College life is a challenge for everyone—keeping up with grades, making friends, dealing with a new routine and living on your own for the first time is a big deal.
Add a feeding tube to the mix and some more questions or anxieties may cross your mind, whether you’ve had a tube for a while or are entirely new to enteral feeding. Unfortunately, there’s no manual for navigating college life, much less college life with a tube. But here are a few tips that can help you get your new routine and lifestyle started on the right track.
Know where to go. As soon as you arrive on campus, know where the closest clinic, ER, and hospital is. If you’re across state lines, know where to go for care while you’re away from your home network of doctors.
Plan for supplies. You should also know where you’ll get your supplies while you’re at school. Whether a family member is sending them to you, or you’ll get them from a local home health company, it’s important to have a plan in place ahead of time. If you’re managing your own budget or health insurance, it’s important you understand costs for your feeding supplies and basic insurance coverage and reimbursement policies. Working these details out before you head to school can help you handle many situations you could come across.
Tell a few friends. How and when you share your personal information is up to you. Letting your roommates or RA (resident assistant) know about your feeding tube or details about your medical condition may be helpful for your health and safety. Sharing can also give you a chance to get in front of questions, stop any misconceptions, and create an opportunity to be candid about your situation, so they can see past your tube and get to know you. As you may have already experienced, some people are curious about something that’s new or different from them. Let them know that a feeding tube is just another way to eat and stay healthy and you can still do many of the things that they can. Tell them your feeding tube shouldn’t stop them from including you in fun college outings and activities.
Be aware of your feelings. With so many new changes, you may feel overwhelmed. This is normal for anybody. The social scene, in particular, can be stressful to navigate. Many outings and activities with friends revolve around eating and drinking. Are you ok going out with the group, but not participating in all the action? If so-great, do it! If not, that’s ok too. The great thing about college is, a friend or group of friends who feel the same way is out there, you just have to find them. Be honest about what you’re comfortable (and happy) doing, whether it includes details about your condition or not. And when it comes to taking care of yourself and getting the proper nutrients, figure out what’s right for you. Plan your feedings according to your schedule and comfort level. You may feel better feeding in your dorm room or you may be okay in the cafeteria or under your favorite tree or right along with everyone else working on their term papers—only you can make that call.
Find other Tubies. Even if your new group of friends are supportive and inclusive, there are times when we just need to talk to someone who can relate to us on another level. Maybe you aren’t aware of a fellow tubie on campus. Don’t forget that online support is at your fingertips. Perhaps it can even connect you with someone in your area. Online support groups on Facebook and other forums can help you get answers to questions you may have, or just provide a sounding board for what you’re going through. Here are a few forums, pages, and groups that may be helpful:
The Mighty is a safe, supportive community for people facing health challenges and the people who care for them.
My MIC-KEY* Facebook page provides various information about enteral feeding, as well as a great way to interact with fellow tubies.
A site for every stage, and every age of your feeding tube journey.
An organization that offers both online resources to the tube feeding community, as well as hosts in-person conferences attended by feeding tube users, caregivers, and clinicians that cover a variety of topics related to living with a feeding tube.
College is an amazing place where you can learn and grow in so many ways. Having a feeding tube shouldn’t stop you from exploring new adventures. Your tube gives you the strength and energy you need to make the most out of this new and exciting part of your journey!
Feeding tubes give you the strength and energy to study, participate in school events and even hang out late on the weekends!