Hospital food is an atrocity.
I had a long stay in the Toronto General back in October and it wasn’t much fun. You feel interred when in hospital, and for a quite a stretch there it seemed as if I didn’t have very much to be encouraged by. The days, enveloped by a fog of confusion, frustration and dread, were very long and very slow, and I found myself looking forward to dinner, imaging it might be a little clearing in the woods. However, nothing could have been further from the truth.
The meal, delivered wordlessly by a stranger in a hair net, would arrive with the loveless flat, slap of a plastic tray. The food itself, alien, was a visual insult, a slushy confection that had been poured from one container into another, a reminder that you had absolutely no control over this life you now inhabited. I found it all inexpressibly demoralizing, so I began to order food in whenever I could.
I wasn’t much good at providing the delivery service accurate information about how to get to me. The Toronto General Hospital is a monster. It goes on forever, in every complicated direction and level you can imagine.
It’s disorienting, like a space station made by a long extinct civilization, and having been moved a half dozen times since my admittance, I didn’t have any practical understanding of where I was. I simply could not give instructions as to how to get to my room. I didn’t have a clue.
All the same, I was in a ward with three other men on the 14th floor of the thoracic/respiratory wing of the hospital, and it took the delivery man ages to find the place. He must have travelled all over the hospital, unwittingly engaging in a tour of all the grief and suffering tucked away there from public view.
Across the hallway, a woman wept loudly, as she did every day at that hour. An elderly man lost to dementia, roamed the corridors a muttering shadow. Family members, huddled and speaking in quiet, hollowed voices stood by the ice machine trying to devise coping strategies.
Our room was dark but for the glow of my tiny tv set, but still, at a glance you could tell that everybody in there was pretty deep in the woods and not going anywhere soon. The delivery man, who probably wasn’t expecting this intimate and difficult a journey when he started work, brought the food to me. Looking very emotional– for reasons that I am sure ran deep and mysterious on this Thanksgiving weekend– he said a quick prayer in a language I didn’t understand, and then petitioned me to get well, “You must get better, sir, you must, there is so much for you, sir!” and then nodding toward me, his palms pressed together, he returned to his life, and out of ours.