November 05, 2019
Eating is such a simple joy, and such a loss when swallowing issues make it difficult. But there are ways to savour real food, even when you need a PEG tube to deliver valuable nutrients
One of the joys of food – and it’s something that so-called ‘mindful eating’ reminds us of – is a pleasure that goes beyond flavour. It’s the feel of food in our mouth and the sensory tingle as even the smallest amounts hits our taste buds, whether that’s the sweet chill of a lick of ice cream or a sip of warming broth. Sadly, that feeling isn’t easily available to all.
Over the years I’ve been in practise, I’ve worked with many people who have found it difficult to chew and swallow in order to eat and nourish themselves, whether that’s due to conditions such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer or dementia. Patients as young as two to those in their later years. Patients like Patrick, who had Karposi’s sarcoma, a tumour in the mouth common in people who are HIV positive. Patrick loved me to tell him about the food I’d been eating, as if he could enjoy it by proxy. I took him some fresh strawberries in hospital, even though he could manage just a bite, and that moment – and the reaction to it – defined my career and led, 30 years later, to the launch of Nourish Drinks. (You can read more about Patrick and the foundation of Nourish by Jane Clarke here.)
Some people who cannot swallow easily require a PEG, which is a tube inserted directly into the intestine or stomach, sometimes via the nose, through which nourishing liquids can pass. In this way, the body can receive all the nutrients it needs. What it can’t do is provide the sensory joy of food and eating. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible to attempt chewing and swallowing at all. But there many people who, with a PEG to take away the stress of trying to eat enough, can still enjoy the sensation of food in their mouths. It could simply be a sip of soup, a drop of a Nourish Drink, or a smidgen of Greek yoghurt.
Taking a moment really to savour the taste and sensation of food – even better, if it’s in the company others – can do so much to make us feel a part of the world and not isolated or defined by our illness. Even when you need a PEG tube to deliver the majority of your nourishment, every mouthful matters.