By Dylan Landis.
Food Could Kill My Mother, But I Respected Her Choice to Eat
If my mother ate, she could die.
She could choke from laryngeal spasm, her doctor said, or, more likely, liquid and food particles would slip down her tracheostomy tube to her lungs and cause a fatal aspirational pneumonia. She was N.P.O., nil per os, nothing by mouth. Even a glass of water could kill her.
But my mother, Erica, wanted everything by mouth: she refused to refuse food. She snuck scraps off my father’s plate at their Sleepy Hollow, NY, apartment: cornbread, pasta, cake. “Without food,” she said, “there is no pleasure in my life.” She hated her new appendages: the blue tube jutting from her throat, from which a nurse suctioned phlegm with a noisy machine, and a stomach tube, thin and flexible as a tail, that hooked up to a feeding pump.
It didn’t take long for her to get dangerously sick. I thought she might die—but she came home from the hospital asking, daily, “When can I eat?” Soon, I would say, lying. When you stop coughing. She’d never stop. When you pass the swallowing test. She’d never pass. They gave her sips of water and she choked. Her hands lay still in her lap when she asked me about food. Because my father, too, was in a wheelchair, only I had the ability to make her a cup of coffee, a half cup, even a quarter cup, in one of her delicate porcelain mugs adorned with birds. I felt guilty, not like a daughter but a parent. Her own mother had been tyrannical; she didn’t need that from me. When my mother was a girl, anything she refused to eat would appear at the next meal, and the next, and the next. Her mother always won. Continue Reading…