I Am A Vegan Pediatric Nurse

Hello my name is Stefanie and I am a Vegan Pediatric Nurse in Southern California. I grew up in a family that for the most part I would consider very natural and holistic. The foundation was laid for me from day one. However, the journey I have been has led me to the conclusion that the ideals I grew up with were still very far from the truth.

As time went on and I grew older it became more about convenience so I could continue to live a fast and busy life. In my early to mid 20’s my body started to go through so many changes. I thought it was related to the stress that I was dealing with. I was living a life that I thought I wanted but still wasn’t happy. I remember sitting in my office one day looking around and saying to myself… This is not what I want for my life. I had everything I thought I wanted however, my body was rebelling. I had gained over 100 pounds. I had started to get acne, which was very foreign to me. I had always had great skin. I had started to develop hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) and hair was growing in places that I had never had it in before. Like I said earlier, I thought it was all stress related.

That day in my office I decided to make a life change and go to nursing school. I had always wanted to help people so this was a very natural choice for me. Throughout nursing school however, my body still felt horrible. I felt tired all of the time. But once again I told myself it was just stress. One day during lecture we days talking about hormones and the reproductive system and it hit me. I had been on my period for almost 6 months straight. I know it sounds crazy. It’s like that show about the people giving birth that didn’t know they were pregnant. But I swear I just lost track of time. Nursing school is so intense. One day turns in to a week and the next thing you know you are half way through your program. One day on the way home from school I felt so lethargic it was hard for me to keep my eyes open. I decided to go check in at the County hospital and have a work up done. I had put it off because I had no insurance at the time. I had decided to quit my job and live off of my savings during nursing school. And of course this was the time that I needed my insurance the most. Anyway, after waiting for hours I finally saw a physician who asked me if I had PCOS. I had no clue what he was talking about. At this time he didn’t go in to details. He sent in a nurse to draw blood for labs. While she was in there I asked her about it. She asked me what my symptoms were and after I told her she said I was a classic textbook case of PCOS. (PCOS is Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) After waiting a few more hours the doctor came back and told me that my hemoglobin was low and if I had waited any longer I would need a blood transfusion. He sent me home that night telling me to take iron pills and prescribed me some hormones to take to stop my period. (Now looking back, it’s so sad to me that at no time was diet discussed. Not even food sources to help increase my iron.) Well, I completed my hormone therapy and it worked. However, I didn’t have a period again for almost years. After I became a nurse and had insurance again I went to the doctor and started asking for help. The only help I was given was being told to take birth control pills and a medication that was commonly prescribed to diabetics. I told them that I did not want to take hormones and that I did not want to be on a medication for diabetes when my labs showed that my glucose was very normal. They stated that the birth control pills would help regulate my hormones and the anti diabetic medication was to help me from becoming insulin resistant. Looking back now I can honestly say I was very naïve. I tried their medications. The birth control pills elevated my blood pressure to numbers that would be indicative of a hypertensive patient and the anti diabetic medication was rough on my stomach and digestive system. I decided that pills were not the answer. I made an appointment with my physician and told her that I would no longer be taking these medications. She stated that the only thing she could do for me was to schedule ultrasounds every 6 months to make sure that the lining of my uterus was not becoming too thick. So this was the “treatment” that I elected to have. I really wish I could say at this time I decided to work on my diet but sadly it wasn’t.

A few years later I felt in worse shape than I was in nursing school. The weight gain was taking a toll on me in so many areas of my life. I decided
after having my family practice doctor, OB/GYN and Endocrinologist all telling me that the only way I would lose weight was to have gastric bypass surgery) to enroll in education classes in preparation to have surgery. I completed the 1 year series of classes and appointments. Along the way I had so many family and friends cheer me on and congratulate me. Everyone was in favor of me having this life altering surgery. The day came to meet with the surgeon and I was very anxious. It felt like something that I had to do. During our conversation he was ready to schedule me for surgery within the next 2 weeks. Instead of making an appointment that day I decided to go home to think about it. Deep inside I was very nervous and honestly didn’t think it was the right thing to do. After all, during this time in my career as a nurse I would frequently treat patients that were having horrible side effects from weight loss surgery. As I was spending time with them I heard their stories. Their journey and how they ended up to be in my room being monitored and treated. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone. However, knowing that there was a chance that that could be me in the future was scary.

The night of my appointment I was texting my boyfriend who worked graveyard shifts at the time. I couldn’t sleep and I knew he would be awake so I started off with a normal… “Hey what are you up to?” text. Eventually I told him how my appointment went. He completely shocked me with his response. He told me for the first time during this journey that he didn’t want me to have the gastric bypass surgery. He didn’t feel that it was safe and that he didn’t want to see me go through that. I was kind of taken a back. I was feeling the same way on the inside but never expressed it to anyone. At this point I said… “What do you think I should do?” His answer was what started it all. He told me I should go Vegan. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that it had never crossed my mind before. He had been a Vegan for maybe a year now and before that he was vegetarian. He made the choice to be vegetarian after his father passed away form cancer. I asked how long it would take for me to see results. He told me to give him 30 days. I thought about it for a second at it seemed fair. I figured either way I would have to make a lifestyle change. What would it hurt to try the natural way first. We set the date for May 1, 2013 which was less than a week away.

Deep inside I felt a little excited. I learned a lot of new things about food that I had never learned before. We ate at places that I would never think to eat at. I would pick things up from my plate and say “What is this?” to which he would always reply “Food. Just eat it!” I laughed every single time. At first it was very overwhelming. When you are new to being vegan everything is so overwhelming. Not only do you have to change what you eat but also how you eat. It’s no longer about the easy way. It takes time to read labels. Time to make things from scratch. Time to do research about what you are feeding your body. However, after a short period of time it got easier. Not only was I learning the Vegan lifestyle but the weight was coming off effortlessly. I was never hungry. And 15 months later my period came back. No pharmacy, just farmacy.

It’s been a long almost 3 years but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I haven’t been perfect every minute. I’m still growing in my veganism. I have also for awhile now noticed a change inside of myself. When listening to one of VWPA’s podcasts it all made sense. I started my Vegan journey for health reasons. Now at this current point in my life it’s so much more than that. Now it’s about more than myself. It’s about every living thing on this planet.

Being a nurse I am able to reach so many people that have only been taught about pills. Every chance I get I educate about diet first. I pride myself on being a patient advocate. However, to me that means so much more. When I am in the room with a mother or father and they are asking questions I always tell them that it is my job as a nurse to give them as much information as I can so they can make an informed decision. For me I start with information about small changes in diet or natural remedies to cure their symptoms.

And the best part about this is that my choice of lifestyle has been observed by my coworkers who have also started to make changes. They now enjoy a Vegan lunch with me every work day. We have conversations about our food and where it comes from. And lately it’s also included other areas of consumerism that are not normally given a second thought to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all Vegan rainbows and Unicorns. Of course I have co workers that look at my food and ask a million questions about it. I’ve even had some one ask if my coffee was Vegan. Ummmm… it’s called Coconut Milk. Get you some… Just Kidding. Kind of. But I guess I would rather have them ask me questions than for them to just stay silent in front of me. Each questions is a chance for education and I am ALL about education.

Being in Pediatrics is a great place for me. Not only do I love working in Munchkin Land, but I also love the chance to educate our future. We live in a society that is all about what’s easy and cheap. It’s a tragedy to me to think that this is what our future is being taught. To me being a Vegan is not only about choices for yourself but also taking a stand (even when it may not seem popular). I know deep in my heart over time more and more people will come around and understand that their lifestyles are not only harmful but also not sustainable.

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