Hospital cafeterias freak me out. I visit hospitals a lot with my husband and have begun to get comfortable with being in a hospital visiting or waiting with various people for various ailments (I still haven’t gotten used to people insisting on showing me their scars,but I will probably have to save that issue for a whole ‘nother blog…). Occasionally, though, we end up going to the hospital cafeteria for a meal, and it throws me into a total panic.
Why? Because there is no line. No order. No visible menu or price lists. No lane you get in and follow to find the food you need and the place you pay. Every hospital cafeteria I have been in, you walk through the door, pick up a tray, and then it’s just every man for himself! I do not like it! There is a pizza bar on your left that also includes pasta & bread sticks. There is a grill on your right serving cheeseburgers, chicken strips & fried baloney sandwiches. In the corner is a Subway next to a Starbucks. There are various refrigerators scattered throughout the room offering an array of bottled water, Cokes, ice cream, yogurt, & egg salad sandwiches. There is an area for hot meals just past the baked potato bar where they offer daily specials like chicken pot pie and mixed veggies. There is a salad bar in the middle of the room and a large rack of desserts to top it all off. It is so confusing! Do you just walk around in order and get one of everything? Do you get bread with your hot meal? Do they charge you if you add butter to your baked potato? There are too many unanswered questions and not enough detailed instructions for me to feel comfortable in a hospital cafeteria!
The other day I ended up eating lunch in the hospital cafeteria. I was with a group of people but after we all got our trays I suddenly found myself alone. Money is tight, so I was trying to keep my meal within a certain budgeted amount, but none of the menus had prices. I was also trying to eat healthy so I couldn’t follow my husband to the cheeseburger & fries area… My mind was whirling with all the choices available. I wandered aimlessly from the drink case to the pizza bar to the potato bar. Nothing looked like what I wanted. I know: I’ll just get a salad. Salads are healthy and fresh. You can make a salad to suit your own preferences. And you can’t really mess up a salad. But just as I started to grab a salad plate I saw a sign that said “Salad “$4.99 per pound.” I know I may be showing my small-town-ness…but how exactly am I supposed to know how much salad is in one pound? Who knows the specific weight of iceberg lettuce? What if I get to the checkout and discover that I’ve filled my paper plate with 6 pounds of salad? Do they let you dump some of it back so you don’t spend all your grocery budget on one single lunch? Scratch the salad idea. Maybe I’ll just go with the hot lunch special. I’m not a picky eater and I grew up eating at the K & W Cafeteria with my family on special occasions, so I’m sure I can handle the hot lunch. I stood by that area watching others place their orders debating whether or not I was making the right decision. That’s when I realized my whole group had already gotten their food and was waiting for me. I jumped up to the counter and placed my order for the special. The lady handed me a plate and I hurried to the checkout. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking from this chaotic experience. I just wanted to sit down and eat in peace. I finally calmed down and surveyed my tray. I had ended up with a crab cake, a cube of cold mac & cheese, a pile of soggy mixed veggies, and no drink. I wanted to cry. What was I thinking? I don’t even like crab cakes. And wasn’t I trying to be healthy? Where did that brick of mac & cheese come from? But you know what? I was determined to eat every last bit of that food because I knew that we didn’t really have the money to be getting me anything else and it was my own fault for allowing my hospitalis cafeteriphobia get the best of me. (btw…that’s not a real phobia…but I think it should be!)
There is a good ending to this crazy experience, though. My husband saw me suffer through a very fishy tasting crab cake without too much complaining, and when I was finished he took me back through the cafeteria line and let me pick out any dessert I wanted. He didn’t even make me share with him since he got it with his clergy discount. He’s so sweet…and so was that cheesecake brownie! It made everything alright!
From now on, when I go visit people in the hospital, I will probably just pack a lunch!