Hospital Food

As a hospital patient, I am finding that the best meal of the day is breakfast. After all, it’s hard to mess up breakfast. Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, hot oatmeal, cream of wheat — you know what you’re getting with cereal. Order a bagel and a fruit cup; it’s hard to go wrong. Better to stay away from anything more adventurous. French toast or an omelette comes pre-packaged and is asking for trouble and the risk of inedibility.

Lunch and dinner are more problematic, particularly if you don’t eat meat and have medical restrictions as well. Choices are somewhat narrowed. I have now eaten something called vegetarian stew with rice twice (it’s mostly banana squash, zucchini and garbanzos). Likewise, an egg salad sandwich twice. Cottage cheese and fruit has become a go-to item. Fortunately, the hospital kitchen offers tomato soup and vegetable soup daily. A small dish of soup with a roll and margarine is something I’m grateful for when the rest of the meal is ick. Take tasteless mac ‘n cheese with bland baby food carrots as a case in point (I ended up with that on my tray twice). Or so-called vegetable lasagna, clearly a figment of someone’s demented imagination.

Dessert depends on whether I get the nice order taker lady or the Dietary Enforcer. In the former case, I might score a lemon bar. In the latter, it’s another fruit cup for sure. My ace in the hole is my discovery that the nurses on this floor do have a stock of tiny ice cream cups in a freezer. Wake me up to take ten pills at 3:30 am and you can guarantee that I will be asking for one. Chocolate, please.

Of course, to have any chance of receiving a reasonable meal in a hospital, you have to order it first. This can be a challenge, particularly if you happen to be sleeping or out for a procedure in another department when the order takers come around with their iPads. You can always call your order in to the dietary department, if you can get through to them. Most of the time, I can’t. Last resort is writing my order on a meal form and asking a nurse to fax it in. Failing that, a patient can ask for whatever meal happens to be an extra on the cart. I imagine I’d have to be pretty hungry to settle for that.

But, as I mentioned, I am lucky enough here in the cancer wing to have that little something up my sleeve.

Chocolate, please.

Smile Therapy

😊 I have long been a bottom-line kind of guy, a value instilled in me early and often by my mother. Among her favorite aphorisms was “the operation was a success but the patient died.” I interpreted this to mean “don’t sugarcoat your failures.” You either reach your goals or you don’t, and you’re fooling yourself if you think there’s any in between. This is the way the world works, and the seriousness of the situation warrants treatment of the pretty scenery along the way as a dangerous and unwelcome distraction that may lead to never reaching your destination.

😊 In my school days, this meant ignoring my friends (“They’re not your friends, they’re your playmates!”) and their fads and fashions, and going my own way. Who cares if they fail, my only concern should be my own success.

😊 This type of goal-oriented worldview makes it difficult to focus on the present. From what I’ve read, “living in the moment” is essential for good mental health even in the best of circumstances. As hard as this has always been for me, a cancer diagnosis has made it nigh well impossible.

😊 I seem to be confused as to which stage of grief I should be in. My natural tendencies are to skip over all the denial and bargaining malarkey in favor of going straight to acceptance. I am always saying “it is what it is.” Facts are good.

😊 Except that the experts say this cannot be done. You have to do the steps. I may be engaging in an effort as futile as riding a self-actualization catapult to the apex of Maslow’s pyramid while perishing of hunger and thirst.

😊 This in no way inhibits my “acceptance” stage pull toward making arrangements. My wife and I recently made wills. I found the cemetery where I wish to be buried and talked with them about a traditional burial and the costs involved. I just want to go down there, sign the contract and hand over the money. I want it done.

😊 My wife accuses me of having given up, and I see her point. While that is not my intent, I don’t want any truck with dishonesty games either. The problem is that not all the facts are in yet. I am still undergoing tests. I plan to do whatever treatment is recommended. And the thought of being a cancer survivor brings a smile to my face. Indeed, the very act of smiling has begun to take on meaning of its own for me. This is no small thing, as my natural disposition might best be described as “grumpy.” Insert ghosts of Lemmon and Matthau here.

😊 So, at least at this point, I cannot agree with my wife’s assessment that I have given up. I pray daily and have others pray for me. And I practice what I have dubbed “smile therapy.” Eye roll, I know. I smile at myself in the mirror every day, just to remind myself that I still can. That anything is possible. Smiling as an act of defiance.

😊 Smile therapy has become particularly important to me in light of my twin bogeymen, pain and the narcotic medication being used to relieve it. My continued ability to work from home has been essential as well. As I explained to my boss the other day, work takes my mind off things.

😊 I thank God for small blessings. And I try not to fixate on those aspects of self-care that I could recently handle and that have become extremely difficult for me in a matter of just a few weeks. I refer to basic tasks such as lifting my right leg to climb into the car or into bed. Some days I can do it, but on others, my muscles go on strike and adamantly refuse. I would be totally out of luck if not for the assistance of my patient and long-suffering wife.

😊 I am tired all the time. Granted, I was never a high-energy person, even in my younger days. Now, however, I am learning to accept a new normal in which taking a shower uses up about every ounce of energy I possess. We ordered a shower chair, and I eagerly anticipate its arrival. I am able to work a full eight-hour day at my computer while seated in my armchair, getting up only to use the rest room. When 5:00 rolls around, I have just enough left in the tank to undress, get in bed, and be out like a light.

😊 Most of the layers of my onion have been peeled away. It makes for a much smaller world. I can only imagine that this will be exacerbated once I begin chemotherapy. I’ll just have to laugh while singing the “It’s a Small World” song from Disneyland (perhaps vomiting in between the repetitive verses).

😊 I do not believe that acceptance of all I have described means that I have “given up.” As I recently explained in decidedly terse terms, “it sucks, but it is what it is.” Denial would be pointless, and I certainly don’t have the energy to bargain as if this were some type of contract negotiation. No rageatar, por favor. For me, acceptance is where it’s at.

😊 But you know me. I need to have a goal. And I do. I want that Cancer Survivor shirt, size 4XL.

😊 Until I get it, I’ll keep right on smiling in the mirror.

😊 Just don’t tell anyone, please. I wouldn’t want to ruin my reputation.