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Learning How to Eat Again

Last updated: May 2018

From around February 2008, to about August 2008, I did not eat or drink anything. That’s right, about six months! The reason why the doctors in the hospital stopped my eating and drinking was because my output was way beyond what it should be.

I was on my third month, out of my year-long stay at Temple Hospital. The doctors went to reverse my ostomy, but had to leave my stomach open, due to a fistula that formed. The fistula was so large; I could stick my hand literally in my stomach. Every time I would eat or drink something, whatever I ate or drank, would come out of the fistula. The only way to slow my bowel down was to stop all food and liquid going into my gut. The doctors put me on Total Parenteral Nutrition, which was food via IV. It totally bypasses the gut but provides the nutrients that your body needs to survive.

I remember after about three months, I stopped becoming hungry.

I did not know what that feeling was. I stopped salivating, and I had to keep wetting my mouth with sponge sticks. Around the fifth month of not being able to eat, I would start having fun with the staff at Temple Hospital. I would call down to the food service department every single night. I would tell them that, “Richman never got his food tonight.” At first the food service staff would scurry to look through their notes, only to find out that they were not allowed to send me food. After a while, they would just answer the phone and say, “Hey Paul!

I remember telling the doctors that my first meal was going to be the biggest, fattest meal ever! Well that was just a fantasy. I soon learned that I could not just bite into a burger when my first meal came.

I actually had to train myself how to eat again.

I had a specialist come into my hospital room and teach me exercises to move my jaw, in the motion to bite. I then had to take a “swallow test,” to make sure food did not get stuck in my throat. I was to learn how to use a straw again, and how to take small sips when swallowing. I was like a baby learning how to eat for the first time.

Psychologically, it wasn’t easy. What do you mean I am not chewing correctly? What is considered a “small sip.” I used to chug beers, now I’m having trouble swallowing a small amount of water! It was hard to comprehend.

The first type of food that I had after six months of waiting was some chicken broth, then some applesauce.

I thought that I was going to be starving after eating the small amount. I was wrong! My stomach had shrunk to the size of a peanut, so I got full very quickly. Soon I started introducing small amounts of food, and my appetite came back very quickly. At times, I overate, and got sick, but most of the time I was calm, cool, and accepted that eating normally would be a slow paced behavior. I was determined though. I hope I never have to go through that awful experience again!

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