“Success” and Stomach Amputation

fat people have the right to existA popular online publication recently published a piece that purported to talk about the pros and cons of stomach amputation and stomach binding (also known as “bariatric” or “weight loss” surgery.)

There’s no way I’m giving it traffic, so there won’t be a link. And while people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, including amputate or bind their stomachs (though that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to discuss in every space,) it’s important that we talk about the realities of these surgeries. The story mentioned a failure rate of 1 in 10, which seems low based on the research, but perhaps that’s explained at least a little bit by what people consider a “success.”

One woman who says she’s “very happy” and has “no regrets” has had three of these surgeries. A lap band that had to be removed when “For five days, I wasn’t able to keep food down. At the hospital, I found out the lower portion of my stomach protruded through the band to the top, so I was basically choking on my stomach.” Next a gastric sleeve that caused “a lot of acid reflux” and “stopped losing weight around 220 pounds.” Then she went to Mexico and payed “$5,800 to $6,000” out of pocket (she notes that it’s half the price as the surgery in the US) because her insurance wouldn’t cover a third surgery. She currently weighs 180 pounds, has low iron and notes “I can’t eat really dry chicken. Certain textures are uncomfortable. Sometimes I get woozy from sugar.”

Another “success” story had to have her lap band removed and “The tubing on the band kinked, so the fluid in my stomach got in my lungs in the surgery.” Then she got gastric bypass, followed by eight plastic surgeries due to the discomfort her loose skin created.

Yet another chased her stomach amputation with two surgeries – hernia repair and emergency gallbladder removal.

Some people called their surgery successful because they don’t feel like they “take up too much space” anymore, their Tinder success increased, they are no longer interested in eating food, and that “unhealthy” food gives them “overwhelming nausea, ”that pizza would cause them to “throw up immediately and start getting cold sweats,” that they now have a single cookie for lunch. Others mention health improvements that many people have made without these surgeries.

Remember, those are the “successes.” The failures include a woman whose constant vomiting from her lap band triggered bulimia. Another had bulimia triggered by gastric bypass and still has to “puree a lot of my food to keep it down.” Others mention that they developed alcohol addiction.

The first thing I want to point out is who is missing in this article – the many people who gain all of their weight back, and the people who were killed by the surgery (even the Canadian Obesity Network admits that they kill more than 14 out of every 1,000 people – and that’s only the people who die quickly. When people die later due to complications, get blamed for their own deaths.

.I also have to point out that any of the people interviewed – whether they consider themselves successes or not – could have been killed by the surgery. While I’m glad that they survived it, the surgery is – at best – a crap shoot in which a very few don’t experience horrible side effects, some people are happy despite pretty horrible side effects, some people are unhappy about the horrible lifelong side effects, and some people die, and there’s no way to know which group you’ll be in until you are in it.

So let’s talk about all this “success.” Can you imagine the reaction people would have if after they got their tonsils out they had to eat pureed food and throw up all the time for the rest of their life? Or if they were likely to have to have 8 plastic surgeries (that their insurance may not pay for) after having their appendix removed? What about if their bunion surgery was considered a success even if it meant that they threw up immediately after eating pizza and got woozy after eating sugar for the rest of their lives, and  they got blamed if their bunion grew back worse than before in a few years? Or, imagine there was a surgery that actually did improve the health of fat people with absolutely no negative side effects, but didn’t lead to any weight loss – would they call that a success?

The fact that horrific lifelong side effects and possible death are considered to be perfectly reasonable outcomes of so-called weight loss surgery is an admission that healthcare professionals believe it’s completely ok to kill, or severely harm, fat people under the guise of “healthcare” as long as there is a chance we might end up thin.

And that’s not the only way that fatphobia plays into this. Notice how many of the things that are considered “pros” of the surgery would not be pros at all if we didn’t live in a fatphobic society. Is there any other surgery that doctors claim is about health, but sell using “more right swipes on Tinder” as a benefit? Have you ever heard a doctor try to talk a patient into surgery they don’t want by claiming that they’ll get more dates? It happened to one of my blog readers.  The problem is fatphobia and the solution is to end fatphobia, not to pressure fat people to risk their lives in an attempt to satisfy their bullies.

