Memoir — From the August 2017 issue

Eat, Memory

A life without food

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Dr. H assured me that the G-tube was temporary, a few months, tops. Once the inflammation in my throat subsided and I passed a barium swallow, he would simply pull it out, no O.R. required; if I wanted, I could do it myself. What about the gaping hole that the disconnected tube would leave behind — the contents of my stomach leaking into my body cavity, septic shock? The doctor strapped on his profession’s you silly patients look, then informed me: “Holes close, that’s what our bodies do.”

Putting a G-tube in, he said, was as easy as taking one out. The first attempt failed. After sedation, prep, and anesthesia, the surgeon called off the procedure. He had seen my large intestine eclipsing my stomach, preventing a direct strike. He decided to wait for the bowel segment to retreat, and in the interim fitted me with a nasogastric (NG) tube, which was threaded up nostril, down throat, into stomach. I left the hospital with the tube bent into a U and taped to my face. It wasn’t until I sat down to feed the tube that I discovered it measured a mere six inches nostril to valve; in order to feed it I had to hold my hands high and off to the side, as if I were playing a flute. The tube wasn’t designed with self-feeding in mind, which made sense, given its target clientele: comatose patients, patients on ventilators, patients with broken faces, premature babies.

Ultimately my wife had to feed me. For hours each day she painstakingly pushed enteral formula, called Jevity (as in “longevity”), through the tube as thin as uncooked spaghetti. The Jevity had the viscosity of heavy cream, further slowing the process. Each feeding lasted an episode and a half of Downton Abbey. I emailed my son a photo of my wife and me, my way of letting him know of my new acquisition. We’re smiling, a knit cap low on my brow, the NG tube curved across my cheek, the residual formula inside bright as neon, the purple valve taped exactly where an earring would dangle. The subject line: “Post-feeding bliss.”

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is the author of Pangs of Love and The Barbarians Are Coming. He lives in Venice, California.

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