Happy #FeedingTubeAwarenessWeek to all my tubies out there! Whenever I write about my feeding tube, I generally talk about how amazing it has been for me. My g-tube has helped me accomplish so much, and for that reason it’s always easy to write about. I want to kick off Feeding Tube Awareness Week with something different. I want to talk about how I overcame my fear of needing a g-tube.
I think it’s quite clear that I am huge fan of my g-tube, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, I resented the idea of a feeding tube for close to a decade or more. My weight has always been a problem for me, and eating was never any fun. I am a super picky eater. My friends like to joke that I have the pallet of a 5 year old, and they’re definitely right. My parents also tried every trick in the book to put weight on me – from milkshakes after school, to weight gainers and everything in between.
My parents even weaponized the feeding tube, which probably didn’t help when I was little, but it motivated me, as I got older.
“Finish your food, Gunnar, you don’t want a feeding tube.”
My parents knew that I was the kind of person who responded to incentive, motivation and coaching, so weaponizing part of my care certainly worked for me in a lot of ways, and I’m happy they did it. I did whatever I could to avoid the big, bad feeding tube.
Finally, when I was 19, things took a turn for the worst. I developed pancreatitis. It was horrendous. To this day, we’re still not too sure what caused it. We think it was medication induced, but can’t be certain.
I dropped to 123 pounds. In fact, I think I have almost blocked out that part of my life completely. It wasn’t until last night when my mom reminded me how sick I was. For the longest time, I had thought I had only lost 20 or sound pounds with that round of pancreatitis, but as my mom reminded me, it turns out it was closer to 30-35 pounds.
For reference, I’m 6’3. I was in a bad place.
Enter the feeding tube and the rest is history.
How did I get around that fear, though?
There was a months-long grace period between the g-tube surgery and my recovery from pancreatitis. After all, I was in college, and I was able to put a little bit of the lost weight back on before surgery, so it didn’t have to happen overnight. I had a lot of voices in my head talking about the feeding tube, but one conversation really stuck in particular. My doctor in Boston, Dr. Gerard, sat me down one day and decided he would connect with me on a personal level. He wanted to find out what my long-term goals were. For a 19-year-old kid, it was a strange conversation, but it was one of the first times a doctor looked me in the eye and wanted to pursue team-oriented care.
Oddly enough, he decided we would have this conversation in the waiting area of the Emergency Room at Boston Children’s Hospital. I wasn’t the one in need of care, my sister was. I had just brought her in because she was suffering from some nasty bug. He even checked in on Sydney before coming to talk to me. He reassured me that she would be fine, but, really, he wanted to tell me a story about one of his patients who was living with a feeding tube.
He proceeded to talk to me about one of his patients who was a marathon runner, and in the weeks leading up to the Boston Marathon got sick. Despite her illness, though, she was able to maintain her nutrition thanks to the g-tube, and as he put it, “She woke up in her hospital bed early on the morning of race day, took a bus to Hopkinton (where the race starts), and ran her 26.2 miles straight back to her hospital bed!”
I was never able to corroborate the story, but that didn’t matter. I had heard all I needed to hear.
I could be an athlete with a g-tube.
Dr. Gerard recognized that I was a motivated person, and he was able to apply the right story at the right time. I was sold on it.
In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I decided I would write out a number of phrases or goals and post them on my bathroom mirror. It’s a super cliché thing, but I actually did it. Every morning and night when I would brush my teeth, I would read the phrases over and over. I leaned on my desire to be able to motivate myself.
It was something I started doing when I was in high school. In the back of my football locker, I had the phase “No Fear” written on a piece of tape. That same phrase was written in my football helmet and hockey helmet, too. Self-motivation is a powerful skill, and it’s something I have leaned on it difficult times. I suppose I considered getting a feeding tube to be, “a difficult time.”
Most of those post-its are still on my bathroom mirror, 8 years later.
Motivation is a powerful thing. I am able to do it myself, but I love it when it comes from other places, too – my parents, doctors, friends – and I think that’s what helped me most when it was my turn to have a g-tube placed.