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Deciding who to tell about your WLS is a tricky business. Do you tell your friends, family, neighbors, hairdresser or dentist? What about all those coworkers? What (if anything) should you tell them?



Coworkers occupy a unique position in our lives. They’re closer than acquaintances, but not as close as families and friends even though we generally spend more time with them than just about anyone else in our lives.

Keeping your own private business private at your workplace can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, and it can be dangerous territory for someone having weight loss surgery. Any kind of medical procedure, from a root canal to open heart surgery, is so fascinating that it’s almost instantly transmitted via the office grapevine no matter how solemnly your good friend and coworker swears to keep it a secret. On Monday morning, I tell Amy about my upcoming band surgery in the hushed tones of utmost confidence, and she promises to tell no one. On Monday afternoon, Bud waves at me while passing through the hallway and says, “Good luck with your surgery!” How did that happen? Did Amy betray my confidence? No, not exactly. She called her husband Tim at lunchtime and told him because his mother is considering bariatric surgery, and Tim’s office mate overheard the conversation and called his cousin Dale to ask if it’s true that Jean’s having weight loss surgery…and so on and so forth.

Pre-op, who (if anyone) are you going to tell you’re having bariatric surgery? You’ll have to explain your absence (not necessarily in gory detail) to your immediate supervisor and/or a human resources person, and (depending on your employer’s policies) provide a letter from your doctor excusing your absence. You are not obliged to divulge the details of your surgery to anyone; a letter from your surgeon (preferably not on stationery imprinted with “The Hometown Center for Surgical Weight Loss”), stating that you are under his/her care and will need XX days off work to undergo surgery and recovery, should be enough. Be aware, though, that the employer who provides your health insurance probably has access to more of your confidential medical information than you might like. In these days of the Information Age, it’s quite possible that Michelle Obama and the Prime Minister of Japan could discover the details of your weight loss surgery (assuming they even cared). I have no idea how to control that and suggest that you focus your privacy efforts at the local level. If you tell your employer’s human resources manager that you’re having bariatric surgery and later discover (or surmise) that she told the payroll clerk, the receptionist, and her sister Maybelline about it, it would be appropriate to let her know (in private) that she violated the confidentiality of your medical information, but it might not be worthwhile to start a war over it, especially because workplace wars tend to draw curious crowds and foster the growth of the office grapevine. As my wise friend Miss Pat says, “You gotta pick your battles.”

Let’s look at a few possible pre- and post-op workplace scenarios.

1. You don’t tell your coworkers about the nature of your surgery, and/or the one coworker you tell keeps her lips zipped. Your cover story is that you’re having your gall bladder removed. Remember please that you have only one gall bladder, and if eventually the real one has to go, you’re going to have to come up with another story. Every other person in your workplace bends your ear with their own gall bladder stories and finally they all get bored with it and move on to the next burning issue, like the fact that Jack got written up for putting a photo of Beyoncé’s backside on his cubicle wall. You come back to work, life goes on, and everything’s fine until you decline an invitation to go out for pizza, or you sit down in the lunch room with a lunch so tiny compared to your pre-op meals that five observers jump to the conclusion that you’re on a diet again, and want to know all the details. Deal with the situation in a way that suits your style and doesn’t back you into an awkward corner. My response to the diet inquisitors would be something like, “I’m just trying to eat less and exercise more,” and then change the subject by saying, “Did you hear that (fill in the blank with the latest office gossip thread)?” or “Hey, when are they supposed to finish painting the lines in the parking lot?” or (as I recently told a coworker who exclaimed, “I don’t know why you even bother!” when she saw my tiny lunch), “Things must be mighty slow if my lunch is the most interesting thing you’ve seen all day.”

2. You’re like I was, so delighted to be having weight loss surgery that you tell everybody and their brother and their dentist and their mail carrier. Instant experts crawl out of the woodwork. Walking into the lunchroom gets to be like turning on the light in that ratty first apartment you had, where the bright light revealed an army of cockroaches swarming over the room. Before your surgery, the cockroaches (excuse me, coworkers) tell you every fractured and horrifying bariatric fairy tale they ever heard, tell you that they know you can lose the weight without doing something drastic like surgery, or proclaim that they would never do such a thing to themselves. If you are extremely patient (not my strong point), you can conduct your own personal bariatric surgery ministry by correcting the cockroaches’ misconceptions (I’m not sure that cockroaches even have ears, however). Or you can perform another version of the strategy outlined above and repeat the same phrase every single time they try to “educate” you. Say, “Thanks for your concern,” and change the subject.

3. After your surgery, you are no longer the center of attention. Life goes on, with occasional excitement when Jack once again gets written up, this time for repeating an off-color joke within the hearing of Mary Smith, the Senior Vice President of S.E.I. (Something Extremely Important). You gradually lose weight, pound after pound. You begin to buy new clothes, you change your hairstyle, you become more outgoing, and eventually several things happen:

a) You wonder why no one has noticed your weight loss. Can’t they see the difference now that you’re 40 pounds lighter? What kind of friends are they, anyway? Remember, they’re work friends. Very likely they’re jealous friends, or self-centered friends (and so am I – I care a lot more about my weight than yours), or distracted friends (they’re thinking about their daughter’s need for expensive orthodonture, for example).

