Death of one of Dr. Terry Simpson’s weight loss surgery patients
Helen was a wonderful person who wanted weight loss surgery so that she could get on with her life. Her life had been a difficult one—she was divorced and she had been estranged from her father for a number of years. Over the last year she had begun to make some positive changes in her life. She put aside her feelings and she and her father reconciled their differences. She also decided to do something for herself. She went through an intense weight loss program, and then came to me for bariatric surgery.
The weight loss surgery went well, and the evening of her procedure Helen was doing laps around the nurse’s station. The following day she was tolerating some liquids and visiting a few other patients in the hospital, offering them some encouragement. She advanced to some thicker liquids the next day and was proud when she passed a bit of gas. Saturday she wanted to go home, but since it was a bit of a drive, she decided to wait a day.
Sunday morning I received a call from the hospital.Helen was feeling short of breath and her oxygen saturations were declining. I told them to bolus her with some heparin (a blood thinning agent) while I was on my way. They told me that her intravenous line had come out, and they couldn’t restart another one.
Driving the twelve miles to the hospital took no time on a Sunday morning, but it felt like an eternity. I arrived just as Helen was being placed into the Intensive Care Unit. I immediately placed a central line in her (which is a special line placed into the jugular vein) and we started the blood thinner. In spite of the blood thinner now coursing through her veins, she didn’t get better. The lung specialist agreed that she probably had thrown a clot from her legs to her lungs.
Over the next 18 hours, I watched as Helen’s life slipped away. I spent most of that time at her bedside, feeling helpless because there was nothing I could do. I talked to her father several times on the telephone and he knew she wasn’t going to make it.
Helen had come to several of the monthly support group meetings and had made many friends. Although Helen was shy in public, the support group clicked with her and everyone loved her. When we announced on our website that she had died, many people responded with sympathy.
I felt numb. I have no idea how I drove from the hospital back to my house. My ex-wife, a gastroenterologist (stomach doctor) reassured me there was nothing more I could have done, that I did everything possible. While I appreciated that, and my intellect knew that she was right, I still felt as if it was my fault. I really didn’t want sympathy and couldn’t be consoled. I simply wanted to go to sleep and when I woke up find that it was just a bad dream—but I couldn’t sleep. That night my two dogs slept at my side. They knew something was wrong and wanted to protect me. They were protecting me—from my own demons.
The specialists who attended to Helen, the lung doctor, the heart doctor, the blood specialist, and her medical doctor, all reassured me that we had done everything possible, but I still didn’t really believe them. Helen was alive when I met her, she had a great smile, and now she was gone. I told myself she really wanted this done. She had made the decision to have weight loss surgery on her own. But I had done the procedure, and as a result her own body killed her.
I went to my office and shut the door—something I never do. I put my head down on my desk and wondered why I had gone into a field where I was privileged to take care of people but cursed to see some of them die. My office manager came in and I told her that I did not want to do weight loss surgery anymore, that once I finished with my current patients, I was done. She knew enough not to say anything.
The support group was wonderful. Not only did they rally behind me and encourage me to come back to work, but patients of other bariatric surgeons in town emailed me and encouraged me to continue to perform weight loss surgery. The nurses at the hospital, in the ICU, and on the floor, were all wonderful. My hospital has a A weight loss surgery patient’s death, for me, is personalgreat weight loss program where a group of nurses are selected to work with these bariatric patients and given special training. Every one of these nurses came up to me and reassured me that they wanted me to continue to bring them weight loss surgery patients, that these things happen. They encouraged me to “get back up on the horse.”
A couple of days later I changed my mind about quitting weight loss surgery. A weight loss surgery patient’s death, for me, is personal. For my support group, it is personal. For the nurses, and the other physicians, it is also personal. However, it took my patients, and the patients of other bariatric surgeons to tell me what I already knew—the greatest thing I could do for Helen’s memory was to keep working in this field, to keep doing weight loss surgery.
Is it difficult to follow the rules after Gastric Sleeve or Lap-band surgery?
After all—I couldn’t stay on the xyz diet plan?
Is Gastric Sleeve or Lap-band surgery worth It? That is something that only you can decide. It is better to be overweight and healthy, than skinny and sick. But, an overwhelming number of patients who have weight loss surgery do well. Taking vitamins isn’t that difficult. Seeing a weight loss doctor regularly isn’t that difficult. Eating nutritious food isn’t that difficult. This isn’t like a diet that you can stop if you don’t like it. Nor is it a phase. This is a life-changing operation.
Complying isn’t that difficult. Afterward you will always be on a “diet,” but it isn’t something horrible, like having to eat a thousand grapefruits in a year, or only eating South African Zebra meat. It is fairly simple—eat the right things first—not dessert first, and remember, potato chips are not a meal. My favorite breakfast would be M & M’s® (peanut of course) with a glass of heavy cream—but I know that wouldn’t be a good, nutritious breakfast. Learning to eat well is something all of us should do, and learning to eat less is something most of us cannot do without the aid of weight loss surgery.
It is difficult to stay on Atkins forever—I love the Atkins diet, but I love pasta. With bariatric surgery, you can have pasta—again, there are no bad foods—there are bad quantities of foods. After weight loss surgery you cannot eat the quantities you once did (well, some manage to do this, but we hope you won’t make this your intent). So, this is what weight loss surgery isn’t: it isn’t a substitute for diet plans, it isn’t something you can try, like a diet, and give it up if you don’t like it. Every car needs a tune up and oil change (okay, so I wrote this because my car hasn’t had oil in 15 months—but hey, it is a patriotic act. I am saving oil so we don’t have to import it). Every body needs vitamins, minerals, protein, some fat (not as much as we get) and some carbohydrates (not as much as we want). Everyone needs to see their weight loss doctor, and periodically get some blood drawn.
It isn’t difficult to do, but it is important. Now, if you can do all this, you should have great results.