We all have days when we are in low spirits. Some days we experience pain, some days it’s mental exhaustion, and some days are a fog from loss of sleep. When it becomes the norm, this is life with GP.
A couple of definitions before I start;
A partner sometimes finds themselves wearing the hat of a caretaker when their spouse or significant other becomes ill or disabled. We become a key part in their overall treatment plan, working side by side with doctors and medical schedules and possibly assisting in managing medications, even medical supplies. When the person you love has been diagnosed with Gastroparesis you might find yourself trying to both understand what it is, what it means and how to pronounce it. By the time you hear this word and the quick brief description of what it is and the series of additional tests that may follow along with treatment plans, you are thankful for a diagnosis but left unsure and questioning what it all means. Now, imagine what your partner who is experiencing all of these symptoms of Gastroparesis and has been handed, most likely a photocopied definition and description of what GP means, is thinking and feeling. Sure, it’s a diagnosis and the symptoms and chaos has a name but what does it mean? What will it mean for the two of you as a couple, as parents?
The hardest part is holding her hand or wondering if you can stay in the room, the house, the same space when you watch, as she fights with the physical pain, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, sedation from anti-nausea medications and side effects from any of the multitude of prescriptions that have out balanced her actual food intake. As men, we want to fix the problem and the reality is that with Gastroparesis, there is nothing we can do to help except to be there, supportive, understanding and educate ourselves with what GP is and what it is not. We cannot think that if we can make them eat that we will have somehow fixed the problem, our partner cannot eat herself to wellness. If it were that easy, I would not be writing this article.
I have talked about the relationship and a small primer on what a partner can possibly expect but the reality is that life changes on a social level for your loved one. So much of our lives centralize around food focused events. With that now in mind it is best not to excluded family and friends or overly dismiss invitations to events but rather approach them differently. We often go with a smaller appetite and that way I can support my partner in eating a small amount which also takes the obvious smaller portion of food. If an event includes a meal followed by a gathering or movie, etc. we just plan on showing up after the scheduled meal time. Of course, as the years have passed and more people are aware of my wife's Gastroparesis, we find that invites come with an accommodations of food items that are known GP friendly (if there ever is a real GP friendly food) or she simply puts a little of this and a little of that on her plate and then discreetly exchanges the plate with me at some point during the event after snacking what she can. This is what we have found to work for us in social food related situations. Each couple can find their team approach to social and food gatherings, whether in public or home hosted events.
One of the biggest challenges after taking the time to truly learn about what Gastroparesis is and how it affects the life of your partner and then how to support her in a very food focused public is to adjust home life to accommodate this new and challenging lifestyle. Start helping with the shopping by noting and discussing what she/he feels to be GP friendly foods and if you notice items that she has been able to keep down share those with her. Create a list of foods that you carry with you in your wallet or notebook so that if you are out shopping you can make sure these items are quick to remember and are included when you plan on making a meal or stopping by to stock the fridge and cupboards. It also can come in handy if you stop to pick up a drive-thru quick meal, you might know she can tolerate yogurt or pancakes and it just happens that where you are at they have it ready to go and everyone is included for the ‘take out’ meal. One last but very important tip that I would like to share and it comes back to communication; never just bring food home to your partner with Gastroparesis, call first and ask how her appetite or tummy is feeling. She may not want to even smell food or she might be hungry but her stomach is just not playing fair and bringing food home will only be cruel for her to have to smell and not be able to eat.