me alone until I filled the measuring cup on my nightstand. Being a lifelong member of the Shy Bladder Club, I explained that I wouldn't be able to do the job until she left me alone.
An enlarged prostate didn't help.
She thought a second. "I'll give you three minutes."
As she left, I took a good-natured parting shot. "It might even take five minutes if I think you're hovering outside the door."
She gave me the five minutes.
I gave her nothing. Not a single drop.
"I can explain this," I said when she stared at the empty container. "I've had less than half-a-pint of water all day long."
I had her. I knew it.
She pointed to the IV. "You've had a lot more than that, sport. This is your third bag."
Oops. Forgot about that, didn't I?
"I just don't have to go," I said with a smile and shoulder shrug.
She considered a moment. "I wonder. You're still numb down there. Lie down and we'll find out."
I struggled back into the bed while she left the room. How would she find out?
About four minutes later, she came back rolling a cart loaded with equipment.
She drew it over to the left side of the bed leaving the door open, yanked my hospital gown up to my chest exposing me to the world, and put this sonogram-like probe just below my belly button.
"You're full," she said.
How could she tell that? Oh, well. I'd just have to try a little harder. I'd ask for ten minutes.
I didn't get the chance.
"Just relax, Mr. Hatley," she said and took what was left of my manhood into her hand.
Then I saw the tube.
Oh, no. Oh, no. No.
"I can go. I promise."
She ignored me, matched the tube to my alter ego, and was off to the races.
"Oh, no! No! You're going up the down staircase! Please!"
"Just relax, Mr. Hatley," she said.
"Oh, sh*t! HOLY F***ING SH*T!"
That she had shoved that damn catheter tube north on my southbound road bothered me far more than the pain. And it did hurt. Make no mistake. It HOIT!
"Look at that," she said, obviously satisfied with herself. "You filled the bag."
She retracted the heinous tube. I recovered from the shock of what she had done, happy for the first time in my life that nature had not seen fit to provide me with what teenage boys dream about.
"Mr. Hatley," she said, storing her equipment. So help me, I would have screamed to high heaven if she treated me like a little boy who made just made bubbles in the toilet. "We got 750 milliliters right on the money."
She sounded happy. I eased myself down into the sheets, relieved.
"Damn, that would have filled an empty wine bottle," I replied, thinking that if it hadn't been for drugs and alcohol, we Americans wouldn't know anything about the metric system.
The nurse smiled, said "Goodnight, Mr. Hatley," and wheeled the equipment out of the room.
The next nurse who came in a little later seemed surprised to see me. "Did something happen, Mr. Hatley?"
I wondered whether to mention the catheterization, then decided that she would see it on the chart. I had no intention of mentioning it.
"No. I feel pretty good with the hydrocodone. Why do you ask?"
"Sleevers go home same day."
"I was scheduled to stay overnight from the beginning."
"I don't think so. Sleevers don't stay overnight if things go well. I'll have to check."
Wow. On the one hand I felt about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. I had become a "sleever," whoop-di-doo.
On the other ...? Did something go wrong and they weren't telling me about it?
Not possible. Even with the streptococcal sepsis, they told me. They hedged. They coated it in confectioners sugar and put a cherry on top. They painted it with rainbow colors, but they told me.
No. This is the way things were supposed to be.
And at that point, I took my first step toward recovery. I flushed the toilet and a whole bunch of waste spun into oblivion.
Another nurse came in to take care of me through the night. One who didn't call me a "sleever."
She called me "Mr. Hatley." I wished that she called me "Rocky" or, better yet, "Rock," but I do understand protocol.
The next morning, I didn't worry about my weight, or eating, and it barely registered that I had not swallowed a single calorie since the surgery. I worried about sipping the chocolate protein shake they brought explaining that I could go home after I finished it and Dr. Hafford had checked on me.
An eleven-ounce chocolate protein shake.
Looked easy enough. Only a hundred and sixty calories. Hell, I could have handled that in two mighty swigs. I did know that I only had a quarter of my stomach to hold it, but half-an-hour seemed like a reasonable goal.
Until I took the first sip and found myself stuffed. I set the cup down.
"Are you nauseous?" the nurse asked anxiously.
"No. Just full."
I spent the next two hours drinking that eleven-ounce (325 ml) protein shake. Forcing some of it, to be honest. I managed one more shake at home later that afternoon.
Home. I had made it through the surgery.
The next morning I faced one helluva big fear. For each of the next 14 days, I would have to give myself an injection to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Dr. Hafford admonished me to either give myself the injections or bring them to the office each day so that a nurse could give them to me.
DVT had affected me indirectly. It had caused my father's Coronary Thrombosis that damn near killed him.
And, since I occasionally had given my late sister insulin injections and my late mother injections to keep her white blood cell count up during chemotherapy, it only seemed right that I give them to myself.
I cringed every morning giving them. It only hurt a couple of times, but the bruising that resulted made me look like I had actually been kicked in the gut in a bar fight.
I deliberately didn't weigh those first two weeks. I didn't want to know. Since I could not eat anything more than a protein shake and a little sugar free Jell-O, it would take care of itself.
My first weigh in came two weeks after the surgery. 304.23. Twenty-three pounds down. I shrugged. Nothing more than a bucket of water out of the ocean. I'd ridden that bull a few times and been bucked off and trampled. When Dr. Hafford came in, she seemed pleased. Then again, I never saw her when she didn't have a smile and a laugh ready to go.
