Feeding Tube Lessons

After writing about our family’s experiences with inserting feeding tubes into the stomachs of precious loved ones, I have now arrived at the point of drawing some conclusions and sharing what I have learned.  This discussion must be prefaced with the caveat that I am not a medical professional.  I don’t have all the information about feeding tubes, nor can I give advice to a family.  I can only share with you my personal conclusions on this topic.  In addition, it is entirely possible that what I write in the next two posts, might completely change in the next 5 years because of presently unknown future events.  We don’t know what the future holds for us and our family.

I have learned that sometimes a inserting a feeding tube is entirely appropriate.  When a person has a curable disease and needs a temporary way of getting nutrition and hydration, then by all means. put that feeding tube in.  If a person is otherwise reasonably healthy, has a reasonable cognitive ability,  understands about the need for a feeding tube, and is in favor of it, then, again, I think a feeding tube is appropriate.  If a person has a type of cancer that has taken away their ability to eat, but otherwise the cancer is moving slowly, and that person is still enjoying life, then with that person’s permission, put in the feeding tube.

On the other hand, If a person’s quality of life is very low, if that person is just lying in a bed, not able to communicate, recognizing no one, is ready to give up this life, or does not have the cognitive ability to understand the need for a feeding tube, much less make a decision about it, then perhaps inserting a feeding tube, would not be appropriate.  If that person is in continual pain and must be kept sedated to the point of not being conscious, then perhaps inserting a feeding tube would cruel, not kind.

Taking out a feeding tube is also a very difficult decision and should not be made without considerable prayer and discussion on the part of the family and family member if possible.  If a family member’s physical condition is one of pain and suffering, if they are unconscious, if they have no cognitive ability, or if they are ready to die and have expressed a desire for the feeding tube to be removed, then take it out.  However, if it is taken out, then, family, make sure that certain things are done, such as oral hydration so that your loved one’s mouth does not dry out.  It is your responsibility to see to these details so that your family member will then pass from this life into the next with as little discomfort as possible.

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Our Decision to Remove Mother’s Feeding Tube

It was April 10, 2005 when my sister called to tell me that Mother was very ill. I wrote about the details of Mother’s final days in previous posts, and will not rewrite them here.

When Mother was transported to the Hospice Unit at Hendrick Hospital, her doctor, the nurses, my sisters and I began the discussion of deciding whether the time had come to remove Mother’s feeding tube. At the time I was in favor of it, removing the tube, that is.

In my opinion, her body was already dying and the feeding tube was getting in the way of that process. She was ready to die. Her mind and body had declined to the point that she could do nothing for herself. Her hands. I remember her hands had curled at the wrists and could not be straightened. Her neck had ‘frozen’ in a sideways position from not having the strength to hold her head up. It was so sad.

As I have previously written, Darla agreed with me. My other sister didn’t, but finally relented. The tube was removed.

In the process of writing the most recent posts on feeding tubes, I thought about what might have happened if we had left the feeding tube in. She would have definitely lived a few more days, perhaps weeks, depending on whether or not she overcame the infection. She would have been returned to the nursing home.

Our concern was that we could tell she was in pain. Returning her to the nursing home would mean that she would not be able to have the same level of pain control as she would in the hospital. We may have been wrong about that assumption, but nevertheless, that was our understanding. The bottom line was that we did not want her to be in any more pain than necessary and leaving the feeding tube in meant that she was going have to suffer longer.

Therefore, we had it removed.