How a Hospital Meal Helped Me Through the Dark Days of Diagnosis

It’s my third day in the hospital.

Three days of testing for everything under the sun, of procedures to eliminate the blood clot taking over my leg being performed on me while I was awake, only to finally be diagnosed with May-Thurner syndrome and need yet another procedure to try to fix it.

I can do nothing for myself. I’m not allowed out of bed, even to use the bathroom. My spirits are low, and no matter how many times my parents tell me cute anecdotes about the dog, or how many times my grandma calls me to tell me how brave I’m being, I can’t make myself smile.

I hadn’t smiled in three days.

But Trisha the nurse arrives for dinner with a smile on her face. This is unusual. She’s been all business, getting the blood draws done with precision before leaving as quickly as she came. This time though, she has a tray in her arms — a familiar sight. It must be dinnertime.

She plunks the tray down on my table, and I push myself up to see it. It looks normal, with a black plastic dome covering the main plate, and a small salad and roll on the side. She looks down at it and laughs, and I fail to find the humor.

“What’s so funny?” I finally ask, and she is quick to respond.

“It’s the vegetarian entrée,” she replies, and now I’m curious. What’s so funny about a vegetarian entrée? I wonder what’s underneath that could make Trisha laugh. Everything else has been normal, if bland, hospital food. Nothing even remotely funny. I’ve mostly been eating chocolate ice cream sandwiches from the gift shop to avoid such boring meals.

Before I can think much more, she lifts the dome off with relish, proudly displaying the hospital’s idea of a vegetarian entrée.

Underneath the dome is a carrot. A single carrot, chopped up into tiny pieces with a ridged knife. A small puddle of butter has leaked out of the carrot and left an imprint on the plate. It is smaller than the side salad, which contains more carrots than my plate. It is smaller than the roll. It is a single, solitary, lone carrot.

And suddenly, I laugh.

The sheer absurdity of the situation catches up with me. This is a hospital, a place to become healthy, and of course they would serve a vegetable-based meal – a single vegetable, though, is simply hilarious. Who would think a single carrot is a meal? Even a bunny rabbit would starve if it just ate one carrot. And this is a hospital! Emotion pours out of me, and for the first time in three days, it isn’t tears.

I spear a piece of the carrot with my fork, making a snarky comment that I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish it all. My smile spreads, and when Trisha leaves, my parents join me for a vegetarian dinner in which I eat every morsel on my plate.

It’s my third day in the hospital. I’ve had two painful procedures already, and a third has been scheduled for tomorrow. I know what’s coming, and I know it won’t be pretty. But right at this moment, I have a carrot that makes me laugh, and it brings back a small piece of myself that I was afraid I had lost. And I know that if I’ve found this piece, I can find more – my optimism, my courage. It’s just waiting to be discovered, and with the strength the carrot left me, I begin trying to find it.

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