Gastroparesis Awareness Month: Ellie’s Story

As part of HAN (Home Artificial Nutrition) Awareness Week and Gastroparesis Awareness Month, I thought I’d share my story. My name is Ellie and I’m eighteen years old.

Since the age of 13, chronic illness has played a massive part in my life. I am very new to the parenteral and enteral nutrition community, as I have only had a feeding tube since April this year.
My main conditions are Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a rare inherited condition that affects all the connective tissue in your body (including your digestive system).  I also have severe M.E (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) which is a very misunderstood neurological condition, that leads to debilitating fatigue, painful muscles/joints, gastric disturbances, poor memory and much more.

Artificial nutrition is a medical treatment which allows a person to receive nutrition (food) and hydration (fluids) when they are no longer able to take them by mouth. This might be through a feeding tube or intravenously fed into the heart. Some people use tubes as assistance while also taking food by mouth, whereas others are fed solely by their tubes.

Without the support of my feeding tube, I wouldn’t be alive. Like any other human being, I still crave food. The textures, temperatures and smells of food get the better of me and I still eat sometimes. Watching people eat around me so freely sometimes can be so hard. Most of the time I chew gum or eat a mint to settle the hunger.

I have had to fight my corner to get the nutrition I desperately needed. I was loosing weight very fast, because of the severe pain and nausea after eating and drinking. Doctor’s either believed it was an eating disorder or just acid-reflix. It took until I was very medically unstable to be admitted to the gastrointestinal ward for help. Although I now have a feeding tube, it doesn’t cure the problem that I have.

We still don’t know what is the reason for all my digestive symptoms and doctors refuse to investigate further, which means the feeding tube will probably be with me forever. I am currently fed into my stomach through a naso-gastric tube, which is still causing a lot of problems for me, even at a very slow rate of feeding (mls/per hour). NG-tube feeding is usually only a temporary solution, therefore I am booked in to have a jejunostomy feeding tube surgically placed straight into my jejunum. This is the middle segment of the small intestine. Most of the nutrients present in food or my special liquid feed are absorbed by the jejunum so the purpose of a stomach isn’t needed.

This hopefully will cause less symptoms meaning that I can start to gain weight and have a better quality of life. Having a feeding tube isn’t glamorous or a fashion accessory. It’s survival. Having a feeding tube stuck on your face 24/7 can be mentally very draining. I find it very hard to cope with sometimes and some people think i suffer with anorexia because of the stereotype of them. Even medical professionals have told me to seek counselling because of my eating problems.

My biggest bit of advice is to never let alone tell you something that isn’t true. Don’t think that just because doctors are medical professionals, that automatically means they are correct.

Currently, I have a sinusitis infection, because the tube has caused so much inflammation throughout my nasal passage. This is one of the many downsides to having a tube.

Despite the feeding tube, i am determined to not let that get in the way of me living life.  I’m hoping that after having my jejunostomy surgery, I can attend rehabilitation to enable me to gain some independence back. Anyone who’s facing the prospect of a feeding tube or another form of nutrition needs to realise that it’s in their best interest.

Don’t feel like just because you can eat little bits that you aren’t worthy of needing one. I still snack on bits of food but I wouldn’t be able to sustain myself without the tube! Most importantly, don’t be frightened. I know it can feel very daunting as it’s life changing, but it’s nothing to worry about. The amount of support out there from other young people with feeding tubes is incredible. Even if locally, you don’t know anyone, there are always people to talk to and support groups! Some days will be the toughest day’s you’ll ever go through but in the end it’s so worth it.

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