"The incisions look great," she said lowering my shirt. "The one in the lower right is still sore, isn't it?"
I smiled. "How did you know that?"
"That's where I took your stomach out."
Ohhh. I might have cringed a bit.
"I'm sorry about the bruises," I said.
"Oh, don't worry," she replied with a dismissive wave. "That's how I can tell you've been taking the shots. Remember, they're to prevent clotting, so you're going to bruise. You'd have still bruised if we had given them to you."
Of course. I knew that!
We scheduled another appointment two weeks later, at the one-month mark. Again, I stayed off the scales, but added soup, cereal, and oatmeal to my diet taking in about 300-500 calories a day. I ate four or five small bites at a time, and had to remind myself to eat those.
I drank water, hot tea and iced tea, broth and protein shakes.
At the one-month mark, my eyes opened wide on the doctor's scales. 288.5. Less than 300.
That got my attention.
A milestone. Thirty-nine pounds down.
I really noticed the changes after returning to work. No more holding on for dear life going up and down stairs. I could stand longer, walk farther.
I had more energy.
I hit the fifty-pound mark a couple of weeks later. My primary care physician fist-pumped. I beamed with pride.
My energy level soared like an Air Force jet into the wild, blue yonder. So did my attitude on life. One morning, I woke looking forward to the coming day, not just accepting it.
As of this writing, I am down eight-six pounds (39.01kg) and still going. My calorie intake has increased to 700-800 calories a day, with a once-a-week spurge to 1,000. Shhh. Don't tell Dr. Hafford about that splurge. But I can't eat more than just a little at each sitting. And that is both amazing and wonderful.
I can enjoy each bite, then stop because I'm full. Eating beyond full goes beyond uncomfortable. It's painful.
One egg and one slice of bacon is a meal that will stuff me. A small cup of soup and five crackers is a full meal. So is one slider. So is one corn on the cob (with butter and salt).
Over these last months, I've come to enjoy the way I eat. Three, maybe four tiny meals a day. Different foods each time. I love it. I experiment like I never have before, especially since a big meal for me now is not much more than a snack for most people.
I make every bite count.
And I'm saving a boatload of cash.
I take a multi-vitamin for men over 50 and a vitamin for my eyes, plus a low dose aspirin, all over-the-counter. The three-month blood tests came back perfect.
My exercise consists of walking, and this very week, I bought a couple of swim suits and will soon get back to lap swimming, my favorite exercise. Soon, I will look at my whole body in the mirror and marvel at my ability to return to the world of the living.
I feel some of that now.
For years I merely existed, slowly stomping through life like a mule with a yoke bowing its head plowing through the back forty. I'm loving life again and can't wait to see what these next years have to offer, and what I can give to these next years.
Despite the warning of the psychologist, I have not regretted having the surgery one microsecond. I've thanked the Powers of the Universe for it. Looking back, I could not have done this on my own.
I've been blessed with the support of family and friends. After my surgery, I received a gift in the mail. A beautiful koala teacup that I use every morning for my first cup of tea. With it came a note.
You've taken the hardest step now! Well done. The worst is behind you & what lies ahead is a future filled with self-confidence, love of yourself & the total embracement of all that you are.
Lots of love,
I keep that note on my desk and glance at it from time to time, amazed by how swiftly the sentiments are swirling into reality.
I have a long way to sail, true. But when the ocean seems infinite, I reflect on a passage from a beautiful novel of survival called "Men Against the Sea" by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall featuring an honorable and heroic Captain William Bligh, yes, the villain of "Mutiny on the Bounty." He tells a seaman during desperate times, "Think if you like of the distance you have come, but never let your mind run forward faster than your vessel."
Advice that I, too, am working on.
So, yes, I need to lose another sixty or seventy pounds, but I've come farther in these few months than I've dared hope for in more than sixteen years. I've started to embrace myself, and accept myself— possibly for the first time in my life—and can see all that I can become if I conscientiously work toward it with a will. I look into the mirror now, and really like the guy looking back. His smile is infectious. His eyes shine with the love of living. And sometimes I see a faint glow surrounding him.
Yes, every once in awhile, I catch myself loving him.
These days I don't dwell on what might have been, because it wasn't. It never will be. I look on what will happen, because I can make it happen.
And I fully intend to.
Things aren't always rosy. This is life, after all. But the highs are so much higher, and the lows don't hurt nearly so much.
Wine is an occasional part of a meal.
I remember my father's saying, "Chief, sometimes it's the bigger man who asks for help, rather than the one who plows on alone."
I gave in and asked for help. And I'm happy and proud that I did, because help has come to me in tsunami-like waves from friends all over the world.
People in my life say it took guts to do what I did, and maybe so. I'm happy about that, too.
I'm happy about so many things these days.
I'm happiest, though, because in this, my sixtieth year, I've become a man.
Rocky Hatley has been a Screen Actors Guild Member for over 25 years. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee more years ago than he would like to think about, and, as a child, was held by Elvis Presley. Raised in Texas, USA, he's a massive fan of music, plays guitar, and has the most amazing celebrity stories ever. Rocky is a passionate writer currently working on a novel loosely based on his experience as a SCUBA diving instructor. He is the co-writer of two plays produced at Manhattan South Theatre in Orlando, Florida. Barstruck and Bedtime Stories each enjoyed successful six-month runs. Rocky appeared in both. In his life he has, at times, been too thin and too heavy. This is an article about Rocky's journey to follow the lead of Goldilocks and find the "just right."