Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hospital food

I haven't written in so long, I don't know if anyone bothers to check this blog any more. My apologies to any readers still out there. I had mentioned befor that I had a friend in the hospital? Well, her condition worsened, and the situation is very serious. Between that and coming into the end of the semester, I have no been in any shape to think about food in any way.

I haven't been cooking much, just living on cafeteria food and yogurt and fruit and that sort of thing. Annie's Vegetable Pot Pies. I've tried to make reasonably healthful choices (the school caf will often have grilled salmon with vegetables or other decent options), but I've also fallen into some pretty bad habits. Remember scarfing down a bag of M&Ms to stay awake through class as an undergrad? Yeah, ahem. Or realizing you've eaten pizza three days in a row?

After a couple days of eating food that was designed to be cheap and easily prepared, I am craving nutrients. Fortunately, it's easier now to eat well without a lot of effort: there are fairly healthful options in the freezer case at the regular supermarket, fresh fruit is available everywhere, same with salad. It's easy - unless you're in the hospital.

I was visiting my friend yesterday when the dinner arrived. I am angry. This is what they offered a very, very sick woman: breaded chicken cutlets, which appeared to have been fried and then allowed to steam, a tiny bag of carrot sticks, a cup of broth, a slice of angel food cake, and a can of diet ginger ale.

Where to start?

The only vegetable on the plate was the bag of carrots, which, given that she is having a hard time with chewing and swallowing, was completely useless. Oh, and the bag was a little sealed one, which she would never have had the strength to open anyway. (The old woman sharing her room, who did actually eat her dinner, couldn't have opened hers either, and no nurse bothered to check in to help). The chicken looked horribly greasy. Ginger can help settle your stomach, it's true, but the idea of giving diet soda, with all the artificial flavors and colors and fake sweeteners, to a body that is weak and needs real food is just disgusting. And, of course, for our borderline diabetic patient, some angel food cake! Because nothing builds strength like a nice shot of pure white sugar and white flour.

The only intelligently-chosen item they offered was the broth.

I don't know why I was so shocked. I've just never spent time in hospitals, so I didn't know. But I wouldn't eat that stuff when I was well, not because it looked unappetizing (though it did), but because it was so lacking in nutrition. It wasn't much better than McDonald's. Memo to the doctors of America: this crap can make us sick in the first place! We don't want more of the same when we're actually sick.

I don't have the most healthful lifestyle, and therefore my body is not as sensitive as it should be. But if I ate food like that for a few days, I would start to feel gross - heavy, tired. Why do we give this stuff to people whose bodies are weak? This country is so ignorant about food, so divorced from the consequences of our insane eating habits, our bizarre system of growing food and dispersing food.

I hope to the gods that if I ever end up in a hospital, someone will be kind enough to bring me actual food: real beef stock made from the bones of pastured cows (I've got some in the freezer at all times), some pureed squash or pumpkin with a little ginger in it, a nice custard made from real eggs and milk. Honest food, with healing in it. I hope that the hospital will allow it in. And I am furious that my friend has spent a month eating food that feeds neither her body nor her soul.


mzn said...

I'm really sorry to hear that your friend isn't doing well. She's fortunate to have you with her.

Scott Holtzman said...

"It's easy - unless you're in the hospital."

So sad & so true. Having worked in a nursing home the food there is only "one bean" shy of being the exact same dietary fare. Unsavory, grotty and ill advised for the sick & aging - but cost effective!


The Jeff Next Door said...

So sorry to hear about your friend. Hope your life gets back to normal soon. We'll still be here when you get back.

lindy said...

I am so sorry about your friend. She is indeed lucky to have you looking out for her.

I am also discouraged by the food served in the dining room at my mother's assisted living residence. It is an extremely nice place otherwise-her apartment is airy, light and spacious, and full of her own furniture and art. Everything is beautifully clean and kept up.

The staff are kind and gracious. The food is plentiful, and there are reasonably healthy choices always, but it is dead boring, and everything is overcooked. Their soups and omlettes are decent,and you can always get fresh fruit and salads, but their meat, fish, and chicken main courses and cooked veg are dire and depressing..

Elderly people who are physically limited often really enjoy their food, and get a bang out of terrific meals. What a waste to serve them tasteless rubbish.The ingredients are not cheap,either. Feh.

Luckily, my brother, sister in law, and I all live near by, and can bring her over, take her out, and bring treats around. Some of those folks have no relatives in town, and eat every meal there.

Ivonne said...

Hi Pyewacket,

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend.

Your post is so on the mark! I've had several close family members in the hospital ... including my father. And I was always appalled by the food.

In our family we actually cook meals for our loved ones on a daily basis and bring that food to them. But that's a stressful, difficult thing to do.

Your post is a wake up call to all of us. We have to demand more! The ironic thing is that we spend so much on hospitals, tests, machines ... and yet we completely ignore the food that goes into our bodies.

Hang in there!

GretchenS said...

I hear and share your outrage. Both of my parents have spent substantial amounts of time in the hospital this past year and the food they were served was simply appalling. Same experience with white bread and sugary sweets served to someone with alarmingly high blood sugar, etc. I brought as much homemade food as I could -- but it made me mad that this was necessary. Best wishes to you and your friend -- I'm sure your presence helps her greatly!

mshag said...

I went into liver failure at age 23 due to autoimmune disease. It took about two months for me to get diagnosed. I saw your comment on SheWalks and noticed that they couldn't figure out what is going on with your friend. If you want to talk or have questions, I know a lot about this particular subject.I also have a great friend who is a liver surgeon who might have some ideas. Sorry to put this on your comments, I can't see an email address. Hope this is not an intrusion,

mshag said...

Doh. My email address is