After my latest surgery, my bowel didn’t wake up for two weeks and I ended up having an NG tube. I feel quite lucky that it was my first one and I have had Inflammatory Bowel Disease for over 16 years. So I thought I would write a post about it.
An NG tube is a flexible tube that is passed through the nose, down through the esophagus, and into the stomach. It can be used to either remove substances from or add them to the stomach.
You can see a video below from Geeky Medics on YouTube about how an NG tube is inserted.
My experience of having the NG tube inserted was that it was a little scary at first. I had to have it because I had an ileus. My bowel didn’t wake up after surgery for two weeks. I have an ileostomy and nothing was coming out of it at all. So I couldn’t eat but my stomach was filling with bile. I needed to have that removed from my system.
The nurse did it at my bedside and talked me through what would happen. I was given a glass of water with a straw to drink as she inserted it. She inserted the NG tube into my nose and it felt very weird! As it reached the back of my throat, I started to gag. She told me to take a sip of water and swallow it down. I did gag a little and she asked me to try and relax which is easier said than done! But eventually it went down.
She then tried to aspirate the tube. Which means she put a large syringe on it and drew it back, this should have brought some fluid up but didn’t. So unfortunately, she had to take the tube out as it was in the wrong position. As she pulled the tube up, it made me gag and cough. Then we went for round 2! It felt the same but once it was in, she could draw fluid and it was in the right place.
When she aspirated the tube, she immediately drew off almost 2 litres of bile from my stomach. I felt the relief almost immediately. Then she left it to drain and another few litres came out over the next few hours.
I think there is a really bad reputation around NG tubes. Another nurse had mentioned one before. She said “Oh you should try everything you can so you don’t have to have the NG tube!” and that really scared me and made me not want it.
Unfortunately, I was still vomiting with the NG tube in. When that happened I felt like I was choking and couldn’t breathe. This made me panic so much and I began to cry. I felt so scared and I didn’t really understand the tube. I thought as so much had come out through the tube that it meant it had been cleared. So I asked them to take the tube out.
Then over the next few days, it all built up again. I was told that your body creates a few litres of bile every day to help you digest food. And as my bowel wasn’t working there was no where for all this bile to go! So it was building up more and more. I was vomiting, my stomach looked 9 months pregnant and I was in agony. The nurse came and said she thought I needed the NG tube. I didn’t really understand what was going on and asked if it would help. She said it was the only thing that would help. So of course I said yes.
tube number 2
She inserted another tube and drained off litres of bile. I then kept that tube in for the next 8 days until my bowel started working. It is uncomfortable. I could feel it at all times in the back of my throat and I had to learn to cope with that. It helps to try not to swallow and when you feel it in the throat to take some deep breaths.
I can’t lie. I found it really uncomfortable the whole time. But having had one in and it taken out, and the pain and suffering I felt in that time, I knew I needed to keep it in for as long as my bowel was asleep.
draining the tube
The NG tube is attached to a drainage bag that is pinned to your top to avoid it dragging on your nose. It drains whenever the stomach fills with bile and you don’t have any control over that. As you move around or change position, it can suddenly fill up quite quickly.
Then the nurses or you can open the bottom of the drainage bag and empty it into a bowl. My team were measuring what was coming out, so they took it away to measure. And periodically or when I started to feel swollen or in pain or sick, the nurse would come and aspirate the tube. Again, this means that they put a large syringe on the tube and pull it back to draw up anything in the stomach.
This tube was kept in for 8 days till my bowel started working and things could get through my system. Whilst the tube was in, I wasn’t allowed to eat and could only take sips of water. So I was also on a drip for fluids and Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) for nutrients.
If you are faced with a situation where you are told you need an NG tube, it can be really scary. It was uncomfortable for me. Though I have spoke to other people who said after a day or two they stopped noticing it. But regardless of the discomfort, I have to say that having the tube in was so so much better than the pain, swelling and sickness of not having it in when my bowel wasn’t working and it was the only way in and out of my body!!
I hope this blog helps a little. I have no medical training. This is only a description of my personal experience of having an NG tube for the purposes of dealing with ileus and bowel blockage. If you have any concerns about your own health, please speak to your own doctor or medical professional.