The food. Oh, god, the food.
Look, I am not a picky eater. My parents raised me to at least try everything. There are some foods I don't like, but if you place them in front of me I will eat them because that is polite. There are some foods I don't eat because they make me stop breathing (conventionally raised poultry, and oddly, melons). But I'll give just about anything a go.
Well, OK, almost anything.
This is basically what every meal at the hospital was like. I was on a diet called "Mechanical Ground" which meant every meal was chopped up. That's fine -- because of the two IVs I couldn't use my left hand at all for eating, so it was OK to have food I could eat basically with a spoon.
Ground up mystery meat -- presumably some unspeakable part of a cow -- "gravy" in a little plastic container. The potatoes were starchy and bland, but I actually ate all of those. They gave me a dinner roll, too, but it was stale and dry and not really very easy to eat.
I had many discussions with the dietitian and occupational therapist (who was there to make sure I could eat larger chunks of food without choking to death) about my food and why I wasn't eating. The best was one in which I tried to explain that I don't drink hot liquids of any kind -- no tea, no coffee. This was very confusing.
"I could give you Sprite."
"I really don't drink sodas, either."
"How about milk?"
"I don't drink milk, either. I usually only drink water."
"We can give you bottled water."
"OK, but I'm fine with tap water."
This conversation resulted in my getting put on a no-dairy diet. And since I just don't eat margarine (the oily texture bothers me), that meant I couldn't eat half of what was on my plate, oh, yay.
I was inordinately excited by the day when blueberry pancakes were on the menu. Until I took one bite:
Regular pancake rolled around blueberry pie filling. Yes, this was actually passed off as food. That was as much as I could eat of that breakfast.
There were a few things I knew I could eat: any juice, the fruit cups (a little too sweet, but I was hardly eating anything so a bowl of sugar was fine), the vegetables on the plate. They started giving me extra juice. I tried to explain to them multiple times that I just don't eat like this at all at home and I didn't know how to cope with it. The meat thing always smelled like poop or vomit to me. I already had limited appetite, but I had real struggles with this food.
My real relief was breakfast, when they invariably brought me scrambled eggs (and dry toast! Because no dairy!). I tried their margarine for a couple days but it still kind of grossed me out, especially on white bread. There was one day we had a waffle and that was pretty exciting; I finally gave up trying to eat like an adult and ate it with my hand. It was not inedible.
It took two days to correct the "no dairy diet" mistake on my chart. Two days of me trying and trying to explain that no, I eat dairy just fine, I just don't drink milk as a liquid because all I drink is water. I think they thought I must be a space alien.
The last day I was there, they switched me from the Mechanical Ground diet to a normal diet, to see if that would help (it did not; the meat still smelled inedible, though I valiantly gave it a try every time). And look! They gave me real butter! That was pretty nice.
The last couple days they also added on a diet shake from Ensure that would fill in calories. It was pretty horrible, like drinking fruity cold chicken soup, but I drank it because I could make it stay down.
The last day I was there they said I hadn't thrown up in days and they almost had my TP/INR levels (blood thinner) where they wanted them, and they were trying to get permission to release me. I'd had a couple days of "maybe you'll go home today!" disappointments already, so I was very motivated. Then they brought me my lunch and I felt the horrible urge to throw up like I hadn't for days. I have never before in my life been able to stop that urge, but sheer willpower and the knowledge that dinner would be just as bad were strong motivators. I made it.
I lost three pounds in the hospital. I stuffed myself stupid the first couple days of being home, I was so hungry. When we walked into the house I was torn between wanting to eat ANYTHING FOOD and wanting a shower desperately. A little food won out.
Feeding patients like this cannot be good for patient outcomes. We are right in the middle of the best food culture in the country. Fresh, delicious produce is available year-round. There is no need to feed patients reheated ground meat patties, except that of course cutting back budgets in the kitchen is easy to do, and who's going to notice? The insurance companies don't care -- though they should, since I think I stayed in the hospital extra days because of the food -- and the patients aren't usually paying, so they get no say.
My food was limited because I wasn't eating, so they didn't want me eating outside food and confusing things. But I wasn't eating because I literally could not eat that food. And I am not, as mentioned, a picky eater. I tried to eat everything. Every day I would eat as many mouthfuls of that horrible meat concoction as possible. When your patients are having to live on dietary supplement shakes, you really need to fix your hospital meal program.