Monday, November 28, 2011
Forty minutes north of Toronto sits a multi-acre property, complete with a small barn and two horses. There is a large garage that houses more horsepower, but this time, the Harley-Davidson variety. The owners, David and Pearl, thrive in this peaceful rural setting, spending all the time they can being active outdoors. But last summer, at a time that should have been spent doing all the things they love, an unexpected diagnosis brought them to a standstill.
After noticing a number of symptoms, David went through a series of tests before learning he had oral cancer. His full-time job as a blacksmith was put aside to focus on getting through seven weeks of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy at Sunnybrook. It was tiring to say the least. And at a time when David needed his physical strength more than ever, he was losing weight. Treatment had made swallowing difficult and nausea a daily reality. David needed a feeding tube.
Feeding tubes, or G tubes (short for gastrostomy tubes), are placed through the abdominal wall to allow liquid feeding formula and/or medications to go directly into the stomach. They’re often used for cancer and ALS patients, as well as those who have had a stroke or trauma. They look like simple rubber tubing with a valve on one end that opens to allow liquid in through a syringe. Typically, G tubes protrude about one foot from the abdomen, leaving patients to use tape or gauze to try and tuck them away. While necessary, their design can be an inconvenience. That’s why David was thrilled to learn he would be the first patient at Sunnybrook to receive a newer type that he would barely notice.
The MIC-KEY sits flush against the abdomen and allows patients much more freedom of movement. Not only is it tiny (about the size of a dime), it comes with a detachable adapter that connects when feeding. David demonstrated in his kitchen, pulling up his shirt and connecting the rubber tube through a valve. After placing several syringes of Ensure in the tube, he flushed it with water and disconnected it. Mealtime was done in five minutes flat. Down went the shirt and off went David, able to get back to daily living without the inconvenience of typical G tube.
While it’s not ideal for everyone (like those with wider abdominal girth), it is another option for many. “Basically, you can do everything,” David told me. “The feeding tube didn’t stop me from any part of my life at all.” With his treatment complete, he is slowly weaning back to eating by mouth and hopes to have the MIC-KEY removed soon. But for the time he needed it, he’s grateful to have had a less intrusive option.
Watch this week's video on YouTube