A few weeks ago, my husband's grandmother got a permanent feeding tube. At 95 years old, this was only one in a line of medical interventions addressing her declining health for the last several months.
Despite her various health issues, she has not taken this transition well. And who can blame her? Food is tied to so many of life's rituals and pleasures. Food itself gives us pleasure and no matter how limited our diet, we take pleasure from some of the foods that we can eat. It is part of our survival. We enjoy food so that we will eat so that we will live.
Her socializing is someone crippled at the moment anyway with hospital stays, but I keep thinking of how much this will impact nearly all of our interactions with her. This is a woman who loves food. A woman who is renowned in her circles for her crab salad and pear pie. A woman for whom Christmas would not be complete if she couldn't give family members homemade fudge and pecan tarts (the latter of which I, of course, have never tasted.)
This is also a woman who long ago admitted that she doesn't need more stuff, and to whom we have mostly given consumable gifts as well. Wine, Kahlua, and other alcohol; our own homemade cookies; and meals to help her out. What sort of gifts do you give a person who doesn't want more things and now cannot eat?
Not eating is even slowing her recovery. During a previous stay at a rehab center, she had 3 long walks every day on her way to and from the dining hall for meals. If she was unwilling to do any other physical therapy, she got that much exercise, at least. Now she doesn't even get that, plus she's missing out on the social time of meals.
She does get to drink a little water and try eating some easy-to-swallow foods when a speech therapist comes by, but that's all. (And by the way, the liquid nutrition prescribed to her contains dairy and soy. Just an allergy side note.)
During this time, I can't help but think about the parallels between her current situation and the lives of people with food allergies. As we all know, food allergies limit us in social situations that involve food. Getting a feeding tube just exacerbates these situations. It's like all-of-a-sudden being allergic to everything, but without the cross contact risk.
Something else I've been thinking about is that this situation just goes to show that while food allergies aren't fun (in fact food allergies can often suck) there are still many other and worse things that can happen to us. I'm grateful that our family can still eat out as long as we are careful of ingredients. I'm grateful that we have fun food rituals and can enjoy our favorite meals and desserts. I'm glad that we are all healthy so long as we avoid our triggers. I'm glad that food allergy living forces us to cook more from scratch and so we are eating healthier, more wholesome food most of the time. And I'm glad that we are learning so much about nutrition and can teach our children healthy eating habits, so that hopefully we can all remain healthy long into our twilight years.
My husband's grandmother has made miraculous recoveries in the past, so we are all hoping that she can regain her throat strength and her overall strength, and begin feeding herself again. Because no matter how allergy-friendly you slice it, food is a very important part of our lives.