Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Teen & Young Adult Tubies: Life or Death Sentence?

As the doctor spoke, the news resonated through the yellow walls of the doctors office. They were plastered with various diagrams. Each one explained the different sections of the gastrointestinal tract. I chuckled to myself, thinking they were gross, while the doctor's mouth voiced the words "feeding tube." Being only a 16-year-old teenager at the time, my world seemingly collapsed.

It was common for babies to have feeding tubes. They were also typical of geriatric patients. However, I was not an old person and I definitely was not a baby. What about the teenagers and younger adults? I had never noticed them with feeding tubes. 

Feeding tubes are a type of medical intervention used to provide alternative nutrition to patients. Based on the illness, length of time a tube is necessary, and the compromised portion of the GI tract, the doctors make the best decision on which type of tube to place. Initially, a temporary tube such as a Naso-Gastric (NG) or Naso-Jejunal (NJ) tube is usually trialled. If successful, a surgical tube is placed directly into the abdomen for longer term use.  

So, at age 16, I underwent the procedure to place my first temporary NJ feeding tube. In my mind, I could already visualize the catastrophes that would ensue afterward.  My life was over. As far as I was convinced, I would never fit in at school, have relationships, or establish a successful career. Nobody would want to be seen with the weird girl prancing around with a tube plastered to the side of her face. Surely, nobody would ever associate with the girl who has tubes coming out from under her shirt.

Eventually I did become that girl with a tube taped to her face. I also became that girl with a tube(s) coming out from under her shirt. And guess what? At at age 19, I am still that girl. However, my life is not and was not over. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Life, which I thought had ended upon entering the world of tube feeding, actually began.

It allowed me a significant increase in quality of life. The formula pumping into my intestines returned the vibrance back that I had been starving for, literally and figuratively. It provided days with decreased pain. It gave me the opportunity to partake in life activities that were hopeless pre-tube days.

Now, this is not to dismiss the struggles that do come along with being a teen or young adult who is tube fed because they do exist. But on those bad days, it is important to recall that the tube is there to help you live, not to hinder you.

It is a life sentence, not a death sentence.

If interested, learn more about feeding tubes here.