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Pre-band fears part 2: Being sick

Posted Dec 06 2009 12:00am
Before I got banded I'd read and heard so much about bandits being sick that it really began to worry me. I got the impression, from various forums and web sites, that vomiting was a normal everyday part of life being a bandit. I read stories about people throwing up while they were eating out - much to everyone's embarrassment. I'd also read about people who more or less threw up every time they ate. But then, to add to my confusion, I read advice and guidance from bariatric surgeons and doctors saying that being sick was a normal everyday occurrence for bandits - or at least that it shouldn't be. So, I decided to plough on ahead with surgery anyway and deal with vomiting if, and when, the time came.

Over a year on, what has the reality been? Well (and I advise you to read this you eat if you've got a weak stomach!), first, there are three different kinds of vomiting with the band
1. The 'slime'
2. Regurgitation
3. Vomiting - proper

I'm going to break with tradition and deal with these in reverse order.

3. Vomiting: We've all done this, whether from over-eating or too much of the amber nectar! This is when we bring up partially or fully digested food from the stomach. For bandits - this means the main, lower stomach. In the normal run of things, this shouldn't ever happen to a bandit purely from eating too fast etc because the lower stomach has much greater capacity than the upper pouch. However, vomiting could result from a tummy bug or other illness. Proper vomiting is dangerous for bandits because 'it' has to come up through the stoma created by the band, past the pouch and into the oesophagus. If the band is quite tight, forcing partially digested food past at a great rate of knots can cause band slippage. This is why if you ever go to a country where tummy bugs are likely, always take a supply of anti-sickness medication with you. Personally, I have not vomited at all since having the band.

2. Regurgitation: This is bringing back undigested food from the upper pouch. This occurs if we eat too fast, too much, without chewing enough, and sometimes with particular types of food. It can also occur if you drink after eating. This is the type of 'vomiting' that most bandits are referring to. Regurgitation is unpleasant, to say the least, and if it happens too often, can begin to cause damage to the oesophagal wall. This is because of the acids that accompany food digestion which can attack the walls of the oesophagus, and also because of mechanical damage. It's best to avoid regurgitation! Although brought on by not sticking to the basic rules of eating slowly, chewing well and taking small mouthfuls - it is much more likely to happen if the band is too tight. So, if it's happening to you on a regular basis and you are sure you're sticking to the rules (and not drinking after eating) you should get your band checked out - it could be too tight. It is a misnomer to think that a 'too tight' band is a good thing because you will lose weight more quickly - you may also cause permanent damage to your oesophagus and there are a variety of other complications too, some of which require surgical intervention and the removal of the band. So it's not worth it. My personal experience is that since being banded I have regurgitated three times. The first time was when I got angry with my iPhone because it was misbehaving(!), and in my anger I scoffed down two thirds of an iced bun before I remembered I had a band.....! By then it was too late and I had a very unpleasant 20 minutes leant over the sink. The second and third times both happened at work while eating my lunch and working at the same time. In other words, I got distracted and ate too big a mouthful without chewing properly. Mia culpa.

1. The 'slime': This happens - a bit like regurgitation - when you eat too much without chewing properly. Food gets 'stuck' in the pouch, unable to get through the stoma because some less well chewed food is blocking the way. It can also happen if you drink after eating - the liquid can't get through the stoma because the food you ate, nicely sitting in the pouch and making you feel full, is blocking the way. So, the body produces what seems like tonnes of saliva to lubricate the oesophagus and pouch to try and remove the blockage. Usually, this does eventually work and you get a real sense of relief when the blockage clears. But meanwhile, your body is producing loads of this saliva and until the downwards blockage is cleared it has to go somewhere - upwards! The slime (as most bandits call it - I'm sure there's a correct technical term for it somewhere!) builds up gradually. You'll be eating something and start to feel an unusual heaviness around the breastbone (where the band is). Then you'll feel gurgling and things happening in your gullet, and then in your throat. Then you'll notice that your mouth is filling with saliva, and it's no good trying to swallow it because your mouth just fills up again. At the point when I notice the gurgling sensation, I know I've just got time to make it to the toilets at work - as long as no-one tries to stop me or talk to me on the way. Once, while rushing to the loo at work, my mouth full of saliva to bursting point, I passed a colleague in the corridor. Inevitably, he said "hello" and I just grunted. I often wonder what he thought.... Anyway, persaonally I went through two phases of doing lots of sliming - both were when my band was too tight and both times I ended up having an aspiration (de-fill). Since then, I still occasionally get the slime - but it's always when I've eaten too quickly, not chewed, or drunk after eating.

So, if you chew well, eat slowly, eat small portions, don't drink after eating and take anti-sickness tablets with you when you go abroad, you need never have any fear of vomiting with the band! On a more serious note, if you're already a bandit and regularly regurgitate or vomit, there's something wrong - either with your eating behaviour or with the band. Get it checked out. Vomiting, of any kind, is NOT a normal part of everyday life post gastric band surgery - and don't let anyone tell you that it is.
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