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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Little delights of hospital life

I don't know how this will come out. Usually I have an outline of a posting in my head before I start. Not this time. I'll probably do the Hemingway "stream of consciousness" thing, but it might be a stream of nonsense.

   Firstly, I've got to say that I've been very lucky to get this room. It's meant to be for two occupants, but no-one's going to be in the other bed, which is out of service. It has a large window so you know there's a world out there.

   If you had this much space in a standard motel room you'd be happy.

   Not only that, it's down at the end of the quietest end of the complex. Few staff pass by and no visitors. Occasionally there's loud talking at staff-changeover, but it's rare.

   For a first-timer like me, the admission process appears to set off a hive of activity. Tracey wheeled me into the room where a half-dozen were people rearranging things. I won't go into details but they were turning a room for two into as spacious as possible a room for one.

   An "electric" recliner chair almost like mine at home was found. Excellent. I still press the UP button for DOWN and vice versa as often as before. That will never change.

   Staff immediately did the standard things to me – blood pressure check, temperature etc. It's all a bit of a whirl because of my rapidly failing short-term memory, which is just as well because describing it is unexciting. I was banded round the wrist and it helps me remember who I am.

   That's a joke, by the way. The real reason, apart from matching pills with patients, is that they'll know who I am should I escape. The real joke is that I can't escape anyway, because for practical purposes, I can't walk. I'd need an accomplice. A lunatic, clearly.
   Let's get down to the fun stuff. Meals. I got there not long before lunch, which was a mistake, because I got lunch. It didn't look too bad but that was some sort of illusion. I'll describe dinner instead.

   I should say firstly that I chose this dinner from the menu which I was asked to fill in immediately after lunch on the first day – my meals for the entire day today. I admit that my luncheon experience had made me somewhat wary and I tried to evade certain items.

   I should also say that short-term memory loss means that every meal is a mystery, because I have no idea what I ordered when it comes.

   After I opened each dish on the tray, the mystery remained.

   The soup, when stirred, was double-layered, like some cocktails you order at the bar, but not green and orange, and without the zing. It was the colour of various sorts of mud.

   Tasting it did not make it any clearer. Not that I'm saying it was inedible, but I'm glad I wasn't a Muslim or Jew, because I found out later, from the list of what I ordered, that it was pea and ham.

   I ventured on to main course. On opening the lid, I was puzzled.

   By the look of them, the beans had been boiled for a good two hours and were as limp as little green very dead worms. They hung so wretchedly from the fork that I wanted to give them a decent burial. The corn, which turned out to be the best part, was straight from tin, but given a half hour in the microwave for good measure. The broccoli had probably given up the ghost even before boiling.

   Beside these were two substances. I did recognise immediately an oozing poultice of mashed pertayta (potato) of strange hue, which failed miserably to bear its own weight. Something purporting to be fish with baked potato on top occupied an adjacent spot on the plate, but I'm sure it had never made acquaintance with an oven, and could easily have been confused with the sorrowful potato plaster beside it, except for a rich layer, underneath the faux-baked potato icing, of some misbegotten creature that must have lurked in the ocean depths and challenged any Darwinian theory by surviving.

   That is, until it made it to my plate. It may, on reflection, have put up a good fight. Admittedly it was solid and tasted awfully strongly of fish.

   The other possibility is that it originated in a can of sardines.

   But the tapioca pudding wasn't bad, if you didn't look at it too hard. It reminded me somehow of my childhood, except there was no lime jelly. Pity.
There will be a part two. I'm sure this is fascinating to my masterchef friends and will give them a reassuring feeling of superiority. Either that, or I've given them some hot tips on unique dishes to have a go at.


  1. ROFL I love that you still have a sense of humour. Being a nurse, I know exactly what you're up against. You have my sympathies. Also: say hi to Ratchet for me :)

  2. Your post really made me laugh, thank you Denis. I still remember the unique smell and texture of the hospital meals I've encountered.

    My mother used to sneak food in for me during long stays in the Royal Alexander Hospital for Children. Sliced ham (easy to wrap small and hide in her handbag, and fed to me in tiny mouthfuls) has never tasted as good since. She also sneaked in biscuits but after a while I had to ask her not to bring them. The Westons Biscuit Factory was close to the hospital's old Camperdown location and baking smells wafted through the hospital. Lovely for a while, but not after months!

    As always, looking forward to part 2 :)

  3. I recognise all of this - a delight to see it described so humorously by you. Those wrist straps! Perhaps the best thing about them is taking to the strap with a pair of scissors after my stay.

    Food though is done well in Castlemaine. Lamb shanks is the standout example. My offer to share a room there with you still stands!