Far too often the medical centers and device manufacturers that profit handsomely from these procedures don’t give potential victims the complete picture – they trot out the few and far between “success” stories, downplay the risks, and somehow fail to mention the distinct possibility that you’ll die – or that the side effects will make you wish you were dead. They even lie about whether or not the surgery is reversible.

Christine had lap band surgery about 7 years ago. Her weight didn’t change but her health did, she says “I refer to my band as medically – induced bulimia.” She vomits every time she eats. She wants it removed, but the company that made it was sued and went out of business. Surgeons refuse to remove it because they claim that, since the vomiting is coming from the top of her pouch (and so doesn’t contain stomach acid,) it’s not a complication and thus doesn’t justify removal. She says “There was absolutely no problem whatsoever operating on a perfectly healthy fat person to make them smaller – but Oh hell no! we can’t fix the problem we created with our fat-biased, completely unnecessary procedure!!!”

Even worse – there are some doctors who are insisting the fat patients get this surgery before they will give them the same healthcare that a thin person would receive immediately. Thin people are not required to get a surgery that risks their lives and forces them to engage in behaviors that approximate an eating disorder just to get basic healthcare. Fat people shouldn’t either. (One of the most craven examples occurs when doctors refuse to give higher weight Trans people the gender confirmation surgeries they want, claiming it’s too dangerous at their weight, then suggest that those same people get…wait for it…stomach amputation surgery.  It’s disgusting.)

And as one of the comments in a Facebook thread about the original article said “Wow. I knew the risks with this surgery but it’s awfully sobering to read a giant thread of people who have died from it. So sad that as fat people it’s better for us to die skinny than live fat in this world”

You see, when you’re a fat person, you can’t trust doctors to see you as a human being worthy of care. We always have to remember that our doctor may be perfectly comfortable risking our life  in order to make us into a thin person who they would, only then, view as a person worthy of evidence-based non-lethal healthcare options. If we just want to get appropriate, evidence-based treatment (which is to say, the same treatment that a thin person would receive) in the body we have now, we have to do a ton of extra work, and even then it’s definitely not guaranteed.

People are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, including binding or amputating their stomachs. But nobody should be required to bind or amputate our stomachs just to be treated with basic human respect, or to get decent healthcare. And for those who have the surgery, whatever they are hoping to gain had better be worth dying for, because they very well might.

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21 thoughts on ““Success” and Stomach Amputation

  1. Long ago when I considered the surgery, I had access to the local hospital’s patients’ blogs detailing their experiences with the surgery. Entirely too many required extensive hospital stays post-op and then many required many follow-up surgeries. No way!

    That info combined with the complications many were living with was enough to send me running!

    1. I was actually contemplating it at a low point, so I decided to look up accounts by people who had had stomach amputations for other reasons, reasoning that if they’d had it done for cancer the doctors wouldn’t be all yippee-yer-thin about it.

      The success stories involved patients planning, thinking about, measuring, and timing what they needed to eat, were about to eat, and had eaten. All day, every day, forever.


  2. Thanks, Ragen! I needed this article today! The WLS “success” stories always remind me of A Clockwork Orange. It would seem to me that dumping syndrome, constant vomiting, and the other huge list of consequences and possible consequences of these surgeries constitute a severe loss of quality of life—the kind that you would only trade for immanently life-threatening disease.

    I know fat is considered immanently life-threatening. I know the quality of life of fat people is considered to be so terrible that they ought to be happy to trade fatness for these appalling side effects, and it strikes me as completely insane. They hand out these very serious surgeries thes the way they used to hand out tonsillectomies—and eventually they realized unnecessary tonsillectomy was a bad idea. We don’t even know the whole function of the organs being amputated and bypassed.

    It strikes me as tragic that so many people get into it without knowing how severe the consequences may be, or being so sure they will be a success. I wonder how many people considered a tragic failure and are not willing to talk about it.

        1. This is what happens when I try to comment from my phone before coffee. I meant that I have heard repeatedly that post-ops who are having bad experiences, sometimes the complications that occur many years after surgery, are often attacked verbally by other people, often still in the honeymoon phase (or in denial, or otherwise happy with their results) and told whatever their complications are is entirely their own fault and to shut up about it. I know it’s exceedingly common to blame any problems and weight regain on the patient.

