Ginger Rock, seen here before and after her gastric bypass surgery, now works as a nurse at Northside, where she facilitates a monthly Bariatric Support Group. Photo courtesy of Ginger Rock.
Photo: contributed
Photo: contributed

From patient to nurse

A midlife career shift puts former bariatric patient on front lines of care for other bariatric patients.

We recently met Northside nurse Virginia “Ginger” Rock when she wrote in to tell us about her life. At 49 – after her positive experiences as both a bariatric patient and bariatric program assistant – she went to nursing school.

We wanted to know more about Ginger’s journey.

Pulse: Tell what lead you to your nursing career.

Rock: I always wanted to be a nurse. I remember in high school filling out a vocational questionnaire that said I should be a nurse. I just thought it was never in the cards for me.

After weight loss surgery, I worked at a local hospital for 5 ½ years as a Bariatric Program Assistant. Although the department was eventually closed, that was where my supervisor said “Ginger, it’s too bad you’re not a nurse”! I’ll always remember that moment; I was 49 years old and couldn’t imagine going back to school. But God had his own plan for me.

I graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. All through nursing school I would say, “I’m going to work on a Bariatric/GI Medical Surgical Unit.” As of today, I have been working at Northside Hospital for more than five years.

I went back to school and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, I also hold three certifications, Certified Bariatric Nurse, Medical Surgical Nursing Certification and Gerontological Nursing Certification. I am now contemplating getting my Master in Nursing Education.

Pulse: Tell us about your journey prior to weight loss surgery. What diets did you try? What finally prompted you to seek gastric bypass?

Rock: I have been over weight since I was 6 years old and on a diet since I was 11 years old. I lost 100 pounds twice, once on low fat and once on low carbohydrates. I have also been on Weight Watchers’ multiple times losing 50 -75 lbs. each time. I have tried hypnotists, shots, pills, over-eaters anonymous, eating one meal a day, and all kinds of fad diet. I dieted myself to 400 plus pounds. Each time I would gain the weight back plus more.

As a last resort after trying every diet imaginable and failing at all of them, I had gastric bypass March 2001. Some people think this is a magic surgery, you lose the weight and it never comes back. That is a false statement. It is a tool that helps me feel full. Before I had the surgery I never felt full and always felt hungry. I had to learn the difference in head hunger and stomach hunger. I also learned that diets do not work.

I had to make a lifestyle change, by creating healthy eating and exercise habits. I am over 17 years out from gastric bypass. I can do things I could not do in my 30’s

Pulse: What do you see as the Pros and Cons of bariatric surgery?

Rock:

Pros: I am “normal” now, when I eat I feel full. So, I feel satisfied and not deprived like I did on all the diets I was on. Also, if there is something I crave I will make it so I can eat it.

Cons: Weight loss surgery is surgery and sometimes there can be complications. Also, with the gastric bypass I must take vitamins for the rest of my life. (Multi-vitamin, calcium, and B12). For me that is a small price to pay to be healthy.

Pulse: What are the various bariatric surgeries one might consider?

Rock: I work for Northside Hospital and we do four procedures:

〈 Gastric Bypass

〈 Sleeve Gastrectomy

〈 Adjustable Gastric Band

〈 Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch (BPD/DS)

It is best for the patient to talk to their surgeon and research as well to choose the right procedure for them.

Pulse: How has your health changed?

Rock: When I had gastric bypass, I was lucky and didn’t have any serious comorbidities. However, diabetes and hypertension run in my family; I am certain that if I didn’t lose the weight I would be facing these diagnoses now.

I used to watch life go by, when my family would go bike riding, white water rafting, horseback riding I would watch and couldn’t participate. Now I do all these things and more.

Pulse: What are some of the greatest obstacles you see your patients face?

Rock: Sometimes it is getting approved for weight loss surgery. Other times it is how different life is when patients lose weight.

I am blessed to facilitate a monthly Bariatric Support Group at my hospital. We do not limit our group to patients who have had surgery at our hospital. Everyone is invited to attend pre-op and post-op. Going to a support group helps patients learn to live in their new body and lets them share with others going through the same thing; having the group support is very important.

Pulse: Do you have any words of wisdom you can share to someone contemplating the surgical path to weight loss? Pros? Cons? Risks?

Rock: Someone contemplating having weight loss surgery needs to do their research and as I stated before talk to your surgeon. There will be many behavior changes that must take place to be successful. Many times, when people are stressed they may revert to their old habits. The old habits need to be replaced with healthier ones. This will not happen overnight. Education from dietitians, psychologists and an exercise professional is very important and should be more than just a one-time event. It is a scary thing, thinking about having surgery to lose weight. It was scary for me too. But, I had failed all my life battling weight. I can honestly say; this was the best thing I have ever done! Life is so much better in the body I live in now! I am 57 years old and as I look at my future it looks bright and exciting!

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