Having an NG Tube Placed for the First Time
I’ve lived with a feeding tube since April 2015, due to functional and psychosomatic vomiting. I ingest things normally (via mouth) and my body becomes on high-alert and sends the wrong signals to my stomach in the form of oral intake being harmful to my body. In turn, these wrong signals result in my inability to keep food down.
When I first got an nasogastric (NG) tube, the idea was really daunting. I had no idea what to expect. I was in the hospital for weeks and had started drastically losing weight. I wasn’t tolerating anything orally. I was told if trying just Ensure supplement drinks didn’t work then we’d have to trial an NG tube. I remember feeling really scared so I did what people naturally do, Google search – which was a bad idea! It sounded absolutely terrifying and I pleaded with my body to tolerate supplement drinks. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so we had to place an NG tube.
I had my boyfriend beside me the whole time, which helped. It might help anyone who’s having to get a feeding tube to have someone sit with them and help put them at ease.
A nurse placed my feeding tube, but a doctor may place your tube. The nurse explained the procedure and showed me the NG tube. I never realized a thin tube could be so daunting! Lubricant was placed on the end of the feeding tube that would be going into my nose. I was also handed a sick bowl and a cup of water with a straw. The tube is placed into your nose which can feel uncomfortable and can tickle the inside of your nose. It’s then pushed gently to the back of your nose, following your nasal canal at a curve, down to the back of your throat where your gag reflex is. You’re effectively trying to swallow the tube down as it helps it bypass your gag reflex.
I’d say this is the most difficult part and can be a little distressing. It can cause you to gag as if you are going to be sick. The biggest thing to remember is to breathe. It can cause your eyes to water from gagging. The person doing the procedure can stop and pull out the tube, but if possible, getting it done in one try is the best way and least distressing.
Once it’s past the back of your throat I’d say the worst part out the way. It’s pushed gently down your esophagus into your stomach. Every hospital differs in how they check the tube is in place. Some take a syringe with a little air in it and push it into the tube whilst listening to your stomach with a stethoscope. Some send you for an x-ray of your chest to confirm it’s not in your airway. Some places take a syringe and aspirate the NG tube. This is where you pull back with gentle pressure to produce some stomach contents and then a special strip called a pH strip is used to check the pH of the stomach contents. Some hospitals, including my own, may do a combination of two or all three of them.
Once placement is confirmed that the tube is placed in your stomach, they flush the tube with some water. This isn’t painful (for most people), but it can feel a little strange. I describe it as drinking a glass of water but I’m not drinking. They then start feeds at a slow rate.
NG tubes feel really weird at first, it’s odd swallowing and having a tube in your throat, but I found after a short while I forgot it was there.
They can hurt your throat after a while. My advice for that would be: Having a cold drink if you can tolerate it, gargling with salt water, throat lozenges, ice cubes, ice cream, or ice lollies. In my experienced, I wouldn’t say placement of a tube hurts. it can be uncomfortable but I wouldn’t describe it as sore – but everyone’s experience is different.
Something I would advise when the idea of an NG tube is suggested – ask any questions you have about it, even if they seem silly. It can really help put your mind at ease and can make it seem less scary.
I’ve had an NG tube for the most part of the past three years. I was taught to self-insert them. For me, they come out relatively frequently so it saves on trips to the hospital and I actually find it easier inserting them myself. The biggest thing to remember is an NG tube isn’t the worst thing to happen and it’s helping you out when you’re struggling