A Day in Jail with nasal tube for feeding

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It’s about 0530 AM when the guard opens the cell door and tells me it’s time to shave. I had to sign up the night before. He gives me a single edge disposable razor and a small paper cup filled with shaving cream.

I bring my plastic chair into the bathroom and sit down in front of the sink. I slowly wash my face and am careful to avoid the feeding tube. It’s taped to my nose and goes in via my left nostril. The last tube was in my right nostril and used to move freely.

This tube has been in since Wednesday and is jammed tight. It hurt going in and the Doctor said my nasal passages were more constricted on that side. The sinus pressure is always there, but the discomfort of swallowing is much worse.

I slowly wash and then spread the shaving cream on my neck, below my beard. As I slowly pull the razor I remember a couple of guards in the post asking me if I was sure I wanted to shave, that I look exhausted.

I have kept it up, every other day. I keep it up in response to my Air Force training for survival in prisoner environments. Keep yourself clean and dignified. Stick to a daily routine. I’m trying.

After shaving, I slide the razor under the cell door. The guard will pick it up later. I go back to bed. It is about 6 AM, another hour till breakfast. I do have the luxury of a hospital bed.

I have the head very elevated to keep the acid down. Since the tube goes down into the stomach, it prevents a small value from closing that keeps stomach contents out of the esophagus.

I can’t sleep on my back because of discomfort from the tube. The best I can do is my side. I don’t have a pillow. What I have is a towel I fold up near my head. To make it softer I cover it with a T-shirt.

I’m exhausted as I curl up on my side. I make the sign of the Cross, put my hands together and pray. I’ve rediscovered a sequence of prayers that I used to always say in bed when I was growing up at home. The Our Father – The Hail Mary – The Act of Contrition.

The memories come back of when I was a kid. It was a big house and there were always plenty of strange noises at night. I would pull the sheets over my head and pray, “God, keep me safe!” The prayer is not too different now. I want to just quit and tell them to pull this tube out of my throat. Can’t I just quit now? I pray for Faith & Strength. I pray for freedom.

It’s hard to get comfortable. I have to be careful not to snag the tube – ouch! I think I get a little sleep before they call, “Breakfast trays are here.”

This is a hospital ward. The cells open into a common area that has a small TV and chairs along with tables where we have our meals.

I get my tray. It has cereal and a piece of coffee cake. A small orange juice (4 oz) and some 1% milk (8 oz). The juice and milk is all I will have. I heat them up in a small microwave oven – it’s the only warm food I get. The tube feedings are all cold.

The guard is tracking what I eat. I have to sit at the table for a while to be tempted by the food. When I’m done, some of the other prisoners I know can finish my tray – they like that.

After breakfast, I go back to my cell and brush my teeth. At 0800 we have to lock-in to our cells till 0830 everyday. I sit on my bed and read a selection from the Book of Psalms in a Bible I was given by Jail Minister. They help prisoners with a lot of little things that can be very difficult when you are in Jail. During a previous sentence I found myself in Jail on Christmas – they made sure we all get a little gift. A clean pair of socks, a peppermint stick and a few candy bars – it was greatly appreciated! They are a wonderful group of people.

I read the Psalms slowly, I can relate to the cry for help, for justice, for protection. I’m also thankful for all I have – especially a son who loves me very much.

Because it is Sunday there is a change in routine. The guard calls for those who had signed up for Catholic services. If you want to go to services on Sunday, you have to sign up on Thursday, no exceptions.

The service is held in a large common area located on the first floor of the jail. There are about 50-60 prisoners there. I think only about 10 are practicing Catholicism. It’s unfortunate, but most of them are just there for something to do. Maybe to see friends from other areas of the jail. I’m sure the Priest and the other volunteers hosting the services know that. They are trying to spread Faith and you never know when the moment comes and someone is listening.

After the service it is back to our cell area, called a POD. Lunch trays arrive around 1100. I just take the 8 oz. Milk off my tray and warm it up. Swallowing is uncomfortable. We are locked in to our cells again between 12 and 1. Again, I take out my Bible and read more Psalms.

A little while later I hear the squeak of an IV stand and I know one of the nurses are coming to feed me. They open my cell and I sit at a table and uncoil the feeding tube from where it usually hangs over my neck.

They first use a big syringe to put some air through it while listening to my stomach with a stethoscope. That confirms proper placement. Then they pour 2 cans of Carnation Instant Breakfast into a bag, hang it from the cart and connect it to the tube. It takes about 20-30 minutes to drop in the 500 ml of liquid. I just sit there. There is no taste at all.

When done I’m careful not to lie down or the fluid could flow up my esophagus. They tell me to wait about an hour. The feeding normally happens 4 times a day; 0900, 1300, 1800, and 2200.

I do a little recreational reading in the afternoon and also make trips to our rec yard.

It is concrete on every side and opens only on one side to the outdoors. The lower half has translucent glass – so we can see directly outside. The upper half is a tight chain link. You can see the sky and feel the sun and the wind.

We get locked in again at 1430-1515. That is for shift change and the evening crew comes on duty.

There is a telephone we can use but it only places collect calls and the rates are not cheap. The jail also has an internal store system called Commissary. They carry a wide selection of food and snack items, personal hygiene, and stationery and stamps. If you are arrested with money, that goes into your jail account. Family can drop off cash at the jail or money orders by mail are accepted.

The jail food is okay, but there is not a lot of quantities. Some people order a lot of food every week. The jail keeps the profit from sales.

When the evening shift comes on they bring our mail. I usually get 3-4 letters each day and it is great reading the words of support. They help remind me of why I am here.

Dinner trays come around 1700. All I have is a cup of Kool-Aid that is served. Again, I heat it up in the microwave. Swallowing has become more difficult and the tube more uncomfortable. If I try to lie down I can sense acid in my throat even hours after a feeding.

We lock-in again between 1800-1900. Again, I brush my teeth and do reading from the Psalms. I normally also try to exercise in my cell during the lock-in following our meals. But the discomfort from the tube is just too much. To avoid the pain of swallowing I just let the saliva build up in my mouth and spit it into toilet paper.

In the evening I try to relax and distract myself for a while. A preseason football game provides the best relief.

At 2200 we lock in for the night. I just had my feeding and don’t even try to lie down. Sometimes I have more luck lying on one side versus the other — but it doesn’t matter tonight.

I get up to look at the clock, it’s 2 AM, it’s going to be a long night!