Working as a bariatric nurse did not stop LPN Nancy Juarez Sanchez from piling on the pounds herself. After reaching a high of 238 pounds, Sanchez underwent gastric sleeve weight loss surgery last year. She's now 70 pounds lighter and eager to start crossing off some bucket list goals. First up this summer: Sanchez will run in the 10-kilometer AJC Peachtree Road Race on the Fourth of July. She's been training since August, mostly walking and "fast jogging," usually doing her runs at 5:30 a.m.
Sanchez says she can't emphasize enough how supportive her co-workers have been of her journey. Some of that is because they all work together at a bariatric surgery clinic, but it's also just the type of people they are. The whole staff came to the hospital to check on her after her surgery.
And while one of the physicians who performed her surgery, Dr. Srinivasa Gorjala, will be on a "well deserved vacation" when Sanchez makes her way to the starting line of the AJC Peachtree Road Race, he's still eager to support his patient. "He told me, 'Facetime me when you feel like you can't finish that race,'" Sanchez says. "And he means it."
On the job, Sanchez is certainly a cheerleader for her patients. She notes that obese people often don't have a great support system, or, in fact, anyone outside their bariatric services team. "I tell them, 'Whenever you feel like you don't have anyone or just feel like talking, call up here and I will talk to you. I've cried and laughed and celebrated with my patients."
It helps that she has a lot in common with them. Since getting married and having her first child at 18, weight-gain stressors have been clamoring for her attention. The Fairburn, Georgia, native and mother of three has known her husband since high school, but while he managed to maintain his high school weight, her weight climbed steadily, starting in the years when she attended college in Sacramento, California.
"What happened to my weight? I would just have to say life happened," she says. "Taking care of myself got pushed to the back of my priority list because I now had a child, a job and school. With that comes lot of emotional and stress eating stuff. A lot of times I think we just forget to put our health first. Fast food becomes a convenient part of the daily routine. I knew I was gaining weight but it didn't really sink in how much."
Sanchez's ah-ha moment came as she faced her 30th birthday. "My husband is very athletic and plays soccer two or three times a week," she remembers. "I'm sitting at the park, turning 30, and my husband is playing and my kids are playing. He has shirts and pants he can still wear from high school and I can't even catch my breath to play with my three-year-old." Then and there she decided, "I don't want to be another person in my family who is placed on high blood pressure medicine or diabetes medication. And I don't want my kids to have to say 'obesity runs in my family.'"
That moment started Sanchez' weight loss journey and she's been lucky to have the support of her sister, husband and kids. "Sometimes you don't have that, but as I always tell the patients, if you want to do the surgery, you have to do it for yourself. Don't do it for anyone else."
Because her clinic is part of Northside Hospital, a sponsor of the race, Sanchez was able to sign up to run as an employee. "I used to run track in high school and generally enjoyed running, but I'm not into full shape at all," she says. "I've basically been walking/jogging. I have a goal of eventually being able to run and this is a little stepping stone to push me."
Since the day Sanchez refers to as her "sleeve-aversary," May 14, 2018, she has lost 70 pounds. When asked if working as a nurse make the process simpler, she answers frankly, "Yes and, to a certain point, no. Working here does help me stay motivated and, in a way, accountable, because I have patients who know I've had the surgery. A lot of them, when they come in, they make it a point to stop and ask me, 'Anything new? How much have you lost?' They're constantly looking at me, even when I don't think they are."
Nursing itself, though, can be a cause of weight gain, Sanchez admits. "When you work in a medical facility, a lot of reps are constantly bringing in snacks or food for the staff. I have to be really cautious about what I'm eating without thinking around my desk. One day a rep brought in pizza and put it right behind my desk. A patient saw that and said, 'Wait, you can eat pizza?' I was like, noooooo."
When she works late, Sanchez says it's particularly tough to remember that the lattes that revive you in the home stretch also pack in extra calories. And, of course, there's the nurse's habit of skipping meals. While that might seem like a good way to lose weight, it's not. "What your body will do is put itself in survival mode, and any little thing that you eat, it starts to store it and it stores it as fat," she notes.
Overall, nurse or not, "What you put in your body is what you're going to get," she says. "There are days when I have struggled. I always emphasize to patients, 'Just because you have surgery doesn't make your cravings go away!'"
She's also in a unique position to let other nurses know the importance of taking extra measures when interacting with bariatric patients. Correct cuff size for checking blood pressure, for example, is critical. "I really do love that," she says. "Nothing is more embarrassing than you putting on that too-small cuff and it blows off their arm. And the patient is looking at you like, 'For real? You knew that cuff didn't fit me!'"
She says the bariatric-size bathrooms, scales and other equipment designed for the obese make a world of difference when you're the patient. Even more important is the nurse's attitude. "They all—we all—have a story, and we are no one to judge a bariatric patient for their weight," she says. "We all have a story for how we got here. And you yourself, just because you're skinny right now doesn't mean you'll always be that way."
She encourages nurses to take extra time with patients suffering from weight issues. "The only support person they have might be you and you don't even know it."
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