The food at these mental institutions really isn’t that bad. I’ve been hospitalized 6 different times and have learned unique and particular insights into the mess hall atmosphere while being a psych patient at five different hospitals.
First is Newton Wellesely. When I was first hospitalized, my stay in the psych ward lasted three weeks. The entire experience was foreign to me and the inexperience showed; I acted like a rookie. At meal time they serve you a tray of food. I ate what they gave me and asked no questions. Unfortunately, I was too naive to realize that the pencil and piece of paper that was on every tray of food that every patient in the hospital is served was the way to place your custom order for the next meal. For an entire week I ate the same breakfast, the same lunch, and the same dinner. Finally another patient clued me into the notion of picking what I wanted off the menu. What a game changer. With every meal, I could order an appetizer, a main course and a dessert, as well as, a drink option (usually some type of juice). For a guy who has been living alone since college I was far from disappointed.
Second hospital was Methodist 5 South. Upon arrival at Methodist Hospital, I had already endured two previous hospitalizations. I thought I was a professional at mealtime… so I thought. I had many things to learn. Sat down at the big table (it seated the most people) at my first meal. Quickly learned the rules of trading food. It was fun. If you’re not going to eat something then you place the food or drink item in the middle. If you want that food item that was just placed in the middle you couldn’t just take it. You had to put something of yours in the middle as well. Then, and only then, could you take an item from the middle. It happens real quick, and it normally works out that everyone involved in trading is satisfied with what they ended up getting for giving up something they didn't really want anyway… It’s like they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. I would always try to trade juice for ice cream. They served ice cream at lunch, dinner, and late night snack time not to mention late night snack time with real genoa salami sandwiches. The eating arrangement was luxurious.
By the time I made it to Lakeshore I was a mealtime pro at these places. I knew psych units had nutritionists that were monitoring what you order. You can order anything you want, but the hospital makes sure that you are getting a balanced meal. This is why the nutritionist always asks to talk to me before my departure from all my hospital visits; I had a habit of ordering a whole bunch of grilled cheeses at lunch and dinner time. I don’t see why they wouldn’t give me all of them as they’re much easier to cook than some of the other things that are being cooked. Anyway, by Lakeshore I had given up. They put me in one of these places they can come up with what to feed me. This became and still is my attitude at hospitals moving forward. As long as it’s three hot meals a day then I had no right to complain; Feed me what you will.
Swedish Covenant was lavish. Every meal was three to five courses, and I wasn’t even placing any orders. I learned at this hospital that the food can get extremely lavish. After I refused to go to my room while I was walking the hallway, three security guards tackled me and pinned me down on my bed and strapped down in five point restraints. It was quite violent and I had to lay in bed for almost three hours. When I was let out they brought me a special hospital meal (I think they felt bad for me). We’re talking prime rib cooked perfect with mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. Made the whole thing worth it.
My last visit to the psych ward came in Methodist 5C. Even here there were things to learn. Less options, no dessert, and snack time was simply just sugar cookies (we did get them twice a day, which was nice). In this place you better finish your tray of food or expect less food on your next tray. What made the journey at 5C interesting was the coffee and each patient’s last meal. First the coffee. It’s all hearsay, but they were spiking that coffee, and not with anything fun. With things that make you puke. Some sort of strange hazing ritual. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not the other patients that are doing it. More hearsay was the last meal before your papers are signed and you’re on your way out. Every patient got served some kind of fish meal. Most patients got served tuna fish. I didn’t know and still really don't know what it all means, but on my last meal I started to hear from other patients that it did have some sort of meaning. “What’s he got?” one patient whispers to the other. Guy looks at my tray. ‘Cod’, he says. Other patient whispers, ‘that’s the best one’. Conversation ends. I proceed to chow down on the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.
All in all, learning to eat with others, as well as, meal time at hospitals is always a good learning experience. People will tell you how bad hospital food is and this and that, but the food is consistent and I have never done much better on the quality of the food that I cook myself.