I no longer have a J-Tube, but I lived with one for almost a year because I couldn’t eat anything by mouth. TPN nutrition can cause infection if used for a long period of time, and I wanted to be able to go home. The doctors gave me a J-Tube.
What Is a J-Tube: In layman’s terms, a J-Tube is a feeding tube that is inserted through the abdomen directly into the small intestine. It completely bypasses the stomach. J-Tube stands for jejunostomy tube. The jejunostomy is a part of the small intestine. J-Tubes are often used for cancer patients who cannot eat or cannot absorb nutrients, comatose patients, people with liver failure, and those with pancreatic disease. It directly delivers nutrients to the small intestine to avoid starvation.
My Story: The reason I needed one is because everything made me throw up, and I do mean everything, after losing almost all of my colon and much of my small intestine. To prevent starvation, my doctors inserted a J-Tube. It would become clogged and have to be replaced. At one point I was so thin and malnourished that the doctors couldn’t not insert a new one. Starvation was a real concern. My J-Tube saved my life. If you have one, it doesn’t mean you will always have one. Let me share some tips with you to make your J-Tube work for you.
Flushing Your J-Tube: This is the most important part of caring for your J-Tube. It can very easily become clogged and it isn’t pleasant having a new one placed. The nutrients are sticky and you need to flush your tube with lukewarm water before and after nutrition. If you have a constant, slow drip, I recommend flushing your tube every 3-4 hours. If you have dehydration issues, this can help with that as well. You’ll get more water this way. I recommend using bottled water to flush, since the water is absorbed by your intestine directly. Even if you properly flush your tube on a schedule, it can still become clogged. If you have cramping or feel nauseous, you may be ‘pushing’ the water in too fast. Slow down.
Tricks for Unclogging at Home: I learned this trick from Home Care Nurses. You can use Coca Cola and it will eat through the clog! If it’s a huge clog it won’t work, but it really does eat through the nutritional supplement clogs. Kind of scary when you think about drinking Coke isn’t it? Let it sit in the tube for a little while and try again.
You can also do a gentle suction, but make sure not to hurt the patient. Suck the clog with a syringe and then push fluid. Sometimes, a few minutes of this will unclog a J-Tube. Never use hot water, it could burn the persons intestines on the inside! Lukewarm water is best. Cold water can cause cramping.
Never stick anything into the tube to unclog it. There are little pipe cleaner looking things that are used to unclog tubes. You’ll have to get them at a specialty medical supply store or from home care nurses. My doctor had never even heard of them, but a nurse who was a friend of mine brought one from her workplace at a nursing home for me. They are truly lifesavers! They are flexible plastic and very thin, with little ridges or teeth and can be inserted into the tubing without causing harm. Using one of these is much easier than hours of suction, crying, coke, and having a new tube placed!
Sanitary and Travel: Always keep your tubing changed when you are scheduled too. You must maintain the highest level of cleanliness. The last thing you need is an infection. I know that having a J-Tube just sucks sometimes, but it’s keeping you from dying! I bet you have more energy than you did before you got it, don’t you? You can get a little backpack to wear that allows you to take it with you anywhere you go. You don’t have to be stuck in the house. For at home, there are IV poles that are compact and lightweight that you can wheel around the house.