I found myself having to stop watching the C4 dispatches program that is on right now to write my story of hospital food. Tonight’s program is dedicated to how poor the quality of the food you are given is during a hospital stay. For details of the show visit
Now I have had many stays in hospital over my life. When I was 15 I spent nearly three months in a terminal ward at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Queens Square, London. This ward had it’s own 24 hour kitchen and the food was superb. The quality was maintained as it was understood that every meal might your last and so every patient was fed whatever they wanted. Luckily I did not die, but was very well fed during my stay. I then moved on to the RNOH, in Stanmore. Now here the food was not so good, but was still edible. The food was cooked on site and was created to ensure that each meal was balanced and healthy. I must admit it wasn’t as good as NHND but luckily the wonderful staff who handed out the meals made sure we had plenty of fun stuff, like ice cream and biscuits to make up for not always eating everything we were given. The main reason why I did not come out of hospital thinner than when I went in was all the steroids I was given that helped me have a rapid recovery from my life threatening illness. I left hospital after nearly nine months and went home, to lovely home cooked food.
After ten years I returned to the RNOH for a kind of spinal MOT. After only three days I checked myself out, entirely due to the awful food. By now I was a vegetarian, and found I kept being given meat in my food. They even managed to make awful toast at breakfast. I expect it to be coldish, but wet and icy. The milk was off every morning, and so I couldn’t even stock up on the one meal that you would imagine was impossible to ruin. But however bad this stay was, it was nothing compared to my last visit.
In 2003 I had to go into the RNOH to have major spinal surgery. There was no leaving early this time. I had the operation after less than one of day of being in hospital, and spent two weeks in intensive care afterwards, throwing up everything I tried to put in my stomach due to a reaction to the anaesthetic pre-med. When I finally was moved onto the isolation ward I was well enough to eat. You would have thought that after so long not being able to eat, and with such major surgery to recover from that ensuring a healthy food intake would be seen as essential to my full recovery.
No such luck. I soon found that the only veggie option was salad. Cheese salad. This comprised of lettuce, grated carrot, gated mild cheddar cheese and a sachet of salad cream. Occasionally it would be a jacket potato, which would be either under done or just soggy with a few beans or yet more grated cheese. The breakfast was OK, but otherwise I kind of starved. I started loosing weight at an alarming rate. By this time I had been put in a full body cast, to hold my spine still. Within two weeks I had lost so much weight that I could slip one of my arms down the side of my cast, and could almost turn round in it so I faced the wrong direction.
But not only did this happen, but it also caused problems that still haunt me even now. You see my stomach was so empty that all the prescription drugs I was being given, such as very strong morphine based pain killers, anti-inflamatories and antibiotics to name a few, all began to burn through my stomach lining as they dissolved. They also caused terrible constipation, which is no fun when you are unable to move and are not eating too much anyway. So I was also given tons of laxatives. At this point I must apologise to the poor nurse who had to help me deal with the poo-cano (a volcano of poo) that the over prescribing of laxatives caused. The horror!
Anyway, after three months of this my wife insisted I was sent home. She then looked after me for the six months recovery period and fed me very well. But this is where the problems I now have with my digestive system arise. After being starved to within an inch of my life, and being given hand fulls of pills that were eating way at my stomach lining, coming home to good healthy food while being forced to lie on my back has caused my stomach, duodenum and bowel to become a nightmare. I have a condition called Barratt’s Oesophagus, which is where you throat becomes like part of your stomach producing stomach acid, and was caused by a mixture of the starvation, drugs and laying on my back for so long. It will not go away, and may lead to cancer of the throat in the future. Whatever it may mean tomorrow, I have to take super strong anti-acids for life, and these stop me digesting my food properly. This would be bad enough if it wasn’t for my ulcerated duodenum which occurred thanks to all those pills without food.
That saddest thing is I was always really lucky to be a paraplegic who had full control of his bowl and bladder. So while the spinal surgery saved these vital bodily functions, the awful food has led to my digestive system being about as knackered as it could be. It could even lead to serious illness in the future.
So it is vital that hospitals understand that the price of food is not the key thing. What you eat in hospital should be seen as important as the surgery. What is the point of advances in medicine if patients are going to be fed food not too far removed from that served in Nazi death camps? I know that all the treatment I have had to explore my digestive tract and to fight the effects of months of starvation during my last hospital stay has cost the NHS a pile more money than how much it would have spent on serving me something I could have eaten. I am always amazed at how the surgical teams in hospitals don’t complain about the false economy of crappy food. What’s the point of them working so hard, only to watch their great work undone by penny pinching on something as simple as food? In my case the surgical team installed of £250,000 titanium during a 15 hour operation and while my back is nicely fixed, but I am still fighting to get on with food. How stupid is that eh?