Brian Kellett, a paramedic who in “most cases [is] completely against force-feeding,” nevertheless deems the Mos Def video “propaganda”:
I have placed more NG tubes than I can remember and I have never seen a reaction as strong as that shown in the first video. It certainly isn’t very pleasant to have a NG tube inserted as it tickles the back of the throat that makes you want to gag (or swallow), but it is not this apparent torture that is being shown. An NG tube is inserted in hospitals for a number of reasons, sometimes for surgery, sometimes because a patient cannot swallow. In the first video Yasiin Bey [aka Mos Def] isn’t given water to drink during the procedure, but in many of my patient’s I also couldn’t give them anything to drink to ease the passing of the tube as these patients would have no gag reflex and so giving them water could result in them inhaling rather than swallowing the water. Inhaling water can have side effects that include death.
Yasiin Bey is also shown to be resisting, while the person in the [above] video is complying with instructions. Many of the patients that I passed an NG tube into had some form of confusion, either due to a stroke, due to dementia or due to a multitude of other causes . In some cases I would be passing a tube into the stomach of someone against their will because they had tried to commit suicide and were under a Mental Health Section.
Even in these cases I never saw a reaction as strong as that of Yasiin Bey.
A reader has a very different take:
I have a rare condition called Multiple System Atrophy, which involves a number of progressive diseases/conditions. But of all of the painful things I’ve endured, feeding tubes take the prize.
I first encountered NG tubes in 2002, when after a bout of pancreatitis I found my stomach completely without function. After about a week, the decision was made to insert a nasal tube. I can never forget that experience. Two nurses came to insert the tube. They explained what the process would be, telling me it would be mildly uncomfortable. Undersale of the century. They tried inserting it in the right nostril first. Whether I already had a deviated septum or they caused it with poor technique, they couldn’t get the tube to pass. It turns out they also forgot to apply the numbing agent, meaning I felt every bit of the pressure and pain of the first attempt.
They moved to the left nostril. This time, they remembered the xylocaine or lidocaine, but it really made no difference. It was mildly uncomfortable in the way that the New York Yankees are a recreational baseball team. I have never felt such pain – not even in proctological or urological procedures. Well, maybe it is similar to the urological ones. I felt as if I was drowning as the burning hot sensation passed from my nasal cavity to my throat. I began dry heaving, with the most intense gagging sensation I’d ever felt. The hose didn’t move easily, and the nurses were literally pushing against the resistance with jabbing movements.
Once it was in, it felt like there was a knife in my throat. For days, I was gargling liquid lidocaine to dull the stabbing sensation. The pain was constant and would keep me awake. As my tube was more permanent than the ones being used at Gitmo, I had more issues than are relevant to the discussion. But suffice it to say, there were more issues caused by the tube than I care to remember, and they ultimately had to move me to a surgical feeding tube because of the issues with the NG.
I am in a place right now where I am wasting away. My stomach has no peristaltic function. Two years ago, I weighed 215 pounds. Today, I tip the scales at 125. A 5’10” man in his late thirties, I have the build of a prepubescent boy. My biceps are now smaller than my wrists used to be. But I cannot bring myself to being fed by a tube again, either temporary or permanent. I love my family, and want to spend as much time with them as I’m given, but my wife and I agree that when I was living with a tube, I was not really living; I just wasn’t dead.
I have extremely mixed feelings when it comes to Guantanamo Bay and the hunger strikes. On one hand, Congress has made it almost impossible for the Administration to return those prisoners who are cleared, as the requirement of absolute certainty that those released won’t engage in terrorist acts is not something that can ever be 100% fulfilled. And letting prisoners die would be an absolute disaster, both politically and on a human level. But I also know that forcing a plastic tube up the noses and down the throats of human beings is torturous, if not outright torture. Every politician and military leader who has caused or supports this situation should be forced to endure just one session of restraint and insertion. Until then, it will be seen as just another process issue by the game players in Washington, who are more interested in scoring political points than ending the very real humanitarian crisis that we have created in Cuba.
Update from a reader:
I’ve had a naso-gastric tube inserted twice, each time as part of the treatment for a bowel obstruction. I can confirm what others have said: it ranks up there with the worst things I’ve ever experienced. That said, my reaction was nothing like Yasiin Bey, in no small part because the thing I was being treated for was a bowel obstruction (and its subsequent complication, pancreatitis), which is also on the list of the worst things I’ve ever experienced, and which I was willing to endure almost anything to alleviate, up until the tube went in and the gag reflexes and pain from the plastic tube chafing against my nasal passage and throat started. Yasiin Bey seemed to exhibit none of the gag reflexes and dry heaving that I experienced every time, which really made me wonder if the tube was really being fully inserted. The only time I’ve ever seen an NG tube inserted was when it was going into my own nose, so I really can’t say if my experience was typical or not. I can say two things for sure: first, I think Yasiin got off easy. Second, the “paramedic” who claims the tube “tickles the back of the throat” is correct in the same way, to quote one of your earlier correspondents, that the Yankees are a recreational baseball team.
Fortunately, one of my NG tube insertions was in California, where we don’t have strong strictures against pain killers. Dilauded, a wonderfully potent opiate, made me unable to concentrate on anything for even sixty seconds, but also numbed the pain in my nasal passage, throat, and stomach, where the end of the tube was constantly poking into my stomach wall, enough that I could manage to sleep at night. The other time I had an NG tube inserted was in Arizona, where they felt that miniscule amounts of morphine were more than adequate to kill pain. They weren’t. The pain was constant, twenty-four hours a day, and was only tolerable if I didn’t move. Sleep was nearly impossible: moving my head in any way pulled on that tube, increasing the pain and scratching more tissue off my already raw throat.
Yasiin also missed out on the best part of the entire experience. His tube was in for only a few minutes before being removed. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – like having a tube in for days before it’s pulled out. Even though every nurse that extracted my tubes pulled them out slowly and carefully, extraction is also painful, as the tube rubs for its entire length against the now raw surface of your throat and nasal passages. When the tube finally rounds the last turn and pulls free, the sudden feeling of relief is indescribable.