If you’re lucky enough, when you get cancer you’ll get a feeding tube and you will fully appreciate this fable. It’s the fable of The Little Red Weiner.
Patients get feeding tubes for any number of reasons. During surgery, or surgeries, they are already beginning to lose weight. I actually get excited about this one. Excited enough to tell people and rejoice in sheath dresses not worn in over a year. I should have kept my mouth shut. I’d been added to the weight watch.
Patients also get feeding tubes if there is a reason they won’t be able to eat after surgery—for this girl it’s because surgery cut a giant hole in my throat making food an impossibility for a few weeks.
And another reason patients get a feeding tube is they stop eating during chemo and radiation and it serves as a way to get nutrition into their bodies while they battle the chemical war. This patient is lucky; all three fit my particular cancer. Counting my blessings every day.
The medical big wigs act as if cutting through the abdominal wall and inserting a little plastic box looking thingy with a tube sticking out is no big deal. Liars, liars, liars. Too bad in the operating room Dr. G’s pants did not burst into flames as I said, “I can feel that,” and he responds, “No she can’t.” Why thank you Asshat.
So basically, you pour a nutrient-rich concoction through a syringe attached to the tube, holding it high so gravity can do its work. This is every three hours for however many days it takes the throat to close, the patient to be able to swallow or shove a goddamn cheeseburger down her gullet again. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet.
Same for beer cheese pretzels at Goldie’s, newly perfected fruit smoothies, the 10,000 calorie Pollo Con Queso at Ajo’s and, Good God Man, a simple Diet Coke. And, of course, pinots of all varietals and Grey Goose. Oh, and water. No lie. Even water is the devil. Aspirate becomes the word of the day. Don’t speak of coffee.
So, eating’s not going well. Doc H says start off with pudding, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese. Okay. Not so much. Twenty swallows later, potatoes sit in the back of the throat undecided whether their journey will be up, down or aspiration. I decide to quit for a few days and see if healing won’t make this journey a bit less arduous. And perhaps a bit more Duchess-like.
No one tells patients that feeding help involves having the tube hang from a hole in the abdomen, just dangling. Wrap it carefully in plastic wrap for bathing and tape it up when not in use. The piece they miss is—dangling is the only way it’s comfortable. Not attractive, but comfortable. Taping it into place is painful and ceases twisting, turning and bending—kind of essential moves. At home most of the time, I choose the dangle, completely forgetting that the tube’s end is about four inches long and red with a cap.
A recent visitor notices the little red head poking from the bottom of my skirt.
“Oh, don’t mind my little red wiener,” say I. No laughter. People aren’t on the funny cancer train yet. There are solid reasons I bestow the name.
It’s really special. It goes with me everywhere. It pokes out its little head at the worst opportunities and it’s not all that attractive. When it makes a public appearance, people stare but say nothing. I follow their eyes and wordlessly tuck it in. Thus the moniker. Seems to me if it quacks like a duck…you know the rest.