Happy birthday

I was born in September 1965. I was reborn three years ago today.

No ... I did not find religion. Far from it. On Feb. 18, 2003, I underwent a surgical procedure that turned my life around in ways I could not even start to imagine.

The technical term is "roux-en-y gastric bypass." The layman's term, stomach stapling.

Whatever you want to call it, I know what the end result is: I lost 171 pounds, reaching a low weight of 202. You can do the math -- I was 373 at my heaviest. Three years later, I tip the scales at 216.

Here's what I remember so vividly from that day. I had drive from Joplin, Mo. to have the surgery done in New York City and recover for six weeks at my parent's house. Just in time for a blizzard too as about two feet of snow fell the day before and it took me some three hours to get to upper Manhattan to have tests done.

I was shoveling their walk and ready to dig out our cars when my father called me from the front door.

"Andrew, phone," he said.


"Hi, this is St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital. I understand you will be having surgery tomorrow. We need you to come for testing," a somewhat cheery voice said on the other end.

I paused, looked outside and pointed something out the somewhat cheery voice may have missed. "Um, you know there's two feet of snow outside?" I said.

"We'll be here," she responded.

"It will take me several hours to get there," I warned.

"We'll be here," she said again.

So I eventually made my way to a subway station in Sunnyside and, as I thought, three hours to get there -- including a 15-minute trek down my parents' unplowed block. Testing wasn't bad only because I had my gall bladder out four years earlier -- two hours instead of eight.

The next morning, my father drove me to a subway station in Flushing at about 4:30 in the morning. Dressed in a pair of sweats and a winter jacket, I got on the 7 train.

I am an anxious sort, so you can imagine the war of words going on in my mind.

"You can still back out," one faction said. "You can always say no."

"You've come this far," the other side said. "Don't back out now."

That other voice was right. It wasn't the testing, the psych profiles and the meetings with nutritionists. It was being made fun of in school while growing up for always -- and I mean ALWAYS -- the heaviest kid.

It was being the heaviest person no matter where I was. Malls. Stadiums.

It was never having a date in high school. It was a girlfriend's father disgusted by the size of the person she was dating and even considered marrying.

It was being turned down for jobs and advancement because of my size. I had a boss when I was in inside sales for a publishing house -- and since this is a blog, I have no qualms about naming names: Dino Battista of the Free Press -- who was visibly repulsed every time I was in his office to meet.

It was the constant pain in my knees, hips, ankles.

It was the frustration in feeling like a freak. No one wants to sit next to a fat person on mass transit or an airplane (believe me, I did my share of apologizing for my size when I flew.)

It was a miracle I didn't kill myself years earlier, because I definitely considered it more than once.

One thing, though ... I blame no one but me for getting to the size I did. I ate the fast food. Hell, I ate anything I wanted and as much as I wanted and didn't care. A six-pack of Coke or Pepsi a day -- 1,080 calories -- was normal. I'm not about to sue McDonald's or Burger King for a lifelong lack of self-control.

For the record: height ... 5-foot-10; heaviest weight ... 373 pounds; largest waist size ... 54"; largest shirt ... 20 1/2" for a dress shirt, XXXL for T-shirts; shoe size ... 12EEEE.


Though I am a native New Yorker, I ended up on the wrong train uptown -- took the 2 instead of the 1 and ended up on the wrong side of Central Park. So, here it is, about 5:20 AM, lost in my hometown, scared to death of undergoing surgery that caused some deaths.

Somehow, I lucked out. Despite the early morning and the blizzard, I found a cab. Jamaican driver. Thought I was nuts to be out at that time. Told him I was undergoing surgery in a couple hours. Tipped him $10.

I made it to St. Luke's at about 6 AM. Was scheduled for 7.

I sat in a lockerroom-type area. My clothes and boots stowed away and me sitting on a bench wearing a surgical gown and hat and trying not to break out bawling. Unlike "ER" or "Third Watch," I wasn't wheeled into the operating room. I got to walk in and hop up on the table.

"They're gonna gut you like a fish," that nagging voice said. "You're going to die. Back out."

Once everything was in place -- IV, monitors -- a mask was put over my face and I was told to count down from 100. I think I made to 97 when I was out.

I woke up in intensive care about five hours later. I was alive, awake, aware. I looked under the gown I was wearing. Yeah, they gutted me alright ... a thick black line of stitches and staples from navel to breastbone. The hardest part was over. So I thought.

Maybe it was all the hospital dramas I watched. Maybe it was having an aunt who was head nurse at one of New York's best hospitals. Maybe it was a feeling in my newly sized gut. Something was wrong.

Over the next few hours, I went from feeling alert to tired and then sluggish. At some point, while lying on the gurney in ICU, I was able to look at the monitor above and to my left. Pulse was way too high. Blood pressure dropping -- not a steep drop, but slow and steady.

Around 5 p.m., a ring of doctors and interns were around my bed and they all had the some look on their faces: uh-oh. Given that I felt as weak as I ever had, I knew something was very wrong. A doctor who assisted the one who did the surgery came forward and told me I needed to go back into surgery.

"Am I going to die?" I asked.

"We need to get you back in now," he said (and for the life of me, I cannot remember his name -- but he did have the same procedure done and lost 110 pounds.)

"Just get me out of this alive," I said. "And someone call my parents and let them know what's happening."

This time I was wheeled back into surgery, although I had to boost myself off the gurney and onto the operating table ... no easy feat, I can assure you. About three hours later, I was back in ICU with a new set of staples and stitches.

What was wrong was that something in the new stomach was not tied off properly and I was leaking blood into my abdomen. In between surgeries, I lost about two liters' worth.

Oh, and my parents were never alerted.


I ended up spending about five days in ICU and a day and a half in a room with an automated and oversized bed that I imagined could have held someone weighing about 900 pounds. Felt good so long as my legs were higher than my head.

I watched news about a Rhode Island nightclub fire where an 80s hair band lit off pyrotechnics, killing 100 people. The city continued digging out of the blizzard. Terrorism was quickly ruled out as the cause of a refinery explosion on Staten Island.

I was discharged after a week and returned to my bedroom in the house where I grew up. Though I had long since moved out again, they bought a platform bed and an air mattress for me to sleep on.

Things from early on in my recovery ... turning over on my side and feeling my insides shift when I moved; our cat, Summer, jumping on the bed and poking her face at me, sensing I was not well ... needing 45 minutes to eat a portion of one sunnyside egg.

Next: What the last three years have been like.

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