Hospital food: doesn't it just make you sick?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Every cause today is an acronym, from ASH to WHO. I don't even have a name for my organisation, but I know it's important. When my old friend who's been watching the pearly gates open before him says, "Maybe I'd revive if only I had something dece nt to eat," I know, not for the first time, that there's something terribly wrong with the food in hospitals. I suspect ditto in schools and other prisons.

I ask you, why is it so? Is it beyond the skills of the "nutritionists" who run such places to serve a proper meal, to restore to their inmates some prospect of decent life? Whatsamadderwidem? as they say locally.

I've been cooped up in my house for a week now with the sequelae of a simple operation - great anaesthesia, listened to Shostakovich throughout, nattered nonsense with the nurses - and I know damn well the only thing I look forward to is the food my tender-hearted wife produces for me. I emphatically do not look forward to cough-avoidance, or to the schoolyard stabbings that are the consequence of any attempt to clear my throat. Perhaps it's not so bad when they stick the knife in, but why does it have serrated edges, and why do they use the same knife so many times in succession? For that matter, if nutritionists offer food but lie, producing only ghastly geriatric meats and soggy puree, why do doctors as a profession specialise in lying? "You'll suffer some discomfort for a few days ... " Why can't we apply the Trade Descriptions Act to these people? A week is not a few days, and pain is certainly not discomfort.

But I wander. My old friend's cry resonates. Hospital kitchens serve appalling meals at uncivilised hours to meet not my convenience, who am paying for it in blood, but that of their staff. If they cannot do a proper job, why doesn't someone create a gourmet service for sufferers? Surely that is a noble cause?

It is, of course, a standard joke in my family that the only time you can be sure the old man is finally dying is when he stops eating, and they probably remember operation number 39 from which I awoke howling, in a teetotal hospital, demanding (and getting, which is even more extraordinary) oysters and Moet Brut, thank you very much. I mean, what's wrong with that? One goes under the knife, or I do, convinced that one will wake up in another world, and not quite sure one may not have a nasty shock. Obviously, when one awakes to find oneself still in this one, that is cause for relief and celebration. One wants a few jolly people around, a bit of fun, a stiff drink and some reviving food. One does not want to gaze down mournfully at a carton of milk and spinach adrift in a sea of tepid water.

Indeed, one tends to get a bit high. After operation 38 I distinctly, and to my great embarrassment, remember writing to the Pope telling him how to handle affairs and to my publisher explaining in detail just why I thought he was an incompetent, pompousfool, whereas, in fact, compared with today's publishers who are all accountants and can neither read nor write, he seems to me a bloody genius. No doubt he was offended, and the Pope turned the other cheek, but they realised, I hope, that I was facing the ordeal of Hospital Food.

Mind you, there may be circumstances under which one is not particularly hungry in hospital, but these are too disagreeable to think of. Most of our hospital stays, short of the terminally appalling, are merely brief five-finger rubber-gloved exercises for the carpenters and plumbers of the surgical trade. They whip in and out of you, and go off and enjoy a damned fine lunch with some good claret while you stare at wrinkled peas and brown betty.

Some of these medical men are dear friends of mine; nay, many of them sup at my table. I find them unanimously good trenchermen, and surgeons particularly eat like the butchers they are. One of them showed off his skill by using only knife and fork to pick a quail absolutely clean. On the subject of post-operative diets, however, all these men waffle. Wine may be a poor mix with a general anaesthetic, but if you can taste and smell a good bottle, you are presumably no longer anaesthetised, tho ugh if you have to eat what you're served one would probably be better off out of it.

My view of illness generally is that it's a damned nuisance and one should disregard it. That's probably why I wind up in hospital more often than I'd like. But once they've cured you, then let the general pleasure principle prevail. Life is a joyous thing, and Jesus resurrected, I'm sure, did not spurn a decent meal. So, is there someone out there willing to get this charity going? Just send the moribund and convalescent a tempting menu every morning, along with an unpretentious wine list, and watch the mortality rates drop. I grant one wants somewhat less than one usually does, but what one eats ought to urge you on to getting out of hospital chop-chop. Think of the savings! Failing my Gourmet-on-Wheels, why not have at least one hospital in every 50square miles designed specially for those who, though temporarily sick, do not want thereby to be condemned to starvation? My old friend was right. On New Year's Eve, a kind sou l brought him a risotto and a bottle of champers. He hasn't looked back since, and those earnest medical men who attended him for all those weeks rejoice and claim the credit. Some I'll allow. But not all. So he had to be fed by hand, so he didn't polish it all off, but he did begin to think that life was again worth living.

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