EATING is something we all take for granted. Some of us eat to live — others live to eat.
But for Kath Sutherland-Cash, who is fed by artificial nutrition, eating is not on the menu.
After years of being unable to digest food without bringing it back up again due to stomach paralysis — meaning she was unable to move food through her body —she became dangerously malnourished.
But 16 months ago Kath was relieved to be able to receive nutrition via a tube in her nose.
Instead of three square meals, Kath has liquidised food bottles, which contain 1,000 calories each, which she ingests via her tube — it takes up to 10 hours.
Despite this, she still makes mealtimes with her family a big deal — getting involved with cooking, which she loves, and also more importantly the chatter that goes along with it.
Since her tube was fitted, Kath has been actively involved with PINNT (Patients on Intravenous and Naso-gastric Nutrition Therapy), which is currently hosting its first awareness week.
As well as working at her day job supporting disabled people, she is working with PINNT to set up a support group in Greater Manchester.
The mum-of-two, from Heaton, said: “People get really worried about my tube and ask me whether it hurts, but it doesn’t once it’s been fitted.
“I can’t eat because the signals in my brain are not being sent to the muscles in my stomach, which is effectively paralysed. So if I eat something three and a half hours later the food is still in my stomach.”
Her problems started when she was 22 when she injured her knee on the side of a table.
She said: “From then on I couldn’t walk any more. I then developed complex regional pain syndrome in 1998 and, as a result of that, I don’t feel pain any more.
“I can put my hand in the oven to take food out and not feel it and I have problems gauging my body temperature.”
The 44-year-old stopped being able to eat properly in 2011 and was finally given a feeding tube in March last year.
She said: “I feed during the daytime but, because I have a tendency to be sick, I have to feed slowly.
“My version of a Big Mac — 1,000 calories in a bottle — will take me 10 hours to feed. So I am still technically malnourished.”
Kath, who is also blind, needs someone with her round the clock, and says her wonderful husband Alan Cash, aged 58, who works with her, and their two children, Kyle, aged 25, and Kirsty, aged 22, are a great support.
She said: “When I had to start feeding from a tube I had to explain to my family all about my new lifestyle and they have really helped me and have been a wonderful support.
“Because of my other problems I very rarely feel hungry or thirsty, but I make sure I have cups of tea or milky coffee even if I can only sip at them.
“I always try to sit down at mealtimes with the family and try to eat a small amount of solid food, such as boiled fish, but again I have to be careful because I often bring it back up.
“It is the social act of sitting together as a family that is important. I don’t want to miss out on that.
“Even on the days where I am nil by mouth I still sit with them and get involved with the cooking and the chatter.”
Kath now works for a company called Action on Disability and Work UK, which has recently merged from Association of Disabled Professionals.