Friday, September 03, 2004

The Stench of Modern Medicine

I went to go visit a friend of mine in one of the local area hospitals yesterday. She just had her baby boy by C-section. It's a nice hospital. They've tried to make the maternity area pleasant and open. However, as I walked through the halls, I realized that, as nice as it was, it was still a hospital. And trust me, I’m not put off by hospitals. My dad was a doctor, so I’ve been wandering the halls of hospitals since I was little. I learned pretty early that there are happy areas of the hospital (maternity ward, sick children’s play room, gift shop), solemn areas (CCU, ICU) and get-out-of-the-way-and-don’t-peer-in-the-rooms areas (ER, psychiatric ward.)

Anyway, I was walking through the halls of this particular hospital, thinking, “Well, maternity wards certainly have come a long way” when I was hit by a very familiar smell. The smell of hospital food. I was a candy striper during my junior high days, and it was our job to deliver the food to the patients’ rooms and “water” them (refill their ice bucket and water pitcher.) For some reason, all hospital food, no matter what you are eating, smells the same. One whiff and suddenly I was a 13 year old girl cautiously opening doors, hospital food tray in hand, praying that whoever was on the other side of the door had their clothes on (I had walked in on several naked 90 year old semi-comatose men. Cue the cringing facial expression.) The food has a very distinct odor. Like if you were in a slightly altered dimension, it might smell good. But here in the real world, it smelled of steamed collard greens and funky meatloaf. About five years ago, when I landed myself in the ICU for nine days for pneumonia, the food smelled the same. Actually, that was how I finally knew that I wasn’t going to die. They started serving me real food, instead of a dripping IV, soup and lime jello (or other things you could possibly sip through a straw without taking off your oxygen mask.) I thought, “Well, I guess I’ll live because they obviously don’t see me as a waste of perfectly good hospital food.”

The smell reminded me that, as much as you dress it up with birthing rooms, wide-screen TVs and colorful wallpaper, a hospital is still a hospital. As nice as it is, you still just want to get in there, have your baby (or have your tonsils removed or recover from that case of malaria or whatever) and get out.


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