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Hospital care and fare

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

Portrait of  Vesanto Melina
• When people talk about hospital food, they don’t often use the adjective “good.” In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing those three words in combination. However, I recently had a stay at UBC hospital for hip replacement surgery and I had a change of mind.

Overall, I was blown away by my thoroughly positive experience and the expertise of the health professionals and staff. The orthopaedic surgeons were a very skilled and capable team. The anaesthetist and those who determine or administer pain medications were extremely good at their jobs. I’m not much of a person for pills, but the nurses and others sure know what they are doing. I had heard some scare stories regarding hospital induced infections, but staff took such care regarding sanitation that my fears were allayed. The physio and occupational therapists provided powerfully effective follow-up tips and two weeks after my surgery I could walk around at home without crutches.

On the food front, although I had requested vegan meals, I was uncertain whether I would need to rely on my partner or the occasional visitor to bring me items from the outside. To my surprise, the standard vegan meals on the menu were both tasty and nutritious. The lunch and supper rotation included baked beans, curried rice with beans, curried chickpeas, a falafel plate, a hummus salad plate, lentil stew casserole, pan fried tofu, vegetable jambalaya and vegetarian chili, pasta, stew, wieners and beans and a veggie burger. Side salads with vegan dressings were available. Dessert was fresh or canned fruit. The breakfast tray arrived with some combination of Cream of Wheat, oatmeal or dry cereals along with toast with peanut butter, soymilk, fruit juice and prunes. With this menu, there is zero cholesterol and trans fat, with little saturated fat, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. And one can expect to live longer. Similar menu rotations have recently been put in place or are evolving at Vancouver General Hospital and St. Paul’s.

Visiting Vancouver General Hospital and the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre at various times as an outpatient, I was further impressed by the quality of healthy food available in hospital cafeterias and other food service outlets.

I chose to write on this topic because I am aware of how different my experience could have been if I lived in a different country. For example, if I were Nepalese with joint problems – the Achilles heel of my family – and I had decreased mobility, the boundaries of my life would shrink, access to health care could be extremely limited and life would be far shorter. If I were American, an operation and hospital stay of this type could cost between $45,000 and $90,000. I could choose to fly to India or Thailand for the surgery and pay a pay a tenth of that price (plus airfare), but I would have less confidence in the sanitation.

So this month’s column is really an expression of my gratitude for what we have in our fine country and to say thank you to our health professionals and healthcare and food service workers. We are blessed.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian and author of numerous classics about vegan nutrition and food, with 650,000 books in print. Her most recent book, released this month, is the new Becoming Vegan: Express Edition, co-authored with B. Davis. (The Book Publishing Co.)

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