don’t knock it till you’ve tried it: hospital food

When I first started food blogging, it was to escape the drudgery and soul-destroying nature of the penultimate job I had: the job sucked but I had wonderful employers who were sympathetic to my chronic illness and I left my job at the door because I wasn’t interested in the politics. I just wanted to be employed in the hope of being ‘cured’ like my father insisted. He told me to stop dreaming, get real and get used to the fact that everyone has jobs they hate. Even as ‘grown-ups’, it amazes me that we still do stupid shit to get our parents off our backs. I’d known for a while I wasn’t well enough to work but I stuck it out for him. I figured, being a dutiful Asian child, I owed it to him.

This may or may not have been coloured by the fact that both my parents are suffering psychiatric nurses. Don’t get me wrong, both my parents are highly skilled at what they do but it’s not for the love or the ‘calling’ or if it was, that part of them died a long time ago. They did what they had to to make sure wankers like me could go to uni and read books for fun and learn weirdo early music instruments and for that, I’ll always be grateful (if unemployable, sorry Mum and Dad).

After a year of antibiotics for recurring infections and general burnout, living became difficult and I had to quit my job. For a month, I tried to get my health back and got back into yoga which according to this vitriolic commenter, makes me even more of a wanker. It did offer some respite: I started sleeping better, physical ailments cleared up and though I was exceedingly poor, I was happy and even cooking, dear god. For people. I can only really cook when I’m happy and healthy which is shit for my poor 9-to-5 partner.

Then I got it into my head that I’d try the employment thing again even though I was barely on the mend, got jerked around by a place I actually really enjoyed working at who dismissed me without due consideration of the fact that people go away over the Christmas holidays. It was devastating: I was just getting back on my feet and I got told they couldn’t afford me and they dumped me there and then. Everyone came back from holidays and as I’d predicted, things picked up. I was asked back. It was a hard decision to not choose to return but the lesson had been learnt the hard way: if I were disposable when things were rough, who was to say it wouldn’t happen again, soon?

I’d worked really, really hard to not let my actual chronic illness get in the way of that job. It wasn’t glamorous and I wasn’t paid well, being but a lowly ‘sandwich artist’, I liked to joke. The clientele were absolutely lovely and it was nice getting back into a routine of working, writing and sometimes being ‘normal’. At times, my bastard insomnia even granted me reprieve.

Sadly some chronic illnesses have periods of aggravation and eventually I did end up in hospital. Sometimes these things can’t be avoided. One of the hot, young nurses upon learning that I had a food blog (I hope he’s reading this: if so, he now knows I think he’s hot, haha) thought it would be hilarious to do a joke blog post on the culinary…’offerings’ that the patients had to experience. For reasons of confidentiality, alas, I cannot divulge the name of said excellent health institution.

(cartoon is not mine and can be found on Cerebral Vortex Cartoons)

I spent a good few weeks in hospital and I am ashamed to admit that upon admission I was of a portly nature (yes, yes, more so than now. Thankfully this gives me immunity from being a hipster, phew). This was largely due to only having one fucking gigantic daily meal and spending twelve hours of the daytime asleep. Not that good for your metabolism. Such only-sleep-and-eat behaviour in hospital was not tolerated. You got yanked out of bed for medication and food at all the ‘right’ times. Initially, being a late riser, I rarely made it down in time for breakfast which had the usual breakfasty type cereal and toast items. They exercised a fair bit of leniency for me, knowing I generally slept like shit.

But you bloody well bet I was there for some serious lunchtime action.

Firstly, the humble sandwich. Alas, no pics.

The sandwiches were freshly made and my personal favourites were – always with brown bread, you understand – cheese, ham and tomato, or chicken and salad (Oxford comma intentional). We did have many communal bean and potato salads available to us but once I saw one lady pick up and immediately put down a piece of salami on a communal plate, I didn’t go near any of those. Shame, I’m rather a fan of the potato salad even though it’s probably not highly nutritious. The thing I liked about sandwiches was if you wanted to take a couple and retreat to the quiet of your room, you were free to do so. A luxury as hospital cafeterias can be fairly depressing places – as some of my devoted visitors will attest.

Generally, for lunches I stuck to sandwiches though on the odd special occasion, I did indulge in fish and chips, sans chips much to the cafeteria serviceperson’s confusion. The fish and the batter were top notch, I kid you not. Succulent fish and crispy batter. Mind you after a few weeks of sandwiches, I think they could have deep fried cardboard and I would have inhaled it.

