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The One Where I Got Cut In Half

I want you to picture the single most important and most anticipated day of your life so far. Maybe it’s your wedding day, or a certain holiday that excites you, or maybe it’s something completely different. For me, it was the day I’d FINALLY be able to, well… be cut in half. Like kind of literally but also not really. January 11, 2019 was the day that my life changed forever. It was the day that I had 7 lbs of excess skin removed from my lower back and lower abdomen.

This skin didn’t come about because I grew another human inside me, or because God or whoever it is that created me was like “here’s a bunch of extra skin! Whoopsies!” It was because some how in my first 19 years of life I gained more than 100 lbs of extra weight that I definitely didn’t need, and when that happens your skin stretches out and… you know the rest. Honestly, the looseness and elasticity of skin varies from person to person. There are people out there who lose that amount of weight (and more) and don’t even end up with a fraction of the skin I had. I’ll put a photo POST weight-loss with skin still in tact right below this paragraph. Do not forget as you read on that every single weight loss story is different, so don’t let this stray you away from trying to reach your goals, PINKY SWEAR?! GOOD.

Oh, the beauty of technology and how easy it’s going to be for me to walk you through this.

I’m not even entirely sure where to begin with this one. There was just so much lead up. I didn’t always know that I would need this surgery. My abdomen would always “hang” if that makes sense. This is because I was overweight for as long as I can even remember. I know it may sound kind of gross, but it’s not, because all bodies are beautiful no matter what is hanging where… (and if you want to talk about things on me that definitely still hang let’s not even get started on my boobs LOL). Likely TMI, but we’re buddies now… right?

It was about half way through my journey that I realized… oh damn, this skin tank is emptying real quick here, and the skin isn’t disappearing? What the F*CK?! Yeah, rude awakening for Ms. Balka. I mean… why would life give you a break after losing an entire person? That’s how I thought of it anyway, but that’s just me being a negative Nance (short for Nancy, get it?) I kind of came to terms with it and made friends with the extra skin. I mean, I had to, it quite literally followed me everywhere because it was attached to me, and as much as I wanted to (and as many times as I considered it) I couldn’t take a pair of kitchen scissors to it and say goodbye forever. WOAH can you imagine if I did that?!

I know I literally just told you I came to terms with it… but I never really made peace. After all of the workouts and the healthy eating and the new clothes and the weight loss I just couldn’t get passed the fact that this skin was there for good. It wasn’t until I had a fitness bet with one of my work buddies (hi Jason!) that I realized I didn’t care what it took, I was going to have this skin removed no matter what. During this challenge with my co worker I’d never worked harder on my fitness, and it was just such a drag that I couldn’t see the body I was creating pretty much from scratch under this big layer of skin that I truly wanted nothing to do with.

At this point, I’d done a ton of research, watched a ton of videos of the surgery (don’t do it) and there were two options. A tummy tuck (which would cost about $10K) or a 360 Body Lift, which would cost double that. I went as far as to follow surgeons on snapchat and watch them do their surgeries live, story by story, and every time I’d watch one, I would cry my eyes out thinking of the pain I’d one day have to endure. I never thought my time would come so soon. I could cry right now just thinking about how blessed I feel, and also thinking about how much it hurt, but I’ll get to that.

At the end of the bet with my co worker, I decided… THAT’S IT. I had a literal moment. I was driving home from work and the song WEAK by a band called AJR came on, and for some reason I rerouted my vehicle, drove to TD bank, walked in and basically asked the woman working there if I could… borrow $20,000. She took one look at my car loan, my student loans, and my bank account in general and basically told me there’s no way in hell… but she was nice about it at least. I don’t want to dive too deep into the financial side of this because money is an uncomfortable subject, but I wound up asking for a loan from a very close family member, and by some miracle and the Grace of God and out of the sincere kindness of her heart in a moment that I will never forget, a moment that changed my life forever, she asked me to please not pay her back. This is an extension of the story for another time, but if you are reading this, I hope you know I will be grateful for you until the day I die. This may sound dramatic, but it’s hard to understand unless you’ve been through it.

