When all of this cancer mess began, my husband weighed in around 180 lbs. By August, after a summer of radiation and chemo, he pushed the lighter side of 150 lbs. I blamed myself because I couldn’t seem to squeeze enough nutrition: yogurt, baby food, or canned formula through that little peg tube in his stomach. On once occasion I pushed so hard on a feeding syringe loaded with strained carrots that it exploded over his torso. Orange blobs hit the covers, the walls, me, the lamp. It should have been funny, but instead felt more like a crisis. In retrospect, I wonder if any food made it through that stiff, plastic obstacle course into his belly.
In the throes of this new catastrophe, I sat beside his stainless steel bed fretting not only for his life, but for his nutrition. I pleaded with the nurse to find some way to get liquid food that fit his tube. It had been over twenty-four hours since he had taken in any nutrition, and much of that he had tossed up with the colon perforation. I realized that I was obsessing, but this issue was the one thing I could help, maybe.
Kindly, the ICU nurse listened to me, the wife, and not just medical notations. He promised to talk to the doctor about getting some kind of sustenance up to the room as soon as he could. But despite his intentions, it was easily another six or seven hours with nothing to feed him. Hospitals make Congress look fast.
The doctor first had to approve the nutrition, then order the food. The pharmacy had to fill the order, the bag had to be transported to the floor and the nurse had to find a moment to hook it up. To make this endless process short, the nutrition finally arrived, and honestly, I was a little chagrined. The bag was filled with a yellow, clear, liquid, and looked to have no bulk at all. The liquid was called TPN, and was none too impressive to behold. But the nurse assured me that it had the substance to keep him going.
Now look, I know that healthy people can go days without food as long as they remain hydrated. But Chad was so below the norm from the summer, that my fretting turned to anguish. He hadn’t much to go on when this disaster began. The little bit the hospital provided only slightly took the edge off my dread.
Oh, and the new bed sore. A spot had appeared at the base of his back and became raw and nasty fast, from lying in a comatose, prone position. The doctor ordered a new bed, an air bed, with the idea of taking the pressure off his lower back. Honestly, that order took another seven hours to materialize. In the end, (no pun intended), his tailbone still bore too much pressure and the sore remained a pestilence until Chad was up and walking weeks later.
One of nurses happened to remark to me that everyday spent in the ICU costs the patient two weeks of muscle loss. That meant that for each day Chad lay there, his body deteriorated fourteen days of lost mass. Weird, but true. He remained eight days. His body grew ravaged and skeletal by the time he was transferred to a regular room.
I showed no physical effects of my own growing depression except I too, couldn’t eat. After leaving the hospital each afternoon, I floated home in some cloud, fed the dogs, and buried myself in romance novels. I read the same ones over and over. Funny, I didn’t feel any hunger pangs either. Both of us were equally immobilized, equally shut down. The only difference between the two of us–I could physically leave the hospital.