This week I experienced eating hospital food for the first time in 70 years. I didn’t look forward to the food.
I don’t remember whether I liked what they served me when I was 3. But I am thankful that now it is much better than its reputation.
Whether we have diabetes or not, almost everybody will have the experience some day of eating hospital food. But those of us with diabetes do have special food needs.
My food needs are a very low-carbohydrate diet. I’ve been eating low-carb for almost exactly a year now, and in that time I shaved off another 15 pounds from the previous 141 pounds that I lost in the two years that I took Byetta.
I have reached my weight goal. But the bad news – which dieters will seldom tell you – is that we have to concentrate as hard on maintaining a normal weight is as we did at losing it in the first place.
I was pleasantly surprised that Boulder Community Hospital was able to meet my needs with a selection of low-carb choices that tasted quite good. Our small not-for-profit hospital has only 265 inpatient beds. But it was even able to help me vary my rather limited repertoire – which is based on my quite limited cooking skills – with foods that I seldom eat. Memorable dishes included Swiss steak and diet gelatin.
Yes, gelatin or Jello. While I have written here that I don’t use any sweetener – or even have any sweetener, whether caloric or non-caloric, in my apartment to this day – I still do appreciate a little sweetness after dinner. So I may well add diet gelatin to my shopping list.
When I told the admitting nurse that I really wanted to have a low-carb diet while I was hospitalized, she gave me a good tip. “Ask for a low-carb menu, as soon as you go from the recovery room to your private room.” That way, she said, I would get low-carb choices from my first meal.
This hospital calls its low-carb menu by a funny name, “1800 ADA.” The number stands for calories and the letters stand for the American Diabetes Association. I think it’s funny because the ADA has lagged so far behind many of us who have diabetes in accepting our need for a low-carb diet.
Scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage were the mainstays of my breakfasts at the hospital. Lunch was big on fresh salad greens, and once I got a tasty traditional tuna salad. Had I stayed over another day for Thanksgiving, I would have had roast turkey.
The other pleasant surprise was coffee. Because of my operation late one morning, the pre-admission instructions were no food or drink – not even water or coffee – after midnight the night before. The reason was to minimize the chance of nausea from the anesthesia.
I told the admitting nurse that I still remembered all too well the headaches that caffeine withdrawal had given me 30 years ago. Then, just before I started a spiritual retreat, they told me that they didn’t allow any drugs – not even coffee.
The nurse laughed. She said that the hospital could solve that problem, although she hadn’t believe the solution when she first heard about it.
“In a few minutes the anesthesiologist will go over the procedure with you,” she said. “Ask him to add caffeine to your line.”
Then, indeed when I met with the anesthesiologist, he also laughed – but agreed that I would be able to mainline my caffeine.
When I got to my private room, the nurses brought me all of the coffee that I wanted. While generally it was the typically weak American brew that can’t compare with what I make at home, one nurse had so much pity on me that she brought me a cup of Starbucks coffee. It was almost as good as mine.
During the whole time I was at the hospital I never once experienced a headache. And I was able to maintain exactly the same weight as I had before they operated.
David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 keep his diabetes in remission without any drugs. He can be found on Twitter @davidmendosa and on Facebook at David Mendosa.