Ah, but it was at dinnertime that the hospital cafeteria shone. One special evening, I gave in to the epic carb craving and had some indeterminate pasta bake thing. The sauce wasn’t too bad – rich and creamy but the pasta was stodgy and…dare I say, I got my cardboard craving wish granted.

indeterminate pasta bake-ish thing

I generally made a policy of avoiding carbs as much as I could and filled up on protein and steamed vegies, as is evidenced by my next few dinners.

Here we have some roast pork with gravy and the requisite steamed vegies.

roast pork with steamed vegetables

What about roast lamb with mint jelly and…steamed vegies? Uh yeah, they may have given me too much meat.

steamed vegetables & roast lamb with mint jelly

On a particularly adventurous day, I sampled the shepherd’s pie. Where was the potato topping, waaaaaaaah???

steamed vegetables with shepherd's pie

And the day I succumbed to dessert…being British, I love a good trifle. Give me a slice of that childhood memory any day! The following picture illustrates something that apparently resembles trifle but in what manner, I am yet truly to learn. Admittedly, the medication I was on at the time had a good hand in making me hurl and the appearance of this dish did nothing to quell this unfortunate side effect (I didn’t finish it).

trifle

There were a few dishes I didn’t get to photograph such as the butter chicken diluted for the less…intrepid eater and without fail, Sunday evening pavlova for dessert. I was very fortunate that loved ones came to deliver takeaway packages of repute often and reminded me of the culinary delights waiting for me, as I dreamed of the great outdoors…

Hospitals are generally pretty shit places. I am not one to cry in public (thank god for the Anglo-Indian parent raising me to have the stiff upper lip and all that) but a few times, I did turn up to the cafeteria in near tears, overwhelmed by the loneliness of knowing that life was continuing outside and thus highlighting my insignificance. What a fucking cliché, existentialist nausea in soulless hospital, groan. The staff always had a kind smile, a nice word or two and were always happy to give an extra helping of food and kindness if one desired it.

So if any of the staff at said anonymous hospital read this, I want to say thank you for looking after me, for being so caring and for making it feel like it wasn’t just your job to care. Oh and for the limitless supply of Arnotts sweet and dry biscuits (dry was important because often a lot of folks can’t eat much because of treatment), Twinings tea and Bega cheese. Pretty sure I drank my body weight in chamomile and peppermint tea during my stay.

Bega cheese for snacks

You guys better hide this mug because should I ever have occasion to ‘visit’ again, I can assure you, it will be leaving with me…giggle. Don’t even like dogs that much!

awesome mug

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7 thoughts on “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it: hospital food

  1. Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday)

    Sorry to hear you’ve been sick, Gem :(

    Although I have to say the hospital food featured here is HEAVEN compared to the, I’m reluctant to call it food, stuff fed to me when I was in hospital last year. I wanted to put pictures of them on my blog but decided they were just too disgusting for it.

    Reply
    1. Gem

      *laughs* it is barely food, isn’t it Kat? I tried to choose the best of what was on offer and thought it might be funny to blog about it, as did a nurse who treated me. I think hospital food, like plane food, is universally maligned :)

      Reply
  2. jess☆ @ Multicultural Melbourne

    Can I just say, reading this post has made my whole day! Love your brutal honestly and the way you just say it like it is :) I’m reading this post while I’m at work, in a job that I used to love (but really don’t anymore), and actually just quit last week. I’m going to poor-but-happier route too, and going to be eating and cooking all the while! Thanks for the inspiration and the smile boost today, congrats on still keeping this all up despite your personal health issues, and sincerely all the very best in getting better soon :) and hopefully the shepherd’s pie gets its potato next time!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    1. Gem

      Hehe, I’m glad reading it made you happy, even if it is not quite happy subject matter. I didn’t realise how unhealthy sticking at jobs that weren’t good for me was making me so while it does suck being poor, money isn’t everything. I don’t eat out as much as I used to but it’s been nice to slowly watch good health return (and good eating and drinking habits…).

      Good for you on making a choice that I hope will give you some long term happiness, and best of luck!

      Reply
  3. fatbooo

    Lovely post. Confronting and really unusual to speak about hospital food! I am sorry you had to have a hospital stay, I am terrified of hospitals, so can only begin to imagine how it feels for you!

    Reply
    1. Gem

      They’re not great places but the folks who looked after me did a fab job. I like to think of the food as…character-building, hehehe.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: eat, drink, stagger » lie back and think of England

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