Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Feeding Tube Is A Good Thing

"Hello, my name is ______ and I have a feeding tube." Such forthright statements make for some pretty awkward introductions.

There is an overall stigma that feeding tubes are "gross," "weird," or "only for babies and old people." To be clear—no, those with feeding tubes do not constantly smell like vomit and are not gross. It seems weird because the concept is unfamiliar. And it is true that babies and geriatrics have medical conditions requiring alternative feeding methods, but feeding tubes are not isolated to one patient population. So, hiding the fact that I have a feeding tube fuels that stigma rather than clarifying common misconceptions.

Pouring formula into a bag to later prime the feeding pump is just as normal to a tubie as cooking a spaghetti dinner is to the able bodied. It is a daily part of life and not given a second thought...until it is, which is when it is important to explain tube feeding to others.

As tubies, we are accustomed to life with a feeding tube and all that it entails. We tend to forget that other people may not know how to respond. Whether with family members, friends, strangers, and acquaintances—there are inevitably situations where the topic arises. There are a few thoughts that tubies should keep in mind!

Be honest.    

When it comes to tube feeding, I abide by honesty is the best policy. It is a balance between giving enough information without seeming completely overwhelming. An immediate confrontation spewing random facts and tidbits about my feeding tube and why I need it is obviously inappropriate. However, if the student in the next seat over offers a snack or if a coworker proposes the prospect of meeting for lunch, it might be worth briefly mentioning.

Methodically plan responses. 

Explanations change as the relationships grow and change. Initially, keeping it short and sweet is sufficient. An acquaintance probably does not need elaborate in-depth details, but a close friend, family member, or potential partner does. Later, staggering tube comments and responses based on the role that person plays in my life is helpful.

For example, I told my now fiancĂ© about my feeding tube in the friendship stage prior to beginning the relationship. I happened to slip subtleties about my illness and the possibility of a tube in conversation. I felt he must be aware of what he was getting into.

They stress too.   

Sharing the part of life that revolves around formula cans, feed and flushes, and unexpected tube feeding catastrophes can be difficult. Regardless, it provides the ideal opportunity for others to ask questions for awareness. Similar to how we stress over when and who we should tell about our feeding tubes, they too have worries: Am I allowed to eat around a tubie? What questions are rude to ask? Is this insensitive?

Spread awareness. 

A feeding tube, while perceived as negative, is a good thing. It gives life, where without it, there would be none. Why not share the good news? You would be surprised to learn that most are okay with the idea of feeding tubes and are genuinely curious.

Feeding Tube Awareness Week 2018: February 5-9th.