Empathy: A Reflection on Foie Gras

Posted by Janiec Gutierrez, ALDF's Director of Operations on April 3, 2013

Several months ago, I developed a terrible pain in my stomach that wouldn’t go away. Not being fond of doctors, I ignored it as long as I possibly could. The pain was relentless for weeks. Initially, the doctor assumed I had some sort of mild acid reflux disorder but after noticing an abnormality with my blood tests, he told me, "I see scoping in your future." The endoscopy involved sliding a thin, flexible viewing instrument into my mouth and down my esophagus to view my stomach. Before the procedure started I was assured that most people remain unconscious and don’t remember a thing.  I was given an IV and sedated, but I woke up in the middle of the procedure choking.

It’s hard to describe the sense of panic and complete helplessness I experienced.  I was suddenly awake and very aware of the fact that I was uncontrollably gagging and choking on the tube. I realized in that moment how completely vulnerable I was. I wanted to scream at them to stop and to put my arms out in protest, but the tube was already down my throat. I couldn’t open my eyes and the sedation prevented me from doing anything but jerking my body in uncontrollable spasms while my throat reflexively tried to eject the foreign object.

It was at this time that I heard my nurse’s voice. Although she sounded alarmed, she touched my arm and told me that everything was OK. "Just try to relax. Just try to breathe and relax your throat. We need you to swallow." I have a lot of self-control, but her instructions were difficult to follow. It took time, but I managed to force myself to breathe a little more deeply. Eventually, I mustered up the strength to will my throat to relax and swallow. The second I swallowed the doctor shoved the tube further down my throat into my stomach. My body jerked in protest but I continued to do my best to fight my natural instinct to escape. It was painful and terrifying.

I’m not sure if they increased my sedation or if I passed out, but the next thing I remember I was being taken to recovery. While the incident probably only lasted a few minutes it felt like an eternity. Still groggy in recovery, I started to reflect on my episode during the procedure and a clear picture came into my mind from a video about Foie Gras on ALDF’s website that shows a tube being shoved down a duck’s throat to pump food directly into his stomach. I remember seeing the indentation of the tube pressing against the duck’s throat – it could be seen protruding from the outside as it was thrust into his stomach.

Suddenly, I had this horrifying epiphany about exactly how much ducks and geese suffer in in the production of foie gras. These beautiful birds are force fed abnormally large amounts of food, several times a day, through a pipe that is much larger than what they used during my procedure. The result causes liver disease and often cripples and poisons the birds. It is this diseased liver that is used for foie gras. There is a good reason why this practice has been banned in over a dozen countries–it’s is terribly cruel and inhumane. Anyone who doesn’t believe this fact should try undergoing an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, without sedation. After my procedure, my throat was sore for weeks.

I understood in my mind they were trying to help me but my body didn’t understand that. My body felt like it was being battered. For the birds, there is no logical understanding. There is no compassion. There is only brutality, betrayal, and pain. 

When the doctor came in to talk to me about my results, I watched his lips move but I couldn’t hear him. I couldn’t shake the image of that tube being callously forced down that poor ducks throat. I am grateful for the sedative I was mercifully given (even if it didn’t quite work), the medical staff that was trying to help me instead of harm me, and the knowledge that they were trying to find the cause of my discomfort, not create it.

For me, it’s a gift and a curse that I now have a glimpse of understanding into what the duck in that video and others like him have endured, and, sadly, continue to endure.

One thought on “Empathy: A Reflection on Foie Gras

  1. Sarah L. says:

    What a powerful and compelling account. I am so very sorry you had to go through that experience with the medical test. The analogy to the suffering ALDF is working to stop comes across with increased understanding of this cruelty.

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