My relationship with The Tube has neither cultural conflicts as in The King and I nor any chickens as in The Egg and I. What it does have is a series of annoyances.
When my esophagus and stomach decided to take early retirement and stopped pushing much of anything through my gastrointestinal tract, the best solution to solving the problem of malnutrition seemed to be surgically inserting a J-tube in my small intestine. The Tube and I were never formally introduced before we met in the surgical suite. Yet, from that moment The Tube and I have been inseparable.
An immediate and major annoyance came from the uncompromising restrictions The Tube places on my daily schedule. For thirteen and a half hours, usually from 5:00 p m. to 6:30 a.m., I am attached to a longer tube and pump so my liquid nutrition can flow through The Tube. This tether complicates the simplest of tasks, like brushing my teeth or letting the dog out or sleeping. Five times a day The Tube acts as conduit for my liquid medications and water, interrupting critical activities, like painting my fingernails or watching Downton Abbey reruns. The Tube is unapologetic.
The Tube annoyingly demands its own paraphernalia, whose upkeep falls to me, of course. My kitchen looks like a medical supply company; my kitchen table, covered by a vinyl tablecloth, is always ”prepped” for the next “procedure.” There are gauze pads, drainage pads, Button Buddies, micropore tape, and ointments to protect the skin around The Tube. There are 1,000 milliliter bags, a pump, and a rolling pole to use with the cartons of formula plus 500 milliliter bags and a backpack to use when I insist on greater mobility. The six large boxes holding 144 cartons of my complete and balanced meals for the month are stacked three high and must be maneuvered around with care. For adding nutrition or medications, a six-inch extension tube plugs in to the port of The Tube’s “button-like” top, which lies outside my abdomen (rather less attractive than a belly button piercing with a navel ring). And, since it is composed of plastic, The Tube itself has limited viability. A trip to the surgeon every few weeks or months is required for a new, identical incarnation of my constant companion. The Tube remains indifferent to its onerous maintenance.
Unexpected annoyances also pop up from time to time.
During my first winter with The Tube, while out running errands I got stuck in my backpack (which had to be removed before I could fit behind my car’s steering wheel). Snowflakes swirling furiously, no other human being in sight, it was only after many contortions that I was eventually able to slide the straps off my resistant coat; purchasing new outerwear with a “silky” exterior was expensive but unavoidable.
Inattention to securing a syringe in the button port occasionally sends 20 milliliters of water and medication into my lap instead of into The Tube. The wet clothing must be soaked while I search the closet for a replacement outfit before rushing out the door to an appointment.
One episode, which seemed to unfold in slow motion, involved my Sheltie. Greeting me at bedside, his foot caught a loop in the long tube attached to the bag and pump, pulling the pole over, dislodging The Tube, and resulting in an unplanned trip to the surgeon.
Another time, while I was wearing The Tube’s accessories to a class, a chatty woman sitting next to me commented, “That whirring sound I hear must be the furnace.” “No,” I had to admit. “You’re hearing the pump in my backpack”; no further conversation was exchanged.
The Tube, unsympathetic to my frustrations, even ignores my infrequent but real yearnings for lost pleasures, such as yoga classes or chocolate or flannel pajamas.
The Tube and I are rapidly approaching our third anniversary together. As in any relationship, we have our challenges. Nevertheless, in spite of continuing annoyances, we will remain a couple for the foreseeable future. After all, I must—grudgingly but gratefully—credit The Tube with my very life in all its messy manifestations.