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Have You Ever Been Lost?

At a recent conference my husband and I had the opportunity to take a tour of a most interesting city. At one point, after having been on and off the bus in-group, the tour guide allowed us to explore on our own. A lone elderly woman, who introduced herself as Anne Marie, asked if she might join us and of course we were happy to oblige. She was in fact interesting to have around, telling us some of her stories and experiences of travel from years past.

Following lunch the three of us agreed to separate so that we might shop in the area and then meet back at the bus which was on a neighboring side street. The thrill of buying souvenirs along with observing the beautiful surroundings was overwhelming. There was so much to see and yet there was a time limit for us to meet at a certain destination.

I had walked for a while and somehow found myself in front of a huge cathedral that was in the middle of town. I stopped, looked up toward the bell tower and realized that I had marveled at this magnificent structure before. Standing there, alone, I began to realize that it was not a landmark that would guide me back to a “safe place” better known as the tour bus. At the safe place I knew my husband would be waiting as well as the other familiar faces of those who were our “new friends”. Which way would I turn what street were we on? Nothing was familiar. Worse yet, I realized there was no one to call. In this country where few spoke English who would understand what I wanted? I was lost and very aware that I was beginning to experience an overwhelming sense of panic.

As I stood looking out into the massive crowd of people a familiar face appeared, it was Anne Marie. I called out to her in relief, she would surely be my guide back to the bus. Undoubtedly she wouldn’t even realize that she had just saved me. As she looked up I could see that her eyes were reflecting what I had been feeling, she too was lost. Elated to see me she said, “I have to tell you that I have no idea where the bus is, I am so happy to see you. I really didn’t think I would find my way back

We both laughed for a moment when I informed her that I too did not know where to go. Although we were not of similar backgrounds, age or color the one thing we did share was a most common bond, that of needing to help each other.

After walking around the area, comparing our thoughts of different landmarks, together we were able to find the “safe place”. Amazingly enough we even arrived at our destination on time. We both had thought this experience to be uniquely ours until we realized that we were not the only ones from the group who had been lost, two other tourists related their story of also not being able to find their way back. One thing we all agreed was that we were very relieved to be back around familiar faces.

This rather unusual event reminded me of so many individuals who have had bariatric surgery and have openly expressed their concerns of feeling lost. They relate the fears of their sense of being alone with their experience, one that is unique indeed and often not easily explained. There are so many who are looking for familiar faces of those who they feel will relate to not only the issues of surgery but as important the issues of emotional recovery.

The importance of complete recovery from the disease of obesity not only physiologically but psychologically as well is important for all who are involved. Those who do the actual surgery, must not only focus on the technical details of the procedure but must also be visionaries to somehow understand how the patient’s body will tolerate the process of restriction as well as malabsorption. Those team members who work with the patient in preoperative and postoperative assessment and teaching must also have the ability to see each patient as an individual who will be in need of continuing education and extensive emotional support. They too must be visionaries who will recognize the need of a multiple disciplinary approach that will help empower the patient. For the individuals who suffer the common disease of obesity and who choose surgery as their choice of treatment the surgeon and bariatric team are “familiar faces.”

The other familiar faces are those who have had the same or similar experience. Most all have fought the same battle and have lost by not losing. They have fought the wars of discrimination and degradation and have the scars of humiliation to show yet they have proven strong. They have been of different backgrounds, age or color but they all have shared a common bond, the decision to have surgery. Now they share another bond, that of needing to help each other. Their abilities are limitless, their power is without boundaries and they are willing to teach those of us who are willing to listen. For all of the lessons we have learned and will still learn about the disease of obesity they are the most significant faces.

Jacquelyn K. Smiertka, R.N, CBN has been a bariatric surgery clinical coordinator for twenty years. Mrs. Smiertka is a member of the ASBS and IFSO and has presented papers at numerous meetings in the United States and Europe.

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