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Little Things That Kill

During the past couple months, I became familiar with the intensive care unit at our local hospital. Fortunately for me, I was not the guest of honor; I was merely visiting. Unfortunately, my father-in-law has been having a really tough time there, and he was recently flown to a more advanced hospital. Any prayers, magic spells, or other rituals you may wish to perform for his benefit would surely be appreciated.

My father-in-law's situation has been a roller coaster of happiness, disappointment, fear, relief, tears, joy, nausea, exhaustion, and near-death experiences. At one especially bad point in this process, I found myself surrounded by crying family members watching an unconscious man's chest rising and falling in time with the attached ventilator, and he was expected to die within the hour. I hated everything about the situation. The looming death, the overwhelming sadness, the sounds of the machines, the smell of the room, the tangle of tubes, wires, and hoses, the fatigue, and the tension. It's times like this when I find it useful to focus on smaller things, and ignore peripheral sights and thoughts for a bit.

A nurse was kind enough to bring me some water. I focused on that. I tasted it. I adjusted the height of the straw. I tipped the cup from hand to hand, feeling it's weight shift as the fluid sloshed around. I inhaled the cup's smell. I ran my fingers over the surface, squeezed gently, and noted it's texture and rigidity. Then I asked myself: Why the fuck are they using styrofoam?

Environmental concerns aside, styrofoam is not good. It's widely known that hot liquids leech dangerous chemicals from styrofoam containers. Being a hospital, you would think they wouldn't expose their visitors, employees, and/or patients to harmful substances. Before you point out that I was safe because my drink was cold, I'd like to mention that the styrofoam cups were kept next to the coffee dispenser; they were intended to hold hot liquids. Furthermore, I drink a lot of water, and this water had a very distinct taste: It tasted like water that was in a styrofoam cup. Don't believe the PR man from the styrofoam cup factory; that stuff contaminates any drink, hot or cold.

After we endured several hours of collective agony, my father-in-law's vital signs improved and the visiting family members left the room for a break. I threw away most of my poisoned water and fell asleep in a waiting lounge. When I opened my eyes hours later, everybody was talking about getting breakfast. Wide awake, I began imagining all of the choices: Sweetwater? Donckers? A&M Cafe? Coachlight? Jeffries? Cue sound of record scratching. We were going to eat in the hospital cafeteria.

The hospital cafeteria was about what I expected. A bunch of nationally advertised pre-packaged highly processed junk foods, and a few bits of real food scattered about. Still, I tried to make the most of the situation. I picked up a bag of Sun Chips. They are believed to be healthy because they are baked rather than fried. Regardless of their nutritional merits, the bag was marked as a three-serving bag. Now, why would they do that? Smaller single-serving bags exist. How many people have the knowledge, willpower, and foresight to eat 1/3 of the bag, seal it up, and finish it in two more eating sessions on subsequent days? Pretty much nobody.

There were bags of peanuts near the chips. Frito-Lay brand. Once again, 3-serving bags instead of the smaller single-serving bags. I've actually had these peanuts before. They taste good, but are ridiculously salty. In fact, they're coated in some additional oil that allows more salt to stick to the peanuts. I passed soda machines, ill-looking danishes, energy drinks, artificial sweeteners, butter substitutes, highly sweetened Kellogg's cereals, and bagels with cream cheese. Now, I love a cream-cheesed bagel as much as anybody, but this all just sounds like an organ failure starter kit.

I eventually saw some freshly made foods. There was a vat of putrid looking oatmeal that was crusty on top and mushy on the inside. An Egg McMuffin buffet where you could scoop some limp egg mixture onto an english muffin and combine it with the soggy bacon and sausage that was glistening beneath heat lamps. I finally settled upon a fruit cup that contained grapes, pineapple, and melons. They were nearly flavorless, but it was something.

Perhaps I sound like a food snob, but you have to remember that this is a hospital. The options were mostly unhealthy or disgusting. They were displaying a blatant disregard for what they fed people, and it was difficult for somebody to eat a healthy meal. Doesn't the hospital employ nutritionists? Shouldn't they poke their heads in and say something? Why would the hospital have so many unhealthy choices and low food standards in their cafeteria? The answer might be too obvious: It's good for business.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2013 04:06 am (UTC)
I can understand having some comfort foods in a hospital cafeteria, but the disgust factor allowed in hospital food is criminal. I'm not talking about extra carbs or fat or salt, but failing the "Is this grosser than what my middle school tried to feed me" scale. Many former patients report feeling better *after* they get out and can finally eat something that doesn't taste like boiled death. When sick, your appetite is usually one of the first things to go right when you need nutrition and that stuff doesn't exactly entice someone to consume any calories for healing energy. So, yeah, serve mashed potatoes instead of quinoa and lentils, since adding new foods right now might be a little too distressing for the patient (unless they ask for it, of course!). But don't serve boiled death, waxy paste, or mystery meat. Well, unless you're the low bidder, then you can. Bah!

And then there's the lack of ability for patients to rest causing major sleep deprivation. After a few years in a hospital, I suspect this is part of why my sister went insane towards the end. I could babble for ages on my thoughts towards modern medical care and how the patients are now just uncooperative products.

Best wishes for the father in law. Hospitals suck.
Jul. 19th, 2013 01:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, I see the low bidder thing just about everywhere. It's a sad practice employed by the greedy and dispassionate.

My father-in-law has complained about the sleep thing too. Says whenever he starts to fall asleep, somebody's in the room to make him do one thing or another. I can hardly handle a night with little or no sleep. A month or a year would surely drive me batty.

You're welcome to babble about modern medical care if you wish. I'd listen.

Thanks, and I agree.

Edited at 2013-07-19 01:43 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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