B) You wish people would stop saying, “So how much weight have you lost so far?” You can answer honestly and deal with the feedback, or you can follow my example and say something lighthearted like, “20 tons!” or “Not enough!” or “My doctor’s thrilled with my weight loss.”

c) The next time someone says, “I hope you’re done losing weight. You’re beginning to look sickly,” you want to smack them upside the head. Instead you can say cheerfully, “I’m sorry to hear you say that, because I’ve never felt better in my entire life.”

d) Someone says, “You’ve lost 40 pounds? Really? I just don’t see it.” You run into the restroom and cry for 20 minutes. When you’re done mopping up mascara trails, march right back out there and give that jerk his or her comeuppance with a belated comeback like, “You have an IQ of 40? Really? I just don’t see it.”

e) A former eating pal says, “You’re so stuck up now. You never some with us for lunch at Pizza-Rama.” You can respond by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m trying to avoid pizza right now. How about we have lunch at Veggy Heaven today?” If that “pal” frowns at the very idea of eating veggies and the only way they enjoy being with you involves food, you may have to write her/him off. Don’t worry, you’ll find another friend sooner or later, one who can appreciate you for who you are, not what you eat!

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This was great...thank you....i'm one of those "not telling anyone at work because it becomes EVERONE'S business!!! :wacko:

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I just go with the flow. I find the more you keep secrets about things the more people want to know. We all want to be "in the know" so I found it easier to just let people know, and I find once they do know they are more uncomfortable then curious unless they have similar issues to mine. Which if that's the case I don't mind sharing my story with them if it can help them or a family member get healthy.

Most people back off the topic and don't ask again, and eventually everyone forgets that you were gone and it's a non-issue. Occasionally I'll hear things like you look great, or how are you doing? I say thank you and I’m doing great and keep moving forward.

I have found that most people really don't give a hoot, they just want to be in the know. So I hide in plain sight and I'm happier for it.

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I have not told anyone at work and don't plan to. I took two weeks of vacation off and had surgery in Dec'12. I explained eating differently as a New Year's Resolution. I do suspect HR as to not keeping things confidential but no one has said anything directly to me. And if I was the talk of the office I would have heard it by now. They are my coworkers. I have concern for them but I don't want to know all the details of their lives, and I continue to hope they aren't interested in mine. And these are people I've worked with for over 10 years.

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Great, as usual! I don't work, retired, but my social group is church. I heard everything there, too! One of my church friends, also, had lpbnd surgery from my surgeon. She was of the tell no one mode; he advised her to keep herself "honest" to tell everyone! She only 1st told me, I was the person who referred her. Then she shared it with 2 or 3 others. Then she told everyone! Not everyone knows that I have had the surgery. I told the people who needed to know.

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Thanks so much for this!!

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I haven't told anyone at work, but i work offsite. I was suposed to be getting my hiatal hernia repaired during my surgery (they were unable to complete that part due to a complication with my liver) so HR things that's all it was...a hernia repair.

I am going to the office in a couple of days for the first time since my surgery...will be interesting to see if anyone notices anything. Hoping not as i'd rather avoid the questions. Lol.

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I haven't told anyone at work, but i work offsite. I was suposed to be getting my hiatal hernia repaired during my surgery (they were unable to complete that part due to a complication with my liver) so HR things that's all it was...a hernia repair.

I am going to the office in a couple of days for the first time since my surgery...will be interesting to see if anyone notices anything. Hoping not as i'd rather avoid the questions. Lol.

I just checked your profile. After 50 lbs, someone should notice. Put on a new dress or pants and strut your stuff! Best wishes!

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I've told quite a few co-workers but I'm not overly concerned with their opinions. Many of my co-workers are morbidly obese so I have been hoping that seeing me go thru everything will inspire them. Of course, it's early still but one lady did tell me today that she has contacted my WLC and is seriously considering the gastric sleeve. Since I elected the band I really couldn't offer her too much conversation on that procedure, other than looking forward to a healthier lifestyle and feeling and looking better.

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Jean, I was falling in LOVE with you (in a non-romantic way) while I was reading, only to get to the end and see: CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ARTICLE

LoL!!

Thanks for posting it!

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I told people it was a Hiatal Hernia repair since they were going to do that anyway. I told 1 person at work who is very supportive. Its good to have at least 1 support at work who can keep secrets. I have lost 30lbs so far but no one has said anything yet. Probably because Im tall and it takes more to show on me.

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This was great...thank you....i'm one of those "not telling anyone at work because it becomes EVERONE'S business!!! <img src='http://www.bariatricpal.com/public/style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/wacko.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':wacko:' />

Good info. I chose not to tell many. Years later I'm glad I did. I can still give info to anyone I want right. Can't unring a bell tho. Good luck

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