Before Dez Young was admitted to the Victoria General Hospital (VGH), he had no idea someone could survive without food for 16 days, and he certainly didn’t think someone in the care of a hospital would be forced to.
But, 11 months into his chronic care stay – first at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital, then at VGH – the 19-year-old has become well acquainted with the feeling of starving.
“I was begging for food and I wasn’t getting any,” Young said.
|Dez Young, 19, relies on a feeding tube to get his nutrition due to the long term effects of chemo therapy he received as a child.(Courtesy of Arabella Young)
He’s a childhood cancer survivor now dealing with the long term effects of two and a half years of chemotherapy. Last May, Dez started experiencing pain and nausea when he ate. He headed to the hospital thinking they would run some tests and have him out in a couple of weeks.
Instead, Dez was told his stomach could no longer process food on its own and he would now need to rely on a feeding tube inserted in the top of his small intestine to sustain nutrition. The problem is, every few months that tube cracks or falls out and, because Dez requires a radiologist to properly re-insert it and radiologists seem few and far between, he often goes days or weeks without food.
His mom, Arabella Young, estimates it’s happened eight or nine times now with 16 days being the longest. During that time, Dez is sustained on nothing but a saline or glucose IV. His already diminished body mass is reduced even further and his stay at the hospital is extended.
“Each time it’s a little harder because I have less energy stores to get me through it,” Dez said. “I’m not a normal nourished person who can just go without food for a few days.”
The last time his tube needed replacing was April 15. That weekend, friends and family gathered outside VGH with signs reading “Feed Our Child” and “Everyone Has a Right to Food”. On Monday night, Arabella said the hospital manager came out and promised to get Dez in. His time slot was bumped back several hours, but he did get his tube replaced.
|A small group gathered outside VGH, calling on the hospital to replace Dez Young's feeding tube, after he had already gone several days without food.(Courtesy of Arabella Young)
In order for Dez to be released from the hospital, he needs to build up his strength and be at a stable feed tube rate. But, every time he is waiting for a replacement, he seems to be pushed back behind more “urgent” operations. Dez said he’s extremely appreciative of the doctors and nurses on his floor who have tried their best to get him in, but that ultimately it isn’t in their control.
“While intentions are good,” Dez said, “we need resources and actual actions.”
Why, he questions, did they save his life with chemo if they weren’t ready to support him afterward.
“Survival statistics are great, but in my mind it’s not a success until the long-term outcomes are good too,” he said.
Island Health did not accept an interview request, but in a statement said due to privacy laws and confidentiality policies it cannot discuss or disclose details about individual patients or the care they receive.
“We are always concerned when care received does not meet a patient’s expectations, and we take all care complaints seriously,” the statement read.
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