With that, I found my surgeon (Dr. Jeffrey Dawes), booked a consult, and got the ball rolling. My consult happened in the summer of 2018, and it was that day that I booked a 360 Body Lift for the 11th of January 2019… and did time ever start to creep by after that!?

When you book a surgery like this, they like to make sure with weight-loss patients that you lost the weight over a good period of time, and also have kept it off for at least 6 months, just to reduce the chance of complications if you were to gain the weight back during the healing period. At least that was my understanding of why they do that. A lot of surgeons also only work with patients under a certain BMI when they have a lot of people to take on. The reason for that one, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s a piece of information that may be helpful to you if you’re thinking of undergoing a procedure of this caliber.

This is where the story gets interesting. I’ll highlight this paragraph so that you know where to start if you didn’t feel like reading the lead up. I understand, I don’t like to spend a ton of time reading, either.

January 11th rolled around, with a ton of planning taking place beforehand. My amazing mom flew in from Toronto to take care of me. She travelled to Calgary by plane with a walker and an elevated toilet seat! I tried to tell her she was silly for thinking I’d need them… but she was right, as she usually is. Now, try not to picture me in writhing pain having to use a raised toilet seat… although that was the reality of it.

On the morning of my surgery, we drove over to South Health Campus in Calgary. It was 5am. When you get smaller cosmetic surgeries, they operate out of a private clinic, but for anything bigger that will cause you to be monitored overnight, they send you to the hospital and do it there. If you’re wondering how this procedure is supposed to go down… it generally takes about 6 hours, they monitor you for 24 hours and send you home the next day. Here’s what actually happened. I’m a details girl, so brace yourself, okay? We'll kick if off with a picture of the myself and the most amazing woman you'll ever meet... my mom. Just to keep your spirits high.

They rolled me into the O.R. I thought I was going to be like, the coolest most chill girl ever (as if I’ve ever been that girl in my life, right?). I couldn’t wear my contacts AND they took my glasses so it was just a big blurry cold room, but a Taylor Swift song was playing in there, and if that ain’t a sign I don’t know what is. Writing this out makes me miss that day, although what followed were the scariest 2 months of my entire life so far, but there’s no way that day I could’ve known that. It basically felt like falling asleep for a nap, and waking up on drugs and looking the way you’ve always wanted to. Weird right? It sounds made up.

The first problem occurred when the surgery went longer than expected. I was under for over 7 hours and they had a bit of trouble getting me off of the anesthetic. I was super sick, like throwing up, and after being literally cut in half and sewn back together you can only imagine how it would feel to puke. Sorry, graphic, I know. They had to give me TWO blood transfusions to get my hemoglobin levels back to normal and they kept me for like, almost 5 days I believe it was. I don’t know what hemoglobin is but I know I never want to have to worry about it again. I’d always be asking the nurses “so what’s my hemoglobin now?!” even though I had zero idea what it was even supposed to be. Guys, I even had a catheter. It was actually pretty dope to be able to just pee whenever I wanted, but anyway, moving on.

I had just started dating my boyfriend about a month before, and after knowing I’d have to stay in the hospital for a little bit, I asked him to come see me. What a sexy place for a date…. with my catheter and my oxygen tube and all the morphine, I don’t know how he possibly contained himself, but some how he managed. Lewis, if you’re reading this, thanks for letting me take you through the wringer with me. Mom, you too.

This is how I looked when I got home from the hospital!! I quite literally could not believe it.

I finally went home and started to get better. I was cutting down on the narcotics and finally feeling like I was getting somewhere with my healing. That’s where this story should come to a close. Everything was fine and the skin was gone, the end.

Just kidding.