          As an aside, I was pleased to see a (national) doctor column in our local paper refuting the idea that 1200 calories is all a 120-lb sedentary woman needs to maintain her weight.

  3. I have a friend who wants the banding done. I’m just grateful she doesn’t seem to be able to keep to the eating plan she has to do ahead of time so she hasn’t had the surgery yet. She thinks she will be able to exercise ‘after the weight loss’. I wish she understood that she’s just going to be just as badly out of shape whatever her weight is, and she might feel too terrible to exercise.

    1. Calling that surgery “banding” is so misleading. I thought they literally put some sort of band around the stomach—like the lap band, but different since they were calling it something else. Then I found out it’s the most horrific of all the surgeries! If you have to name it something to make it sound less terrible…

  4. I believe in a generation or so, bariatric surgery will be looked upon the same way we now look at all the lobotomies performed to “cure” mental illness. A barbaric procedure practiced by ill informed physicians who should know better.

    Until then, I think the greedy doctors performing this mutilation should be sued for malpractice. That’s wishful thinking of course. There’s money to be made! Still, I wouldn’t let any doctor who practices this scam treat me for a hangnail, let alone anything serious.

  5. Uber pass, even when the nice trainee doctor smiled and said: “Well, yes some of the surgeries are pretty extreme but there are less major surgeries…Lap band?” Smile. “I don’t have an eating disorder.” I replied to his confused, unbelieving face. I am poor and crazy and fat, but not stupid. Must be a pain in the ass to deal with me. Smiled and passed again. Aunt came to town saw a cousin who is post traumatic weight loss surgery, lost maybe 80 lbs. At 65, she has all the same health issues she had before, plus a few new ones. Aunt said: “She looks great but really terrible, you know…” Yes, we know. Smile Pass. There is no way they are gonna see this for what it is. If fat is the worst thing that can ever possibly happen to you, than ANYTHING up to and including your DEATH is an acceptable solution. For you, for your health, for your family for the world! PLEASE just do this so we can be happy with you!
    You know, if it really worked, I mean really really worked: all fatties thin, no health issues, no death, it would put the BILLION dollar diet and un-fattness companies out of business for good. HOW can THAT be a good outcome?!
    S’funny, I took the survey call for my health insurance, very invasive, very creeptastic, but I didn’t take a pass on any of the questions. I bet I was the first person to answer the weight question. The guy taking the survey was so startled he had to ask my weight three times. “Three OH 8?” “No, 380.” “Three-8?” “Three hundred and eighty pounds.” I smiled into the phone. Poor guy in a call center on the other side of the globe. I may have been one of maybe three women on the planet who would admit their weight who weighed over a hundredandtenpounds. Still funny.

  6. Thank you for posting such an important refutation of the normalized, surgical hate that is both popular and largely unquestioned, currently!