  4. It's great to see that hospital dinners around the world are uniformly mysterious, and (on further inspection) unpalatable. I remember coming across a fried egg - well, I say fried, but that's just guess-work based on a process of elimination - anyway, this perfectly circular cylindrical slice would have ricocheted up to the ceiling and pinged all about the room if I'd had the common sense to just drop it off my plate. The toast on the other hand was melt-in-the-mouth. I think actually it had melted on the plate, and just fell into moist pieces before I could get it into my mouth. Thank goodness for small mercies, I say.

    Denis - I've been reading your blog since a friend posted it on Facebook, and I've been hooked on all your stories. I really liked the "It's so unfair" one, as I know just how easy it is to lose perspective in our lives. There are so many things that we have, and that go right, and yet that all seems to get lost in the wash some days. So thanks for sharing all your thoughts. I look forward to your continuing posts, and maybe the hospital could arrange for you to have an outside line so that you could ring for pizza?

  5. Only you, Denis, could make such dire circumstances humorous and I'm still chuckling as I write. Maybe it's a pity your short term memory isn't even shorter, then at least you wouldn't remember the awful meals! What IS it about hospitals that they cannot produce decent food for those most in need of it? Is it so one is not tempted to linger longer and thus take up a bed? Is it because they think patients have so much else to worry about they won't notice the dreadful food? Apart from having a baby (a very long time ago but I remember the food in that small and private hospital as being excellent) I've only been in hospital once - a private hospital at that - and when I tasted the first meal I immediately rang a friend who lived nearby and told her to bring me in something edible. Alas, it was late in the evening and all she brought me was a bottle of gin and a couple of Mars Bars. Next day, she bought me in a takeaway Indian meal which annoyed the hospital staff because it made the room smell. Rather an improvement, I thought, on the usual hospital stinks! Amazingly, the hospital food got a bit better after that - don't whether they'd got the message or what! I'm sorry you have to put up with rotten meals on top of all the other horridnesses, it really is too much.

  6. I will send you lime jelly - but there won't be tapioca by then, I suppose

  7. Wonderful comments, and thank you all. I will try to come back to each, but we'll see.

    One thing I want to emphasise. In spite of having a little fun with the food, the last thing I want to do is give an impression that the hospital is at fault. They have to feed a vast variety of people many of whom would regard the way I like food cooked as wrong. Many served by a rural hospital, particularly the older patients, expect vegetables to be what I call sadly overcooked.

    The staff here and facilities are wonderful, especially in view of severe budget restrictions. Within two days, I've learned the ropes and fitted in, or we've adjusted to each other. I'd hate any of them reading this to take my fun personally when they look after me so well and I'm so comfortable!

    1. Yes, despite the funning, if I had to choose between a hospital with a Michelin star, and a hospital that channeled all its funding into medical services, I know which I'd choose. It's great to hear they're looking after you so well.

      Anyway, I'm sure if someone gets mad enough to spit in the food, it could only be an improvement .. ;)

  8. Mars Bars and gin - my kind of dinner! The trick to getting better food on planes and in hospital is to request a special diet. It probably doesn't matter what: vegetarian, kosher, halal, diabetic ... anything will do. That way your meals are prepared either individually or in small batches.If you were really lucky they might have to be ordered in from a restaurant! So perhaps your short-term memory loss has made you forget that your religious beliefs require Tibetan vegetarian food? Diabetic macrobiotic? Chinese halal? The only problem would be missing out on bacon for breakfast but in a single room you might not smell the aroma from the breakfast trolley so you wouldn't know what your were missing. I'd be sending out an SOS, I think. Oh, you have ;-) Jenny D

    1. You're full of good ideas, Jenny! I suspect they'd be scratching their heads over Chinese halal, but maybe if they made it vegetarian that would cover it, as I don't think the cabbage has to be slaughtered in the traditional Muslim way.

      I'll bear these in mind....

  9. I'm going to copy/print "Little Delights of Hospital Life" and send/give to every nurse I know. They'll love it! xx

  10. I once asked a dietitian why hospital food is so notoriously bad and starchy. She said it was deliberately like this because people are immobilised and so is their digestion. So food is overcooked, protein is minimal, carbohydrates are maximal, making the food easy to chew, digest, and exit from the body. I still think they could do better though.

    When Carl was in for his stent, the poor bastard across from him got a single dish of jelly for dinner one night. That wasn't what he ordered.

    Carl got a glass of wine with dinner, so Denis, indulge whenever you get the opportunity.

    1. Now that's very interesting, because I don't want high protein now, and the other things square exactly with the description you've given. I feel better now about the desserts, which are packed with carbs, as my normally sylph-like figure is starting to show.

      Maybe I should go for the wine after all.


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