About a week after my surgery I was laying on the couch around midnight watching TV. It was the weirdest thing ever. My lower back started to hurt a little. Then a lot. Then the pain started creeping up my back and it hurt so bad I was literally screaming. It woke up my mom, she gave me one of the leftover narcotics and we waited it out for another day. The next day I started throwing up. That night, the pain still lingering, I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat with a high fever, and we called an ambulance. They took me to the E.R, we did some tests, and they sent me home saying that everything seemed fine. Lewis (my boyfriend) came and hung out in the hospital that day because he's nice. Look how cute he is:

I spent the next day in pain, still sick, but at peace knowing that nothing was seriously wrong. Around 3am about 24 hours later, the hospital called and said they’d found bacteria in my blood, an infection, and to come back as soon as I can. I screamed “AM I GOING TO DIE? AM I GOING TO DIE? I’M TOO YOUNG TO DIE! WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF” at my mom over and over again while we drove to the hospital in the middle of the night. I was googling blood infections while we were driving. Don’t ever do this. Google told me 1 in 3 people die in the hospital from sepsis, which is what I had, and I literally thought I was going to be that 1 person out of the 3. I know I’m dramatic but that’s okay.

To make a long story even longer, they checked me into the hospital and I wound up being there for nearly 2 weeks. I was maniacal. Inconsolable. Terrified. I had 6 drains attached to my stomach that were filling up with my internal fluids at record speed (it’s supposed to slow down, but it just wouldn’t). I was on crazy courses of antibiotics, the days felt like 100 years each, and I was more than likely the most negative and difficult patient in the history of that hospital. I cried and complained and cried some more. What a joy I am! They could never find my veins, so they had to send up an anesthesiologist every time I needed a new IV, they tried to feed me sedatives so I’d stop screaming about how I was going to be in the hospital forever, they even sent me a couple of psychologists to try and talk some sense into me.

One of the funniest moments during my hospital stay, though, was when the head nurse on my floor asked if one of the student nurses could do my daily check up. He was a young man in his early 20’s… and he wasn’t…. NOT hot, you know? Anyway, I said yes because people gotta learn, and he came in to empty my drains. I never really described what the drains are but they’re on the outside of your body and they pull unneeded fluid out of you so that you can dispose of it. The fluid is red and the drain bulbs are clear and… well, here’s the same pic I posted earlier but you can see them so I'll post it again.

Anyway, the young nurse came in to check my vitals and, well, clean out the drains. He was squeezing them out (it made a sound that I’ll never forget) and recording the amount of fluid in each bulb (ew!!!!!!) and I tried to make conversation by saying “I bet you see a lot of stuff that’s grosser than this, hey?” and he literally looked me right in the eyes and said “no”. LOL, whatever. I thought this was a lighter part of an otherwise horrific story.

After a week in the hospital they re evaluated the situation and had to operate again. They took me back into the O.R, opened me up one more time, cleaned out any residual infection, and sent me home the next day on a P.I.C line, which is a portable IV machine that pumps antibiotics into my body while I’m at home. My “2 weeks off work” was nearing 2 months at this point and I couldn’t and still can’t believe what was happening.

Here we are exactly a year later. I’m alive and healthier than ever. The skin is gone, life is normal, and I never would’ve projected that. My boyfriend still laughs at how inconsolable I was during that time… which means yes, even though he watched nurses empty plastic bulbs of my fluids into the garbage… he stuck around. I’m also sure my mother, who slept at my bed side every single night for the entire time, still has nightmares. I sometimes do, too.

The people in my life who stuck by me during that time, I wish I knew how to thank you. My friends would come to the hospital one by one and lay in that tiny little bed with me while I preached bloody murder, and my mom put up with me being the absolute biggest bitch in the entire world. But even with all of the feelings I felt, the only one left is grateful.

If this is a procedure that you see in your future, my goodness please note that this is such a rare occurrence. My mistake went down in the aftercare and was totally preventable had I been a little more careful during the healing period, but you live you learn as Alannis Morisette would say, I think. Don’t let this scare you away from doing it, because it changed my life more than anything ever will. I say this now because I haven’t had children… and I’m sure the excitement of that will one day take precedent.

Thank you for hearing my story, I figured it’s a pretty interesting one. Remember when I said that thing about you being able to be the decider of the person you are one year from now? If you’re in a situation right now that seems impossible, I can promise you that in 365 days, there’s no reason why you can’t have it all figured out.

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