On Being Vegan in the Hospital

I was admitted to the hospital early on a Friday morning. I hadn’t eaten anything much of substance since breakfast the previous Sunday morning when everything started to go wrong. Anything I had consumed Thursday evening got thrown up in the wee hours.

Friday morning I was allowed some water and ice chips, which I very much appreciated because I was so thirsty and dehydrated. But by late Friday morning I was strictly on IV fluids and water was forbidden. This continued all day.

By Friday night I had a raging dehydration headache and I was dreaming about the water oasis in a hot desert. I rang for a nurse around 10 pm because I wasn’t going to be able to sleep with that headache. They gave me Tylenol for the headache (which did nothing to help) and a sip of water to wash the pills down. That little bit of water was like the nectar of the gods! I swished it over my teeth and gums, held it in my mouth just savouring its cool fresh quench.

On Saturday while my roommate was delivered meal after meal of what smelled like hot comforting nourishment, I laid in dehydrated headache misery listening to her pour ice water into her cup. I was bleeding from all the needles. My IV arm looked like a war zone under the tape. My bedding was stained with my blood. I didn’t have the energy to get up and wash myself when the nurse delivered a wash basin and towels. I contemplated asking for stronger pain medications just so I could sleep through the misery but other than the headache I wasn’t in great pain anymore so I couldn’t lie, it felt like cheating.

After the morning rounds my doctors decided I could go on a liquid diet. I was so excited to be able to have water! Then my lunch tray came and there was a glass of apple juice and a cup of tea on it. Unfortunately that was all on the tray that I could have because the broth was beef and the dessert was Jello. But I was ecstatic to have tea!

When I was admitted the nurse had asked me a bunch of questions about diet and medications and things and I had told her I was Vegan, it should have been noted on my file for the kitchen, but it wasn’t. I told the nurse I couldn’t eat most of my liquids and they said they’d bring me a new tray. But they didn’t. I didn’t care too much just then because that juice and tea was delicious and I had taken some Advil which was finally helping the headache so I could nap a bit.

When the supper trays came around mine had another glorious cup of tea and glass of juice, a cup of vegetable broth and an orange popsicle. When I buy vegetable stock for cooking I always buy low sodium, so the salt was shocking when I tasted the hospital broth. It was disgusting. I forced half of it into my body, ate the popsicle even though I was freezing and not at all feeling like having something frozen, enjoyed my tea and juice.

They unhooked me from the IV on Saturday, though they would leave the needle in my arm until I begged someone to take it out Sunday evening. I felt like now I could get on with the business of getting better, now I would get some nourishment in my body and get my strength back.

But Saturday was a long boring day. My sister visited for maybe an hour. My boyfriend was in for just a few minutes and otherwise I just laid in bed listening to the dementia suffering old lady a few doors down screaming for help while her son yelled at her to be quiet. My roommate had lots of company and I listened to the conversations about their family dynamics while I wondered why people can’t just accept their families the way they are and love them anyway.

Without the IV to give me nourishment and with very little vegan fluids coming to me on the trays, any will that I had for recovery started to fade. I felt miserable. Hangry (Hungry-Angry). Alone. Misunderstood. I started weeping as silently as I could into my pillow.

Sunday morning I refused to eat the popsicles for breakfast and just had tea and juice. After the morning rounds the doctors decided I could go on solid food. For lunch I was delivered a turkey dinner complete with gravy and a buttered roll. I have gallbladder problems. My doctor has put me not just on a low-fat diet, but he wants a zero-fat diet until we can get this surgery done. What on earth is low fat about turkey, gravy and a buttered roll?! Let alone vegan. I drank the tea and juice and waited for the replacement tray of low fat vegan food that never came. I texted my sister and told her not to bother coming that day, I was in a mood. We argued. She came anyway and brought me some tea and clothes. While we visited the person came in to take the supper orders and finally someone asked me what I would like to eat. I pleaded for some plain potatoes and vegetables.

And finally for supper Sunday night I had a single scoop of potatoes and some carrots with my juice, tea, and some fruit cocktail. It was the best meal ever! From then on the eating situation was okay. I ordered oatmeal, fruit and toast for breakfast on Monday followed by more potato, veg and fruit for lunch, and then I checked out and went home.

Being in the hospital is challenging for anyone, I imagine, but being vegan in hospital is a whole different level. In conversations about my treatment and recovery with some doctors, in trying to get something to eat, I felt misunderstood and even discriminated against. I felt like I was being punished and being judged.

I know vegans sometimes have a bad reputation, for being over-zealous, for being confrontational, for being in your face and all up in your business … but honestly, to me, sometimes it feels like meat eaters are the ones who get defensive, who just can’t accept that I have made a different choice, one that I believe is the healthier choice, one that has allowed me to lose a whole lot of weight off my obese ass while eating as much as I want whenever I want and always feeling satiated and full. To me, I feel like I have found the Holy Grail, the perfect solution to years of yo-yo dieting, the final answer. It has opened up a whole world of delicious food to me. It is the lifestyle change that I can and have adopted permanently. It’s super freaking easy! And I like easy! I got into it for my health and weight loss but the benefits go beyond that into not just saving animals lives but also saving the planet, reducing my carbon footprint.

Most of the time I eat real unprocessed whole food that I cook at home – whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fresh vegetables and fruit … how can that be a bad thing? How can that raise eyebrows? How does that get me into a conversation with a doctor about seeing a dietician so I stop hanging out at McDonalds? Why do I have to constantly be in conversations about what I’m NOT eating when what I AM eating is so damn healthy and plentiful?! I mean it’s not like I am out and about asking random people how much fibre they eat in a day, where do you get your fibre? How is your poop? That would be crazy! Yet it’s a daily occurrence for people to ask me where I get protein, to be concerned about what I am eating. It was easy to be vegan, to eat a whole food plant based diet at home, but out in the world … in the hospital … it just makes me angry.

I don’t blame the hospital staff at all for any of this, I’m sure it’s not every day they get a vegan in there. And the nursing staff seemed to be as frustrated about the food situation as I was. It’s never easy to be sick. It’s really hard to be sick and hungry. If things go as planned with the surgery I won’t be in the hospital long enough for eating meals again.

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