During treatment for oral cancer, it’s protocol to get a feeding tube. But, it wasn’t always. I didn’t have a feeding tube. I forced myself to eat, a slow, gruelingly painful process. Every 20 minutes, I’d try to ingest one teaspoon of Cream of Wheat, scrambled eggs, whipped sweet potato, pureed spinach….It’s not easy to eat when you have a bad canker sore, and when your mouth if full of sores, it’s torture.
The down-side of feeding tubes is that patients rely on them too much and relinquish eating by mouth. When the swallowing muscles aren’t used, they atrophy. I’ve been in contact with several survivors who had to relearn how to swallow with swallow therapists. For some, it was a long term challenge. So, which is the worse evil??
Rebecca Dresser, editor of “Malignant,” is a professor of law and medical ethics at Washington University in St. Louis and a survivor of oral cancer. As an ethicist, she has a firm professional commitment to patient autonomy, the doctrine of “it’s your body and you alone decide what happens to it”. As a patient, she got herself into serious trouble wielding that autonomy: Unable to eat or drink, she firmly refused a feeding tube until she almost starved to death. Finally, her caretakers strong-armed her into changing her mind, and she eventually made a full and grateful recovery.
What’s your experience with feeding tubes?