No One Wants a Girl with a Feeding Tube

CW: Hospital Imagery

No One Wants a Girl with a Feeding Tube
Photo by Marcelo Leal / Unsplash

by Jillian Eagan

In my defense, I didn’t lie about anything. None of my matches asked if I was in the hospital. It’s true, I didn’t bring it up, so if I’m guilty of anything, I’m guilty of lying by omission.

It might be a Gen-Z thing. All of the nurses were stunned that I never turned on the TV that hung precariously off the wall opposite my bed.

“Kids your age usually never turn it off.” One of them noted. I wasn’t about to tell her that most ‘kids’ my age- twenty-three, might I add- don’t watch TV. We tend to watch things on our laptops or phones.

Besides, I knew there was nothing on that TV that I wanted to watch.

My first roommate only played Fox news’ 24/7 coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

My second roommate played the church channel where she listened to the rosary prayer.

My third roommate didn’t speak English, so she put on the channel with classical music set to the background of nature scenes.

My TV remained off the entire two weeks of my stay. But there’s only so much Netflix you can watch. Of course, there were distractions constantly popping up on my phone. Well-timed notifications from dating apps.

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Being in a hospital makes you so desperate for entertainment and any sort of human connection, that even dating apps start to sound appealing.

The good thing about those apps, a strange thing to say, is that they made me feel younger. Being in a hospital, where the average age is probably around sixty, was unnerving.

And it certainly made me feel a bit more desirable, being that I had been languishing away in sweatpants, trying my best to make my hair work with the hospital-issued three-in-one shampoo, conditioner, and body gel. Of course, they were swiping on pictures of me from that past summer where I looked considerably healthy at a party and not recovering from malnutrition sitting in a hospital bed. Is it technically catfishing if you’re the one in the photos, just…different?


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Hey! What’s up?

Nothing much, watching TV, HBU?

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Same, just a lazy Sunday

Again, I wasn’t lying. I was watching TV and it was Sunday. Although I hadn’t even realized it was Sunday because all of my days had blurred together. But I could only imagine what would happen if I had been honest.

Nothing really, just been in the hospital for a week. I’m struggling because I’ve been sick for about five months. Do you want to date me?

There’s nothing cute about being in the hospital. Nothing cute about the itchy socks with grippy bottoms so you don’t face plant on the linoleum floor. Nothing cute about IV drips. Nothing cute about blood sugar tests. Nothing cute about discussing your symptoms with doctors you’ve only just met.

So, I pretended I was elsewhere. Lounging on my couch, eating junk food, procrastinating, texting friends about tomorrow’s plans. Things that kids my age should be doing.

I didn’t meet my soulmate during those long evenings in the hospital and I’m relieved for that.

But I’ll say this, I was lucky to have my NG tube in during a pandemic. And that’s the last time you’ll hear me use the word ‘lucky’ in the same sentence as ‘pandemic’ and ‘NG tube’. The only reason I mention this is because I could wear a face mask without anyone looking at me funny. However, if anyone got close enough, they could see the inconsistencies with my appearance.

I had tape on my cheek to hold in place the little tube sticking out of my nose. It sometimes jutted out from behind the mask, so I always had to wear my hair down to conceal it more. It was complicated and required more math than I’d done since graduating high school.

This many liters a day…how many liters an hour…if I’m on it twelve hours a day…off twelve…that means…I’m bad at math, that’s what it means.

It was supposed to be subtle and easy. I’d made a compromise, stay in the hospital on tube feeds or do the tube feeds on my own and get back to my college education. I chose the latter without thinking.

The next day after being discharged, four boxes from a medical supply company arrived at my apartment door. Four heavy boxes that I had to carry up four flights of stairs after being in the hospital.

My new life was pouring little bottles of baby-formula-smelling-liquid into a bag, hooking that bag up to a retractable IV pole, programming a finicky little machine, and falling asleep listening to the droning of the pump. Every so often, the machine would beep shrilly and I had to trouble shoot the issue before it would shut up.

During the day I was in class and I prayed no one had X-Ray vision to see past my mask. Especially not him, the guy I had been interested in all semester. The one I would never work up the courage to ask out.

Nothing about NG tubes is attractive. The process of getting one in is just as disgusting as it is painful. It shattered my self-esteem and I felt like a walking medical zombie. Every time I saw that tube sticking out of my nose, I cringed. Forget the fact that it felt like I had a wad of sandpaper in my throat every time I swallowed.

And when I laughed, oh it hurt when I laughed. But he made me laugh all the time. That’s all I was, a little laughing shell of a woman, sitting in the far corner of the conference style table.

These were supposed to be the best years of my life. Yet, I was too afraid to even acknowledge myself in the mirror, how could I approach someone about a date? My self-esteem had vanished years ago but my medical ordeal made me feel inhuman. I had no worth, I was just some living, breathing thing being propped up by a tube and formula.

I graduated without the tube. Maskless and nervous, I wobbled across the stage in heels. Still underweight, there was still the looming threat of another hospital stay. I looked out for the boy who made me laugh. But I never saw him. Even if I had, I knew I wouldn’t have gone up to him. It still felt like I had an invisible feeding tube taped to my cheek. As if I had been branded SICK GIRL for the rest of my life.

But a few days before graduating, I saw a baby in a stroller with an NG tube. She wasn’t some monster who needed to be hidden away. So why was I? Why did I need to hide?

Maybe I didn’t need to hide.

Maybe it was just easier.

Jillian Eagan is a recent graduate of Emmanuel College in Boston, MA where she received her BA in Writing and Publishing. Her work has appeared in The Start Literary Magazine, Spoonie Magazine, and an upcoming edition of Wishbone Words Magazine. She frequently uses writing to cope with the lows of chronic illness.