From the Kitchen to the Bedside – a story shared by Guest House Chef MaryEllen
Everything we see changes the way we see everything else. Obvious or subtle, everything influences how we experience each subsequent moment.
Service in the kitchen begins as we prepare meals and snacks for our residents. It is hard to count how many trays we send up in a day; no two days are alike. The kitchen also provides hospitality, snacks and drinks, and our now famous cookies—little comforts for the people who come to the Guest House to spend time with their loved ones or attend seminars, events, or meetings that are held around the dining room table and in the Great Room.
Serving in the Guest House kitchen is about more than just “preparing food.” In everything we do – maintaining the kitchen, setting a table, plating food, and assembling trays – we seek to express our compassion and care. In this way, we nourish and comfort our residents, and support and serve the volunteers who present the trays of food, and the nurses, staff, and family members in our presence.
Food is a wonderful means of connection. In a conversation about what someone might have for dinner, we begin with likes and dislikes. From there we move into food memories. These are wonderful memories, joyful, vivid, and comforting, expanding far beyond food, and they can be experienced again in the present moment, no matter what else may be going on. We are fortunate to have many cooks in the Guest House kitchen, and to be able to offer a broad range of specialties. If a resident can describe a dish, chances are good that one of us will be able to make it.
One recent resident of the Guest House, Mark, came to us after being in the hospital for a long time. During the course of his treatment there, he had lost his sense of taste. On Mark’s first night in the Guest House, when asked what foods he was fond of, he regretfully replied that it didn’t matter. “I may not even eat a bite. Nothing has taste. There is no pleasure left for me in food.” He was eastern European, and somewhere along the course of conversation, palačinke were mentioned.
“How do you know about palačinke?” Mark asked. palačinke [palatschinke] are thin, crêpe like pancakes, often filled with ice cream. We sent a tray of palačinke up that evening, and Mark was enchanted. The conversation about food continued; Mark received small plates of goulash, pierogis, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, and mushroom soup, and he enjoyed everything, finding renewed pleasure in food despite his lost sense of taste.
We eat with all of our senses, and when someone has stopped eating, it is not uncommon for them to continue to ask for a tray to be prepared. What they are taking from that tray is the connection, life, love, and joy in the present moment. In the end, that is all the type of nourishment we need most.