Being on a Feeding Tube Won’t Stop My Husband From Cooking On Thanksgiving

By on November 14, 2019
Thanksgiving

My husband, Steve is preparing a sumptuous holiday feast this Thanksgiving complete with succulent turkey, a tart cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with maple syrup, and a freshly baked apple pie. His own meal will come from a feeding tube – he can’t eat or drink. It’s been four years.

Holiday meals were always special for us during our 43 years of marriage. Regardless of how busy we were in hectic jobs, we found time to research and discuss recipes with the analytical skills of a lawyer, compile a list of ingredients with the precision of an accountant, spend hours in specialty stores as if we were shopaholics and finally many hours later, savor cooking together.

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There were always family and friends squeezed around our crowded dining room.   The laughter, the ooh’s and ah’s as we ate, the chitchat, and most of all the togetherness. Nothing pleased us more.

Sometimes we’d go to someone else’s home and bring a specially prepared dish to share. I was known for my homemade banana bread covered in a sticky toffee sauce. Steve was known for bringing a store-bought lemon meringue pie that everyone devoured.  

At times, we invented our own holiday. Every spring, we’d venture to the lower eastside and wait for at least 30-minutes for a table at Katz Delicatessen to share a salty, overflowing corned-beef sandwich with oozing mustard spread evenly across two thick, freshly baked pieces of rye bread.  We called it our “Annie eats meat holiday,” since it was the one time each year other than Thanksgiving that I forfeited being a pescatarian. It was worth it.

And on Christmas Day, it was Chinese food in Chinatown where we shared plates of steamed shrimp dumplings, vegetable lo mein, fried rice and sizzling hot spare ribs with barbecue sauce for Steve.

On special occasions – birthdays, our anniversary and celebrations, there was the rich and dark completely decadent chocolate cake with a glass of vintage wine or Jack Daniels on the rocks.  

We loved it all and took it for granted.

After surviving stage 4-throat cancer followed by open-heart surgery, Steve started aspirating when swallowing. The result – he suffered several bouts of pneumonia. “Eating by mouth is too dangerous,” all of his doctors said and one surgically inserted a gastrostomy tube into his stomach.” 

Our lives changed drastically. We felt as if we were living a nightmare.  We made adjustments. 

Now, Steve has his meals several times a day, in our living room using a syringe to pour liquid nutrition into his g-tube. He keeps the television playing so he won’t fall asleep. It’s astonishing; every television show except for the news, at some point, has people eating and drinking.  It’s a way of life. I can’t help but notice. Steve does too.

My meals are by myself too, at a small kitchen table where we used to eat together. Occasionally Steve wanders in.

“What are you eating?  It smells good.”

“Nothing special.” I don’t want him to feel he’s missing something but of course he is.

With great effort, and through the guidance and patience of a swallowing therapist, he travels from NY to Boston for therapy and can now sip a few tablespoons of tea or water. He follows a routine – bending his neck, tilting his head to the left and then coughing three times to make sure the liquid goes down his throat and not his trachea.  It’s a breakthrough.

Recently, he started watching cooking shows while doing his feeding. 

“Steve, I’m surprised you’re watching that?”

“Why?”

“You know why,” I say without stating the obvious.

“These shows are great. It builds up my appetite.”

Of course we both painfully miss the days when we shared eating and we feel it most of all on the holidays. All the advertisements for food, restaurant deals, and friends awkwardly telling us about their plans which all involve eating. 

Then something changed. A day before last New Years Eve, Steve said, “I learned some good tips on those cooking shows. Since you don’t eat meat, get some fish. I’ll cook you dinner.”

I quickly took him up on the offer and bought a raw lobster tail, a bag of fresh vegetables, and several red potatoes which he grilled oozing olive oil and sprinkling spices over the dish like a chef. How could I not cry when Steve presented me with a magnificent plate of food accompanied by a glass of champagne?

Now on special occasions, Steve cooks a meal for me. Sautéed codfish with vegetables – carrots, broccoli, olives, and onions has become his signature dish. Sometimes he prepares salmon, swordfish, and even paella. He’s an amazing cook and the smells fill our kitchen with wonderful aromas. He enjoys watching me eat, his eyes filled with love. 

This year, for the first time since being on a feeding tube, Steve invited several of our family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner. He’s cooking and is already planning the menu. He won’t be eating or drinking but he’ll have a seat at the table and participating in the conversation.  

Thanksgiving is a time for sharing meals and giving thanks for all we have.  It hasn’t been easy for either of us. We know we are here for each other. That’s what makes the holiday really special. 

Ann Gorewitz currently lives in NYC with her husband Steve and cocker spaniel puppy Cassie. She has published essays in the Daily News and Medium, and is currently working on a memoir. 

 

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Being on a Feeding Tube Won’t Stop My Husband From Cooking On Thanksgiving