It’s probably pretty rare for someone who has had Crohn’s disease for 16 years to have never had an NG tube. While I have dealt with my share of complications from IBD, I have never dealt with a true bowel obstruction, either before my surgery or after. I have had a couple of times where I have had smaller blockages since getting an ostomy (and I realize now that saying “major” blockage was a gross overstatement) and have written posts about my first two hospitalizations during my pregnancy. After my third hospitalization in as many weeks during my first pregnancy, I realized what a true blockage really entailed.
So let me just say that an NG tube is one of the least enjoyable things I have ever had to deal with because of Crohn’s disease. I’m not trying to scare anyone who is faced with getting one, but I also want to be honest about my experience. Especially because for something like this, it really helps to be prepared prior to getting one.
For anyone who doesn’t know, an NG tube is a tube that goes in through your nostril, down your throat and into your stomach. It can be used to pump food or medication straight into the stomach or can be used to suction out what’s already inside.
This story started around midnight one Thursday in 2015, when again I woke up with pain around my stoma and almost no output. I spent the day dealing with the pain and praying it would pass. Then, around 5:00 that evening, I started throwing up. Occasionally at first, but by the time I went to bed I was getting up every half-hour to hour to throw up, even when there was nothing in my stomach. I couldn’t even get water down at this point. My husband ended up driving me to the ER around 2:00 a.m. despite how much neither of us wanted to go back there. (Again, I had already been admitted to the hospital twice in the two week preceding.)
They checked me into the Labor & Delivery floor to make sure that everything was fine with the baby, and thankfully everything was. I was begging for IV fluids at this point because I was so severely dehydrated. They started talking about an NG tube, but since I hadn’t thrown up since I’d arrived they held off at first. But once I threw up again, they decided it was time.
For me, I needed the NG tube in order to pull out all of the contents of my stomach and some of my intestines. The idea is to remove as much as possible in order to allow your intestine to relax and move the rest of the contents along. When the nurse first came in, she straight up told me that it was not going to be pleasant. Of course I knew this, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be.
They insert a long plastic tube that goes in one nostril and once it starts moving down your throat, you have to keep swallowing in order to help move it down to the stomach. Now I don’t consider myself to have a particularly strong gag reflex, but as soon as that thing got past my nostril and into my throat I couldn’t help but start gagging, and ended up coughing it out my mouth and having to start over.
On the second try, they were able to get it down my throat, despite my crying and gagging and, yes, puking, as it went down. What made it worse, though, is the fact that since my internal organs are all out of sorts because of my pregnancy, they weren’t exactly sure how far in it needed to go. They ended up having to twice move it down even farther. This picture was taken once we finally got that thing down my throat and into the correct position.
I kept hoping once it was in that I would just get used to it and at least somewhat forget it was there. No such luck. It felt like I had the worst sore throat of my life, as every time I swallowed or spoke I could feel the tube rubbing my throat. Then you have this giant tube coming out of your nose and connected to something else that will either pump things in or suck things out, which makes it very difficult to really do much of anything. I slept a lot that day, I think just so I didn’t have to be so conscious of it.
With all of that said, I do have to admit that it made a huge difference. I had the tube in for probably 30 hours, which I realize is a very short time compared to what many others have been through. I have so much more respect for those of you who have dealt with NG tubes much more often and for longer periods of time. Within about 12 hours for me, it alleviated so much of the pressure that had built up in my system and things started really moving along! (To the point that I woke up and my bag was coming off it was so full. Tons of fun at 3 a.m.) But I was thankful that it meant everything was starting to move again and the fact that I was able to leave the hospital just 2 days later. And I was in so much pain from the blockage previously that regardless of how horrible the tube was, it was worth it.
I was being cautious before about what I was eating, but now I am having to stay super vigilant with what I eat for the final few weeks of this pregnancy in order to ensure that I don’t have to return to the hospital for any reason besides a baby on the way! (And hopefully no more NG tubes.)
**FULL DISCLOSURE: Despite trying to be careful with what I ate, I still ended up back in the hospital with another blockage and needed another NG tube. This time they decided to include labor. You can hear more of that story here and here.**