The Texts That Got Me Through 2 Weeks With an NG Tube
It was a few days after my total colectomy, the first of three surgeries to redesign my insides into something functional. My body, tired and depleted from months of my insisting on work and exercise and some semblance of a social life, had finally decided it needed to sleep in. And so my stomach and what was left of my intestines lay still, long after I had woken up in a fentanyl haze and asked the nurse if I still had all my teeth.
There were calls and consults I couldn’t make out from where I lay, but what I soon realized was a doctor preparing to place an NG tube that would relieve me from the discomfort of my sluggish stomach. I remember him looking apologetic, lubing up the end of a tube for my nose — a first for that part of my body — only to slide it up my nostril, down my throat and into my stomach.
That was the beginning of 14 days without food and water. My best friend, Andrew, who has seen me through a myriad of unfortunate haircuts, boyfriends and now surgeries, sent me a range of encouraging texts. They began with “I’m sorry,” “After all of this, nothing will ever be a challenge to you,” and then evolved into pictures of snacks that were strangely motivational, if not pornographic, considering how hungry I was.
The first was a screenshot of Tostitos’ Instagram account. Back when my colon and I were together and happy, I had been known to drunk-eat tortilla chips with the abandon of a 19-year-old who has never dwelled long upon the word metabolism. The picture called back a carefree piece of myself I had left at the hospital door, and I felt a laugh come up from nowhere.
It was now day three of me and my NG, which I had affectionately nicknamed my “nose hose.” I discovered that I could spray ice chips with the cherry-flavored throat spray they gave me to numb the fact that there was a tube hanging out by my tonsils. It tasted like a sad slushee, with a bonus codeine kick.
By day six, I had started a list on my Notes app of all I was going to eat and drink once I was cleared. Andrew had texted to let me know that Swedish Fish gum is a foodstuff available for purchase, and that too got added to the list, next to chicken nuggets and gin.
By day eight, I had my night nurses’ schedules down and knew when they were tied up with the Italian woman in 804B, who insisted that someone read her the dinner menu from start to finish just so she could reiterate the many reasons her meatball marinara was better. That’s when I’d unplug my IV pole and hobble out to the hallway for evening laps, unconcerned with tying up the back of my gown to hide my boy shorts and what the elderly man in 807A had politely referred to as “the best-looking ass on the floor.”
I was headed towards the water fountain at the end of the hallway, just out of the surgical unit’s view. But the hard thing about sneaking a drink when you’ve got a nose hose is that every doctor knows just by looking at you that you’re NIL by mouth. I, too, had a few choice three or four letter words prepared should any of the white coats call me out on my extracurricular activities.
Two or three sips in, congratulating myself on my stealthiness and thinking I’d be good at prison, my phone buzzed. It was Andrew with a picture from the dreaded Timehop app that usually mocks me with ghosts of outfits past. This time, though, I was face-to-face with 2013 Bethany, happily modeling a McDonald’s bag on a night off from grad school. I could almost taste the salt in my mouth, the quick bite I took in a hurry to get someplace else.
Looking up from my phone, I wiped the water from my lips and decided to take another lap. This time I pushed myself to move a little faster through the hurt, back towards that version of myself. Happy, free, hungry and in a hurry to get someplace else.