By Thomas Hauser
Cedric Kushner (pictured in his prime) looks healthier these days than he has in years. There's more color in his face. His skin has a shine. His voice is livelier. His eyes sparkle. He walks with a faster gait. On April 7th, the five-foot-eight-inch Kushner underwent gastric bypass surgery. To the layperson, it's known as stapling one's stomach. In reality, it's reconstructive surgery that creates a small pouch and reduces the size of a patient's intestines to enforce a smaller intake of food.
During the two weeks immediately after surgery, Kushner was allowed to ingest three ounces of liquid (juice or broth) three times per day. Then came phase two, during which dinner consisted of two tablespoons of pureed carrots, two tablespoons of mashed potatoes, and an ounce of pureed chicken. He's now in phase three. During this period, Cedric's lunch duplicates his dinner. If all goes as planned, sometime around June 1st, Kushner will graduate to phase four. His breakfast will consist of a half-cup of fruit and a quarter-cup of cereal. Lunch and dinner will be four ounces of food each. In every stage, there are vitamin supplements.
Phase four is for life. The surgery is not reversible.
One month after the surgery, Kushner has lost forty-five pounds.
What would drive someone to commit to such a radically different way of life? Here, in Cedric's own words, is his story.
"In 1984, when I first got into the boxing business, I was thirty-six years old. I didn't smoke or drink. I didn't eat red meat. I enjoyed exercising. My weight fluctuated between 220 and 235 pounds, and I ran six to eight miles a day. I had a fighter named Teddy Mann, who would come to New York to visit me. We'd jog together in Central Park, and I could outrun him. Then, in 1985, I moved out of Manhattan to East Hampton. And it seemed like, after that, I couldn't control my weight. I remember once, after playing tennis, I weighed myself and saw that I was up to 255 pounds. From that point on, I was caught in a horrible upward spiral that I couldn't control."
"Over the years, I tried various diets. At one point, for six months, I ate nothing but soup. Then it was a lot of vegetables and fruit. When liquid protein was the treatment of choice, I tried that. I went to Duke University for six weeks. But there was a fundamental problem. Like most people who are overweight, I'd lose some pounds. But the moment I went off the diet and was in a less structured mode, the weight came back more quickly than I'd lost it and there were always a few more pounds."
"When I was on a diet, I weighed myself every day. When I wasn't, I got on a scale maybe once or twice a week. For a while, I lied to myself. I didn't look like I weighed as much as I did, so I told myself that I was a well-packed 250 or 260 or 270. I don't remember when I broke 300. Five years ago, I was up to 350 pounds. By then, I couldn't convince myself or anyone else that I wasn't grossly obese. But strangely enough, my medical condition was relatively good. I developed type-2 diabetes, but my blood pressure was excellent. I could play a decent game of tennis. But I was caught in a trap. As much as I wanted to do something about the problem, I couldn't. The obstacles were too great for me. My nickname evolved from Big Ced, which was rather affectionate, to Fat Man and other things people said behind my back. You turn away from the snide comments, but there's nothing that hurts more than something you can't conceal or control that you know is true. From time to time, a friend or business associate would say something to me in a kind way about my physical condition, but it only aggravated me. They weren't experiencing what I was experiencing. I felt that there wasn't anyone I could really explain my situation to."
"Then my problems worsened. I developed a terrible condition called sleep apnea, which causes a person to nod off without being able to control it. There were times when I was conducting a meeting at the highest level of my business and I'd fall asleep during the meeting, even though it might only be one o'clock in the afternoon. I'd fall asleep on the telephone. It happened while I was driving. And the condition kept getting worse."
"Last year, I consulted with a doctor who specializes in obesity, and he recommended a gastric bypass. I scheduled the operation, and then I changed my mind. I told myself that I had the willpower to lose weight and that I was a sissy for considering an alternative to dieting. But my condition continued to worsen. I was out of control. My weight ascended to 385 pounds. I could only sleep for two hours a night because I was more comfortable sitting upright than lying down. Life was a constant nightmare for me. It was an effort to get up in the morning and put on my socks. If I went to a store to buy a pair of pants, getting them on and off caused me to perspire. Even if people weren't watching me, I thought they were. I was uncomfortable sitting in regular chairs. Booths in restaurants were difficult to fit into if the table wasn't moveable. I was in a perpetually exhausted bloated condition. And to be honest, at times I was resigned to just letting things take their natural course. I started thinking that one doesn't see many obese seventy-year-olds, and the difference between fifty-four and seventy wasn't that great."
"Then, one night, I was at home reading a magazine with the television on in the background, and there was a segment on TV about Al Roker. He's the NBC weatherman who had a gastric bypass operation. I listened to the questions that the interviewer was asking him. 'Isn't it an extreme operation? Why didn't you just go on a diet?' Roker responded that he'd tried many diets, which he listed and which were many of the same diets I'd been on. He'd gone to Duke University. He'd lost weight at various times and then gained it all back again. And I said to myself, 'That's my script. His problems are identical to mine.'"
"I'd known in my heart for some time that I had to do something about my obesity. The interview with Al Roker convinced me that a person wasn't weak-minded just because he had the operation. So I went through the physical tests that are required for the procedure. There was also a visit with a psychiatrist, because there are numerous instances of people who've had the bypass and then can't deal with being limited to eating such small portions of food. And what happens then is, they stuff themselves to the point where they cause their stomach pouch to expand, which allows them to have a larger intake of food but can also cause a rupture and severe haemorrhaging that necessitates a repair operation."
"On the first Monday in February in the midst of a blizzard, I checked into the hospital. I was hooked up to an intravenous line, taken into the operating room, and given an injection in my stomach preparatory to the administration of anesthesia. Then the operation was postponed because my surgeon was unable to make his way to the hospital through the snow. The operation was rescheduled and postponed again when I contracted bronchitis. On the third try, I made it as far as the operating room, but the anesthesiologist said my lungs were still congested. Someone else might have seen an omen in all of this, but I remained convinced that the operation was the right thing for me to do."
"In the past, I drank eight to 12 diet Cokes a day. I'll never have a diet Coke again. The carbonation would cause problems with my digestive process. My favorite dessert used to be ice cream. I can forget about ice cream for the rest of my life. The concentration of sugar in it would have an adverse effect on me."
"But the truth is, I feel a great deal of relief; as though an enormous physical and mental weight has been lifted from me. I'm stronger, more energetic, sharper, and more focussed mentally now than I've been in years. I still eat out every night, only now I eat less. I don't know if I'll ever get the same satisfaction from eating a limited quantity of food that I got from eating in the past, but that's an adjustment I'll have to make."
"I can't stress enough how good I feel just a month after the operation. From an elephant to a greyhound, is what I say. For the first time in years, I'm optimistic about my life. I can't tell you how much gratitude I feel toward the people who cared enough about me to comment constructively on my physical condition in the past; even though, at times, their comments aggravated me. And I can't tell you how inspired I am now by the positive things that people are saying to me. I've been given a second chance at life that, a month ago, I didn't think I'd ever have."
"You know; for years, I wanted to wear a red sport jacket. But I never got one because I thought it wouldn't look right on me. For obvious reasons, I made my clothes as inconspicuous as possible. But I expect to break 300 pounds sometime in July. People tell me that eventually I'll get down to 200, although I know I'll be comfortable at 225. I don't know if I'll ever actually wear a red sport jacket; but it's nice to know that, sometime in the not-too distant future, I'll have the option."
Thomas Hauser can be contacted at thauserthauserrcn.com