SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Healthy hospital food? That's hard to swallow

THE great thing about hospital is that, one way or another, you get to leave in the end. By the time I leave, I have passed caring which way. 

Preferably I am sitting, gingerly, and wincing as the friend’s car weaves around potholes at 5mph, and I swooning from the mixture of fresh, summer air and liquid morphine, but after two weeks inside the ward of death, leaving in a wooden box would be fine, too. Anything to get away from the hospital food.

A lifetime of medical good fortune — aside from a short, sharp bout of cancer a decade ago — has recently run out. Or, maybe, given that I am sitting up, writing this and not quietly biodegrading underground in one of those trendy cardboard coffins, it has not run out. Bear with me.

They wouldn’t let me take any liquid morphine home, which seemed a bit spoilsport (“it’s a controlled substance, madam”), but I am still fully addled on Gabapentin with dihydrocodeine chasers. ‘Gabba gabba, hey, where am I and who are you’?

The irony is that there was nothing wrong with me. I went into hospital a fit, healthy, teetotal, non-smoking, vegan, yoga-mat brandishing, green smoothie-slurping, chia-seed sprinkling, Nutri-Bulleted paragon of nauseating virtue.

Gone are the days of treating my body like an amusement park – these days, it’s more like a temple complex. Angkor Wat, if you like — ancient, crumbling, bits falling off everywhere, but still magnificent and worthy of UNESCO special scaffolding.

And then, bang. A routine operation goes a bit wrong. Leading to another. Which goes worse. And so to a third, 72 hours after the second.

I don’t know about you, but two major operations in three days is not how I’d choose to spend a weekend, especially when they were both to correct the fact that the previous surgeon had accidentally left a spanner in the works, or dropped a rubber glove.

Not so much ‘thank you for saving my life’ as ‘you did WHAT? AGAIN?’ Which is why we have morphine. After enough squeezes on the little hand-held device connected directly to your bloodstream, you don’t care if the surgeon has accidentally severed your head.

You’re too busy floating away, like Oscar Wilde in some East End opium den, like Kubla Khan in Xanadu. Mmmmm. Who knew intensive care could be so dreamy?

The dream ends when the hospital food begins. Food so intent on killing you that you wonder why they just don’t unplug you from whatever is keeping you alive and be done with it, rather than suggesting, with a straight face, items such as ‘savoury minced beef’ or ‘cold rice pudding’.

Even from inside my analgesic fog, hospital food remains baffling.

All that care — top quality nursing, top equipment, top surgeons (when not dropping spanners and gloves) — all let down, back on the ward, by a cheese sandwich so far from resembling either cheese or a sandwich that eating your catheter seems more appealing. How can there still be such a gigantic hospital disconnect between recovery and lunch?


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