Once each February, a week is dedicated to helping raise awareness about tube feeding. I feel like the past 7 years of our lives have been a walking tube feeding awareness ad. If you haven’t picked up on the fact that you can lead a full and happy life while being tube fed, then you haven’t been paying attention. And so I try not to get too vocal during this week.
However, this week, just on time for tube feeding awareness week, Patrick has started to require supplemental feeding. And so I’m going to take a minute anyway to explain what a frustrating blessing a feeding tube can be.
Since last October, we’ve been trialing having Patrick eat 100% of his calories. And he has lost weight ever since. At first it was really rapid. That wasn’t a surprise. He wasn’t used to eating that much and we dropped a lot of calories and hydration very suddenly. We’d fattened him up and he had room to learn.
He really did a marvelous job picking it up. In a couple of weeks he figured out how to drink enough to stay hydrated. And he picked up meal and snack times pretty well. But he just kept losing. We’ve added more snacks. We’ve added more butter and fats to every meal. We started giving him milk at every meal. We added protein shakes.
But months later, he is still losing, even after “doing everything” that his dietitians could think of to recommend.
There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for Patrick’s belly to take in enough food. He gets full and uncomfortable and doesn’t want to push more food.
Eating is such an emotional thing. It’s social. It’s bonding. It combines smells and tastes with memories. But what if your memories of food weren’t positive? What if for years eating made you sick? Was always high stress? What if you were expected to dive in suddenly at a level of eating skill than other kids took 7 years to master? And what if the stakes were so high that everyone was watching to see if you did it? And when you felt completely stuffed, you were always being told “just one more bite”?
Patrick was losing weight. And I found that I was pushing too hard. Worrying too much about making sure Patrick got enough calories and then getting really upset when he didn’t eat what was put in front of him. And that pressure was actually causing us to lose ground. Making Patrick not like foods he’d once loved.
So we’ve turned again to the feeding tube. Just a little. A week ago Brian suggested that maybe we should start giving some carnation instant breakfast first thing in the morning when he wakes and last thing before bed. We know it helps his belly wake up. And it would give him extra calories.
The first day that we did it and he wasn’t hungry for breakfast after. I had a good cry about losing breakfast. Losing progress. Not fully achieving the miracle. But Howie convinced me to give it time. And now I see that, this way he’s getting the same morning calories. Plus he’s hungry for a snack and to eat his lunch at school.. something we’d struggled with. In other words, Patrick seems to be better off this way. And maybe I was looking the wrong way at miracles.
I’m finding myself humbled and grateful for medical technology that can help him yet again. I am remembering that just because all struggles aren’t gone, it doesn’t mean a miracle hasn’t happened. Not all healing means perfect health.
Do you know that tube feeding is so new, even in the United States, that Patrick’s GI doctor was the first to place a g-tube (stomach instead of nasal feeding tube) at his our children’s hospital? That it’s so new that there are countries where the technology is only still just being taught?
We take it for granted. This ability to feed patients who otherwise couldn’t eat enough. I’ve even heard people say it’s weird, gross, unnatural. But really, it’s amazing! Minimally invasive. In fact, I often wish every child could have a button. That I could have one myself. I know hundreds of families with feeding tubes. I can count on one hand those who weren’t immensely grateful for them. Who didn’t feel that they exponentially improved their child’s quality of life.
Hopefully, we’ll only need this little bit of help for a while longer. Just enough to take the “Please eat so you won’t die” sort of pressure off of learning to eat. Please note, “Please eat so you don’t need a feeding tube” doesn’t work. Patrick knows from experience that being fed through a tube is exceptionally convenient and comfortable. Fed is fed. And it’s so stress-free he sees no reason to avoid it. I mean, seriously, if you could just keep doing the things you love without having to stop to eat or drink, wouldn’t you choose that too sometimes?
However, we are finding it’s possible to take a bit of the hunger/starvation edge off of learning to eat this way. Just enough feeding to help his belly move. Just enough calories to help him grow but let him be hungry. And hopefully soon, Patrick’s love of food will help him overcome some of his fears. And he’ll need less and less of the help.
But in the meantime, isn’t is wonderful that we don’t have to do it without help?
Tubies of the world unite. Or some other catchy social media phrase meaning tube feeding is awesome.