No one ever calls me. Especially in the morning, as I’m running about my dorm room getting ready for the day. But come Friday morning, my phone began to ring and my friend’s name popped up on the screen. My friend, we’ll call her Ollie, was calling to let me know that she wouldn’t be in class because she was in the ER. “Finals actually almost killed me,” she joked. Ollie was frustrated that she hadn’t done a better job of drinking fluids, and had ended up being dehydrated and had endured several IV stabs to access her collapsed veins. I promised her that I’d send her the notes from our discussion class that morning. Her parents were en route to come and get her for the weekend, and I chatted with her on the phone as I packed my bag and got dressed for class. She asked how I was, I mentioned my increase in symptoms and discomfort, and my ill-thought-out plan to journey to an ER later that day. She encouraged me to go that morning, but I insisted on going to class first. I said good-bye to Ollie and ran to my couple of classes, then dragged myself back to my dorm room.
I wasn’t hungry even though I hadn’t had a morsel of anything all day, not even my daily meal of pills. I climbed in bed and passed out, throbbing in pain. A friend came by after her classes and we went to the dining hall together where I forced myself to eat something, but it made me feel worse. My Mom thought that I should try to wait out the weekend, as did I, after all a weekend ER visit typically only brings extended waiting periods.
But by that night, I was struggling in pain, so nauseated and purely exhausted. I was chatting online with my friends, when one friend (we’ll call her Katie) suggested I need a ‘House’ like doctor ASAP. Our other friend (we’ll call her Maya), quickly interrupted that we needed ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ doctors, like McDreamy. I reminded Katie and Maya that McDreamy was a neurosurgeon, and that both of them were fake doctors: I needed a real like House-McDreamy GI guy. But it was clear that I couldn’t wait, I had to go to the ER right then and there, they schlepped over to my dorm and Maya (a force of nature) hailed a cab. We filed in, giving the cabdriver the ER address, and as we sped away, he turned his head and said “Don’t have the baby in the cab!”
We all laughed, and our Grandfatherly taxi cab driver showed off with all of his jokes and stories. “Did you hear that FedEx and UPS are joining forces? Do you know what their new name will be? FedUp.” He kept the three of us giggling until we were at the ER, and we tumbled out of the car towards the hospital.
Fast forward a few hours, and I found myself drugged and dopey on a hospital bed and being denied nausea medications. Understandably, they wanted to see me upchuck on my own and not suppress the need to do so for them to be able to assess what the best thing was to do. If I vomited, I would get an NG tube, if I didn’t, I would get nothing. I buzzed my nurse and insisted on getting an NG tube, despite my absence of vomit, it had to be better than nothing.
“We don’t really get a lot of requests for these,” the Ferris Bueller look-a-like surgeon smiled, and pulled out some tubes. I pressed for the smallest one, and then mentioned that I could place them myself. He raised his eyebrows at me, as did the nurse, but agreed to let me do it. The surgeon, a guy who’s more than qualified to cut into people, held my cup of water as I slid the tube down my nostril. I knew how to measure the length of the tube, how to place it, and lickety split it was done.
They were shocked and couldn’t get over it. “I’m going to tell everyone I know!” The surgeon promised. I tried to explain that at my original pediatric hospital, children were taught how to place their tubes, but the doctors couldn’t get over it. They took an x-ray to check placement, which they happily reported was “perfect.” When they wheeled me to my surgery inpatient floor from the ER, all of the nurses gathered around my bed and asked me, “Are you the girl who put her NG tube? Did you really do it?”
Everyone that has come into my room has asked: I am the infamous NG tube girl. On a short walk around the floor with my nurse last night, she stopped to brag about me to a fellow nurse. It’s a funny thing to be praised for shoving a plastic tube down my nose. Is it really something to show off?
The doctors and nurses have asked me the secret to my NG tube success. “Conviction,” I tell them, “it’s all about conviction.” I want the control of putting it in, and you have to just do it with conviction. A wishy-washy NG tube experience sucks – it hurts more and it’s more upsetting. A 1-2-3-done approach may be scarier at first, but is over quicker and less painful.
The bigger metaphor is this: live with conviction, love with conviction, run with conviction. Be direct and honest, intentional and genuine. My NG tube celebrity status allows me to educate more people about the truths about IBD, the real experiences of what we go through. This is my fourth hospitalization this semester, and that’s hard, I’m in a lot of pain and feeling miserable. I miss my family and sometimes I feel like I want to cry. Last night, after having an intense upchucking episode, my roomie – a lovely older woman who we’ll call Stacy – asked me if I need a hug and then Stacy said, “Mothers always know”. I have been so honored with exceptionally generous friends who come to ERs with me at 2 AM, and bring me more ostomy supplies, and text and email and call to stay in touch. Their support reminds me that I am loved and that I can do this.
Showing off doesn’t have to mean being conceited and self-obsessed. Showing off can mean that you’re willing to be vulnerable enough to show other the scars, the pain, the way you can place your own NG tube – all so that we are educating and enlightening. No one has ever called me a show-off, and I hope no one ever will – but I don’t mind being an IBD show-off so that our organization is seen, heard, and respected.
And remember, my best advice – whether it’s placing an NG tube or living your life – do it with conviction.