I was getting better in Kutvolgy hospital. The craziness of the first day was over and I was sleeping and waking, getting up, moving around very carefully because my right side still felt a bit not there and was numb, particularly to heat. I seemed to be doing an awful lot more of the sleeping thing – being anally retentive I started to time myself and discovered I was doing up to about 18 hours asleep in the first few days.
That’s about the amount a cat can sleep, by the way, if nothing more interesting is going on, which just shows you.
It took me a while to notice the first major change. In fact it sort of crept up one me because the hospital food at Kutvolgy is… Well, it’s terrible. In a heartbreaking way.
I’ll give you the outlines. At 8 o’clock a nice nurse comes round with a big bag of rolls and some little packs of food. Healthfood like three slices of turkey ham, or three slices of completely flavourless cheese and some cucumber. Each patient got two rolls and a little pack. At 5 o’clock in the evening she does exactly the same. If you make the mistake of asking for a gluten-free diet (guess who?) you get two slices of “bread” that makes styrofoam look appetising.
The nurses and the doctors all wear bright white, by the way. It’s a caste thing and I didn’t have time to work out the rules, but essentially the whiter your clothes, the more important you are, and if you also wear a white coat, you’re a doctor.
The main meal of the day is lunch. Someone comes in with a big tray with two covered dishes on it. The smaller one contains some kind of soup – thin soup with veggies in it, usually, a non-negotiable start to most Hungarian lunches. This is dull but drinkable, especially if you got the floating carrots down quickly.
And then there was the main course. There was usually a lot of it, which was a mixed blessing, because it tasted awful. It was always overcooked. Occasionally it was completely unidentifiable, like the sort of bready loaf with some meat in it. Sometimes it was readily identifiable, as with the meat and two veg which I kept getting, although that doesn’t mean you could identify the meat. The veg was always mushy. Sometimes it got quite exciting: there was one occasional when my roomies got meat with sour cherry sauce, thick with cornflour. Awful. There was even tarhonya which is usually a nice kind of pasta with meat. Awful. How do they make everything taste like last weeks’ leftovers?
And yet, someone down in the kitchens was clearly trying. There were lots of different ways of serving it, though it all tasted pretty much the same. You never knew what you were going to get, in a boring way.
I didn’t really care, because a weird thing happened when I had my stroke: I completely lost my appetite and my consuming (in all senses) interest in food. It’s still just not there though I’m trying to remember to eat at regular intervals. Food also has a thoroughly nasty taste after a few minutes. Apparently this is a common side effect of stroke, which means it’s only a matter of time before some supermodel or starlet tries to induce a stroke to get the cool no-appetite effect.
But it wasn’t just me: my roomies and I bonded over the question of what would arrive for lunch and how awful it would be.
I puzzled over this and I came to a conclusion, prompted by some of the doomed television attempts to improve the food in our own lovely NHS. The ingredients were usually fine and the people cooking them not bad or evil people at all. They just couldn’t tell the difference between good food and bad food. They would make something revolting and think it was delicious. As they went about making their appalling lasagne they probably felt all warm and cuddly as they imagined the poor sick people eating it. Everybody laughs at hospital food, they’re thinking now as they stir, but mine is delicious and wonderful.
It’s an unsettling thought. At the moment, I’m one of them.