Tag Archives: hospitals

Hospital Food

It’s been nearly two years since my friend Bear died. The hospital he was in, VGH in Vancouver, through unhygienic procedures infected him with C difficile. (He’s not the only person I know who received infections in the hospital: I know of two others who luckily didn’t lose their lives.) I’ve written about this before but I may not have gone into the quality of the food.

Part of the healing process for any person involves several factors. One is getting rid of the infection/disease or removing /fixing the problem. However mental health also plays a big part in healing. If a person is depressed or of a negative frame it can slow or even halt healing. Having experienced depression in the past I know that depression can even bring on problems. I ended up with elbow joint pain that no amount of therapy could fix. It went away with the anti-depressants.

That’s two factors: medical help and mental health. The third and important aspect is having a healthy body that has all the resources for mending. That means having adequate red blood cells, vitamins, nutrition, etc. I’m not a medical expert and there are many doctors that could tell you the specifics, however any deficiency can hinder health. So that third aspect of healing is having the proper nutrition to bring about a full return to health.

Malnutrition in any of a host of vitamins and nutrients can cause everything from deformity to death. It is a serious issue. My friend had several factors against him in regards to eating. They included being a celiac as well as a picky eater, and of course after C difficile took his intestines and shut down his kidneys, food just didn’t taste right.

I often showed up around his dinner time and his plate would include two stale pieces of rice bread, one incredibly thin piece of luncheon meat, maybe a pat of butter or margarine, sometimes one boiled egg, sometimes broccoli boiled to grey, and very little else. His dinners often consisted of a few chicken drumsticks (he was 6’7″) and maybe one small scoop of potatoes. I never tasted the food but his wife on one occasion did when he didn’t feel like eating and her report was that it was disgusting.

On other patients’ plates, in a healthier state, I would see meat, potatoes and gravy and very little resembling vegetables. Luncheon meat has little to no nutrient value and vegetables cooked to mush do not retain much that’s worthwhile either. One slice of luncheon meat hardly makes up a person’s daily intake of protein. Unpalatable meals are not a way to get a person’s appetite back, which is often subdued after a surgery. It is also the worst thing to do to a person whose system has been traumatized by illness or invasive techniques.

Between the food and the infection and resultant problems it’s no wonder that my friend died. If it wasn’t for his wife showing up everyday with home-cooked meals he probably would have died a lot sooner. It’s sad and criminal that someone has to bring in food to try and heal a patient. Many people stuck in the hospital don’t have that luxury of people bringing them good food or the energy to complain, not that it does much good anyways.

In BC at least, premier Gordon Campbell illegally tore up the contracts of union workers in hospitals. They lost their jobs and as the courts looked at the issue for four years, Campbell had the Fraser Health Authority hire the lowest bidders. Cheapest is not always best. Eventually it was found that Campbell’s government was in the wrong but not after it was too late. The damage was done and things like cleaning rooms contaminated with biohazardous waste or feeding people back to health were lost.

It’s too bad Campbell felt it was worth a few lives to save a few bucks and use a dishonorable way of getting rid of workers. It’s too bad the hospitals are so dirty now many people fear having to go in. I know I do and many of my friends do. It’s too bad the hospitals have forgotten one of the principles of health, a good and well-balanced diet. I would like to see a world where truly human life comes first and that even the sacrifice of a few should matter.

If you’re in an area where the hospitals are comprimising someone’s health with terrible food, complain and complain loudly. Involve the media, write your legislative members, blog, tell friends, do what you can so that another life need not be wasted because of such indifference. This goes of course, not just about food but about the cleanliness of hospitals too. It’s time to have people heal healthily and quickly and that involves good food.

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Medicare: Getting Personal

Over the past year I have known four people who ended up with secondary (and more) infections from being in the hospital. One person had an injury and his infection was more due to that than anything the hospital did, though they almost discovered it too late. One friend had surgery, went home and then developed an infection and had to go back in. I don’t know how the hospital was implicated in that.

Another friend had had hip replacement surgery a couple of years ago (his second). Subsequently the bone around the replacement crumbled and it turned out he had some sort of bone infection picked up at the time of initial surgery. They replaced the ball joint (and built up the pelvis) with an antibiotic version. Within a week it was pulling out and they had to operate again. It was then supposed to be in for a couple of months but I think it was much longer than that. He had the surgery last summer and is just now getting to 50% weight on the leg. They looked at suing the hospital because of the infection but the convoluted way of healthcare in Canada means they would have to sue the doctor too, even if it wasn’t his fault. What doctor would then touch a patient who has sued another one?

The last friend went in for bladder cancer surgery. They were removing his bladder and making a neo-bladder out of intestine. The surgery went well. The bladder was made and my friend started to heal in that first week, still needing catheterising. Eventually, after about two weeks, they sent him home, in time for Christmas. A day nurse came in to attend him and catheterize him every day. Because my friend was a particularly grumpy person, especially when not feeling well, and 6’7″, he intimidated some people. The day nurse never turned on the light in his dark bedroom and never really checked all of his vitals.

It turned out he was getting and infection, his feet had turned purple and his kidneys were shutting down. They put him back in the hospital just before new years and tried to stabilize. He had a shunt somewhere in his neck, for nutrients or something. He got one infection and then within 48 hours of being in the hospital he got C Deficil, the deadly super bacteria. He then suffered a heart attack and his kidneys shut down completely. Two operations of eight hours each then occurred. They removed his intestines and hooked him up to various machines.

Over the months his kidneys started working again but he lost teeth and bone to a parotid artery infection from one vein. He couldn’t eat because it turns out the kidneys change the way you taste food. Or sometimes he was vomitting. Slowly, he wasted a way to a skeletal frame. His veins would collapse. Sometimes he could eat, sometimes he need a gastrointestinal tube. His kidneys never worked right and another surgery was performed in the summer to put a shunt into his ureter or kidneys. He had bags, he had tubes, he had needles.

He did start to eat again, many foods but he was so weak that his hands would shake and it could take up to an hour to eat a chicken leg. I should mention here that the food was often abysmal and in no way nutritional or conducive toward healing. He wouldn’t eat the broccoli because it was cooked to mush. He was celiac (before they decided/determined that he no longer was) and he’d get two pieces of dried out rice bread, with margarin and one thin slab of processed luncheon meat, along with two hard boiled eggs and no fresh vegetables. CBC has done a good series on hospital food (Sounds Like Canada) as well as an expose on the lack of cleanliness (doctors or nurses not washing their hands).

Eventually, he was too weak to recover. He made the choice when they said, we have to put a gastro tube in or you will die and he refused the tube, choosing his time. But he fought a long battle of 14 months where I watched his spirit slowly drain from him and his body collapse upon itself. He died a week before Christmas last year.

I still hold a great anger for the fact that many deaths are needless and could be prevented if cleanliness and hygiene were adhered to in hospitals. As well, with the Campbell government illegally (as the courts did decide) firing unionized hospital workers and farming out the cleaning to the lowest bidder, we now have hospitals being cleaned by people/companies who may not be up on dealing with biohazardous material. Our provincial government is saving money at the expense of lives.

At the same time this is endemic across the country. It’s a criminal tragedy that people are dying because something as simple as washing hands is not followed and super bugs are thriving. The four people I mentioned above all went to the same hospital, one that is supposedly not on the watch list for infections.

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