Food for thought – what patients are given to eat
From cling-film to strange bubble shapes on hospital food, it comes out nothing like its menu description
Last year I tweeted a picture of my hospital dinner which, on the menu, was called “Baked potato and Filling”. On the plate before me were four egg-sized boiled potatoes with black spots blanketed in a tar of congealed cheddar. My Twitter feed was horrified.
As someone who spends maybe a quarter of their year in hospital, it was less surprising. I’ve tried to find ways around the plates of unidentifiable viands drenched in liquid masquerading as “sauce”.
In hospital I exist on cereal, cheese, crackers and whatever else I can afford. Usually around two weeks in, I will openly fantasise to whichever unfortunate staff member has to listen about cooking kale, chicken and brown rice. Or salad. Or spinach. Anything clean, identifiable and healthy.
Sometimes I’ll look up recipes and hoard them with excitement. If something in the corridor smells good, on a particularly bad day, I’ll follow it to find where it’s coming from. I’m aware how crazy that sounds. Any long-term patient knows that in hospital you lose money and gain a weird longing to slave over a stove.
Despite the fact my illness requires a high-calorie diet, in hospital I shut down expectation, break my bank account, and hoard the cheese and crackers when they arrive up in packaged form.
Daily food supplies, including coffee, snacks and lunch, amount to €15. The option for the night is cereal, toast or takeout. Take-out and delivery costs about €10-€15 but there is no official meal after 4.30pm. The daily cost is anything between €20-€30 to feed yourself a day. Or you can eat the food.
Those on special diets, like I am, have options. There is a menu full of delightful- sounding dishes like chicken, sweet and sour pork, spring rolls and extras. Sadly, what it says on paper is not replicated in reality.
The chicken, dry and rubbery, can be navigated by lifting the top off the breast and eating the middle, being sure to stop before you hit the bony bottom which often sports red dashes and odd shapes, something like the imprint of bubble wrap.
I have asked about this phenomenon and gotten no certain answer as to why these bubble shapes appear on my chicken breast. I like the roast beef. It’s cut thinly and looks and tastes like beef. I try to request it every day but it doesn’t always come up.
Boiled potatoes and Brussels sprouts are the safest sides and the aftertaste of washing-up liquid is faint when doused in the ol’ reliable tomato ketchup. Another time, tuna arrived wrapped in cling-film, above it another layer of chopped eggs and lettuce wrapped over it.
The pong of cling-film clung to my food but hunger and the length it takes for someone to rectify the problem ploughs through such smells. It is useless to mention the fact that the medication erases appetite anyway, making eating an already complex experience.