  7. Yeah, when you consider WLS, the only people you get to see who’ve had it are the ones still in the honeymoon period – the ones who lost all the weight they wanted and haven’t hit the period where the complications start piling on (and the weight hasn’t started coming back). Surgeons don’t want you to know about the people who haven’t been “successes”, nor do they want you to know about the ones who have died. Sure, they have to disclose what could go wrong, but according to them, it’s “could”, and they insist that most people will never have any of those complications.
    My best friend died 21 years ago from having her stomach stapled twice – and with her mental health issues (multiple personalities, self-mutilation), and health issues (ventral hernia requiring repair with mylar mesh that extended across her stomach), she never should have been even considered as a candidate. But the fact that she weighed 400 lbs was the deciding factor. After she lost the weight, the mesh repairing her hernia wasn’t removed or replaced and her intestines got tangled in it. Parts of them became hardened, parts became gangrenous, and she ended up having half of her intestines removed. That required that she take liquid morphine before EVERY meal so that her food didn’t go right through her. Sure, she got thin, but she couldn’t eat anything without having either horrendous diarrhea or really noxious gas. When her weight started coming back, her surgeon decided it would be a good idea to redo her surgery (another stapling). Six months later, she died of cardiomyopathy.
    I also had my stomach stapled – I’ve had arthritis in my knees since I was 34 years old (lots of injuries from falling while skating/running). When I was 42 years old, I was told that no surgeon would replace my knees at my weight of 350 lbs and that a VBG was my only option for losing the weight I “needed” to lose in order to have that done since I had failed to lose weight and keep it off using any other method (diets, amphetamines, Phen-fen). So finally, I gave into the brow-beating and consented to having my stomach stapled. I should have known that it was all a lie – I was weighed before surgery, they said I weighed 374 lbs, when the day before, at my doctor’s office, I had weighed 352. They weighed me again when I left the hospital after surgery, and said I weighed 304. Somehow, according to them, I managed to lose 70 lbs in the five days I was there recovering from surgery. Yeah, I don’t think so. I did finally manage to get down to 280, but only because I threw up almost everything I ate for the first year after surgery. When I could finally keep the small amounts of food I could eat in my stomach, the weight started coming back. Here I am, 21 years later, and my weight has crept up to 425 lbs. I no longer have any teeth and just got a complete set of dentures after having all of the teeth I had left removed by an oral surgeon (most of them were broken off at the gum line). I’m limited on the foods I can eat if I don’t want to spend the day in the bathroom – fresh or frozen fruits/vegetables, milk products other than cheese and butter, anything that’s greasy – all of these give me explosive diarrhea that can hit anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour after I eat them. I don’t know if my fibromyalgia is a complication of the surgery, but I have it, and it’s getting worse, as is my arthritis. And now I truly can’t find a surgeon in my area that will replace my bone-on-bone knees and hip at my now-weight of 425 lbs. And I take a handful of vitamins and supplements every day, along with my migraine medication, arthritis medication, and thyroid medication. Those vitamins and supplements replace some of the nutrients I can no longer get from the foods I can’t eat. Eating has become such a hassle – trying to figure out what I can eat, trying to figure out how to prepare it without having to stand for very long (spinal stenosis makes that difficult), and then having the energy to eat it after going thru all of that makes it so that I don’t really want to eat more than once a day (and I still can’t eat more than a cup of food at one time or I’m in pain from having eaten too much).
    I’ve had doctors tell me that my VBG can be revised to another form of WLS, such as RNY or the sleeve. I’ve told them “Thanks, but no thanks, you had your one chance to kill me, why should I give you another one?” They stutter and stammer and say that those surgeries don’t kill people, and I tell them that I know too many people who have died from those very surgeries and it’s not something I’m willing to risk just to “maybe” become thin for a short period of time, because the weight WILL come back, and I don’t see death as an option either.
    I’m 64 years old and I wish that I hadn’t listened to my doctor all those years ago and had that damned surgery. My weight had been stable at 350, + or – 10 lbs, for over 15 years. If I hadn’t had that surgery, I’d probably still be at that weight, and probably be a lot more mobile than I am now. But weight loss was touted as the cure for my back problem (weight loss doesn’t do much to improve spinal stenosis) and my arthritis, and nothing was done to see what could improve those conditions without such drastic measures as WLS. 😡

    1. vesta, that is so horrible. Someone should print an article with these success stories. oh wait, can’t do that we’re trying to sell somethin here! I am so sorry you have gone through and are living with the outcomes of other peoples failure to be decent human beings, or at least LISTEN when someone tells them about their own BODY.

  8. Thank you for writing this. Ever since I was 14 when my dad first suggested this, I think about getting a stomach amputation when I feel bad about myself. I’m 23 now, and I’m going to bookmark this to read instead of “success stories”.

  9. I really needed to see this today. I feel like I’m living in the upside down where people my size are coerced into having these deadly procedures despite having no real Health issues to begin with. Doctors really want me to give up my health in order to be thin. They would rather give me a medically supervised eating disorder than treat me for the existing eating disorder that they refuse to believe I have. It’s good to know that other people see the hypocrisy.

    1. I know what you mean, Esther. This society has some crazy ideas that can kill. Ultimately, as fat women, our choice is get thin and/or die trying in order to have any sort of social legitimacy. There is nothing else. People who are not fat have no idea.

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