Nourishment of a Different Sort
I was thinking that five years ago today I was in the hospital, fresh from having surgery.
Know what the worst part of it was? It wasn't being away from my husband. It wasn't being in a room with four other women and no privacy (here's a trick - snore extremely loud and they'll move you off by yourself). It wasn't being stuck in an un-air conditioned hospital during a 95+°F heat wave. It wasn't, during said heatwave, having to wear thick, tight, hot, anti-thrombosis stockings that went from my toes to my upper thighs. It wasn't the burning and painful anti-thrombosis injections I had to have in my leg each day of my two week stay there at the no privacy, no air conditioning hospital. And even though it's a close second, it wasn't even the surgery where my abdomen was sliced open from navel to the beginning of happy land so parts that I was fond of and to this day miss could be removed.
The worst part was the vile swill served to us three times a day that they laughingly called food.
I'd alway heard stories of hospital food but since the last time I had been hospitalized was when Lyndon Johnson was president and most of my nutrition came out of a bottle, I wasn't familiar with it first hand. At first it didn't seem so bad. On the day I was admitted I had eaten breakfast at home and my lunch was some sort of macaroni in cheese sauce fare that wasn't so bad. I was denied food for days after that because of tests I had to have and because of my surgery so it wasn't until days later that I found out how terrible hospital food really is.
Sometimes the flavor was so terrible I couldn't determine whether they were feeding me a meal or simply trying to get rid of medical waste. I recall a meal of goulash that had the same flavor that I would expect to find if I licked my bathmat. On a Sunday we had a "fancy" dinner of pork roast in gravy and I'm fairly certain the gravy had a previous life as rinse water in the laundry. Other times the food wasn't bad tasting at all. It wasn't good tasting either. It simply had no flavor whatsoever. Now I understand that hospital food has to be cooked with little or no salt and whatnot but the food itself should have a flavor of its own. It was so disappointing to be served a dish that in appearace looked fine but when put in one's mouth it was like eating hot nothing. I was often given yogurt and fresh fruit as part of my meals and damn if even they were flavorless. Bland, runny yogurt, half-ripe, tasteless pears, mealy apples devoid of any aroma at all. Mealtimes were an exercise in disappointment. Is there any wonder I lost twenty pounds in two weeks while I was there?
Luckily I had my friend, Kirsten. Kirsten is anorexic but damn if she doesn't know what's good. She'd visit me every couple days and would always sneak in a treat or two for me. Once she came to visit me and before coming by dropped by a bakery to get me something. Many bakeries here sell finished sandwiches and Kirsten brought me one, apologizing as she gave it to me because it was late in the day and the sandwich had probably had a couple hours age on it. I remember that sandwich vividly. Whole grain bread with boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumber and remoulade sauce. Just as she gave it to me one of the nurses came in to give me some medicine or to stab me with something or whatever so I quickly put the sandwich in my bedside table drawer. After Kirsten left and I had eaten yet another disappointing dinner and I knew the nurses wouldn't be in to check on me for a couple more hours I pulled the sandwich out. Despite being wrapped in plastic the crusts of the bread were dry and the remoulade had gotten the bread slightly soggy. I'm also not a big fan of boiled eggs. I like boiled egg whites but if I can taste the yolk I get a little wiggy. But so intense was my desperation that still I gleefully bit into the sandwich. And it was lovely. The remoulade hid the taste of the egg yolk and the cucumber and tomato wasn't even watery and bland. I quickly gulped down the sandwich, leaving the dry crusts behind and then slowly shuffled all hunchbacked into the bathroom (it was still less than a week after my surgery) where a large trashcan was that would enable me to hide the crusts from the prying eyes of the nurses.
I still had over a week to go before I would be released from the hospital but that one sandwich made me feel so wonderful. It made me feel that even though I was away having surgery in a strange place with strange people, I wasn't forgotten and I was still loved. A dear friend threw me a lifeline and it was in the shape of a boiled egg sandwich.