I came across an opinion piece from the Columbia Daily Tribune about the foods available for visitors in the cardiac unit at the hospital. In Hospitals Should Take Snacks to Heart, Bernadette Dryden says everything I wanted to scream last fall when my mom was in the cardiac unit for five weeks at a local hospital.
While waiting for a friend who was having stents placed in his blocked arteries, Dryden decided to check out the vending machines “just a few steps away from the double doors behind which medical miracles of cardiac technology were being performed.” She had forgotten the pear and walnuts she was going to bring with her and was getting hungry. Here’s what she found:
One machine held 20-ounce bottles of Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Coke and water. The other was a veritable smorgasbord of America’s finest junk snacks. Of the 35 items for purchase, 15 were bags of fried salty/fatty chips and another 15 were doughnuts, cupcakes and candy bars. Gum and mints rounded out the remaining nutrition-free offerings. Not even a bag of peanuts or dried fruit got a square inch of space.
The most pathetic thing of all was the little half-inch-wide red heart pasted on the machine in front of one bag of salty cereal mix. The snack boasted “60 percent less fat than regular potato chips.” I couldn’t decide whether that was someone’s idea of a joke or the hospital nutritionist’s attempt to guide the buyer in the most “heart-healthy choice.”
The food served to my mother who had just had open heart surgery wasn’t much better either. She tried to stick with soups, fruits and vegetables because any regular entrée dish was basically inedible. When her doctors told her she needed to eat more substantially to get some protein, they suggested she order peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. If the sandwich had been natural peanut butter and low-sugar jelly on whole wheat bread, it would have been a great idea. But it wasn’t. When my Mom opened the lid to her plate, she didn’t even recognize what she saw. I explained to her that what they were serving to her was something called an Uncrustables. A disk of flavorless, nutritionless white bread with sugar-laden peanut butter and jelly crammed inside.
In Dryden’s opinion piece she wondered how to change all this.
What would it take, I wonder, for medical care professionals to take seriously what their patients (or patients’ families) put into their mouths? On a daily basis the discoveries of the relationship between bad food choices and disease fill the pages of medical journals, newspapers, magazines, the airwaves of radio and television and cyberspace.
Yet, the disconnect between medical findings and fast-food culture embedded in cardiac cath lab lounges tells us of the complicity at play and reminds us that nobody is really at the wheel of the national health care ship.
Also on MNN:
- Part II: What you can do to help a caregiver on the food front — beyond baked ziti.
- Part III: Snacks to help hospital visitors steer clear of vending machines.