The Dynamics of Surgical Support Group from a Longer-term Patient Perspective
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Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is not based on scientific research and has not been validated.
In my last blog post, I told you that I, as a longer-term post-op, don’t always feel drawn to my surgical support group. But I realize that I only speak for myself. I don’t claim to speak for all longer-term post-ops through this blog series. But I had a hunch there were at least a few other people who feel the way I feel and those people deserve to have a voice!
So my first order of business was to give them one. I started by conducting an informal poll of longer-term post-ops. DISCLAIMER: this poll was by no means scientific and any results should be taken as anecdotal ones at best, but I must say the responses were interesting and some of them surprised me.
What’s a long-term post-op? And how do they feel about support group?
I’m sure there are debates going on in the bariatric professional community. For the average post-op it’s even more confusing because, as a person gets further out from surgery, they are more likely to stop participating in bariatric-specific groups. What that means for many post-ops who do participate in support mechanisms is that a post-op who is more than five years out who actively participates is a rare and wonderful thing!
For these reasons, I was fairly generous with my definition of a longer-term post op by asking people who were 18 months out or further to respond. A hundred people responded and here’s how those responses shook out:
- 17% were 18-24 months post-op
- 51% were 2-4 years post-op
- 18% were 5-7 years post-op
- 14% were 8+ years post-op
Of the respondents most (88%) shared their surgeon’s office has a support group, and a majority (67%) shared they attended at least one meeting. Further, most respondents (84%) said they thought bariatric support groups are important and beneficial.
When I asked about attendance, 17% said they attend very often, with only 16% reporting that they seldom attend, but most respondents (53%) used the question’s comment box. That’s where many people relayed that they don’t attend at all, and in subsequent answers, they explained why.
To be fair, many respondents shared they don’t attend their surgeon’s support group because of logistical difficulties. Their groups are located too far away, at a time that makes it difficult to attend or that they had surgery in a different state/country from where they live. But more than a few listed reasons that indication feelings of dissatisfaction with their surgical support group. It is those responses I’d like to focus on from here on out.
The Dynamics of Support Group: A Long-Term Patient’s Perspective
I’ve always found the social dynamic of groups of bariatric patients in general to be interesting for many reasons. A few of them are:
- There is no common standard to which all bariatric practices are mandated to subscribe, only sets of recommendations by way of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). This means if you put 10 post-ops together in a group from 10 different practices you are likely to hear about 10 different sets of rules!
- The science and technology behind bariatric surgery is constantly changing. When I had surgery, gastric banding and gastric bypass were the two most common surgeries offered. Five years later, other surgeries, most notably the vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG), are becoming more common. Since this surgery, as a stand-alone, is relatively new to the scene the experiences of a VSG patient haven’t fully ingrained into weight-loss surgery patient culture. That is to say that there are certain things post-ops “know” about surgeries that are fairly common. Bypass patients can get dumping syndrome, for instance. Many gastric band patients report “PBs” or productive burps, a slang term for vomiting. These types of experiences are “WLS common knowledge.” While I think such knowledge is emerging about the VSG, there’s still a lot, socially, we don’t know about the surgery.
- Anecdotally, I can say that I believe most people who take part in any support group — in person or online — tend to be newer post-ops.
Why are these things significant? To me, they are significant because many of the reasons I’ve heard for longer-term patients not attending group have a lot to do with these factors.
Because there is such variance in the post-op advice (or “rules” as we post-ops like to call them), and because of the human tendency to place the most trust in those we know, we sometimes come to each other’s experiences with a sense of incredulity.
Because the landscape of surgery types is changing, I believe that incredulity spills over into patient groups even at the same practice. When I go to group now there are many VSG patients. I’m simply not sure if my anatomical experiences are the same as theirs. This doesn’t usually create any hesitation in sharing experiences (at least not that I’ve seen), but it does mean that incredulity (or that “How is it that this happens to you and not me?”) can certainly be present even if you and another post-op of a different surgery type were operated on by the same bariatric surgeon.
And finally, because many of the attendees of bariatric support groups are newer post-ops, and because the experiences of newer post-ops and longer term post-ops differ (I’ll go into more detail about that in my next post), and because incredulity can exist between different surgical types, as well as “surgical ages” (time-elapsed post-surgery), sometimes long-term post-ops can feel alienated by the topics and resulting discussions at their surgical support group.
From the results of my survey, I identified three sentiments that I think illustrate this alienation well. I’ll discuss them in more detail in my next post!
In the meantime, if you’re a bariatric professional, weigh in! (Pun intended). Does your practice boast a high longer-term post-op attendance rate? And if you’re a longer-term post-op, weigh in! Do you still attend your surgeon’s support group?
About the Author
Nikki Massie is a professional writer based in Baltimore, Md. She underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery in 2008. She also lives in Baltimore with her two daughters, dog and cat. To learn more about Nikki, please visit her blog www.bariatricfoodie.com.