Continuing education

Nov. 05, 2013 @ 08:13 AM

I recently received a master’s degree at Duke. 
It’s not really that impressive. It was obtained at the medical center, and the degree was in survival of the long-term hospital visitor.
Petey’s been a patient for a while at Duke. Every day he’s getting a little better, but for now, this is his home.
And while he’s here, I’m also here for 10 to12 hours each day. Petey’s meals are planned and delivered to him at bedside. As for me, and any patient’s loved ones, it’s up to us to stay nourished.
Hospital food has become shorthand for something pretty awful, and while it is really easy to consume junk or dreck, it’s also possible to score some nutritious and tasty vittles.
You can always bring your own food from home. But for those of us here for long days with trips home only to change, sleep, and walk the dog, it’s not an option.
Duke North has a large cafeteria, with full meals, burgers, sandwiches, salad bar and ready-to-go things like yogurt parfaits, and even sushi. There’s also a full Starbucks that’s open 24 hours a day. In addition to their lovely, lovely caffeinated beverages, they offer pastries, paninis, breakfast sandwiches, and even bowls of steel-cut oatmeal with fruits and nuts.
At the new medical pavilion, they have another cafeteria which is considered the healthy spot. They have full meals and sandwiches. They cook fresh foods, and attempt to maximize nutrition and minimize calories and fat. Helpfully, they post all the calories on the menu.
One day I had some truly delicious brisket, with a light (but still yummy) mac and cheese. My veg was green beans, and they were so good, I’ve eaten them a couple of times. They were cooked from fresh, with garlic, lemon and sesame seeds. I’ve decided to try and duplicate them once we get home and I start cooking again.
In Duke South, they have a food court, with places like Subway, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. Fast food's OK once in a while, but to hold on to your strength and energy, it should be a seldom kind of thing.
The very kind health unit coordinator on Petey’s floor gave me an awesome tip.  In the basement of Trent Hall, on the corner of Erwin and Trent Drive, is a place called Grace’s Café. 
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Friday, they have an eclectic menu of Chinese food, burgers, salads and breakfast served all day (alas, no Benedict on the menu).  They have a lunch buffet, and delivery. From the south clinics, it’s about a two-block walk, great for some fresh air, and dispelling cobwebs.
I’ve picked up a few non-nutrition related tips, as well.
Dress in layers, bring some type of wrap, and wear comfortable shoes.  Most of the time it’s a little chilly, and sometimes it gets downright cold. There will be a fair amount of walking. If you wear stilettos, or your new boots with the 4-inch heels, you will either be hating life or barefoot in minutes (upon which the staff tend to frown). Also, the valet parking service is essential for long days and heavy bags.
Bring a few things to keep you occupied. Each morning I tote in an overnighter with my laptop (there’s free wi-fi), books, magazines, and my pitiful crochet project.
If you must bring children, healthy snacks, books and toys are a must. A better idea, if possible, is to only bring them for short visits. They will be miserable hanging around for hours, and this scary hospital stuff is already hard enough on the little guys.
All of the staff at Duke is terrific; compassionate, kind, and solicitous. They know that you’d rather be almost anywhere else, and will strive to help any way they can.
Reward them with graciousness and lots of thank yous. Also, being married to a nurse, I know from experience they appreciate gifts of food. Just remember to bring treats for the night staff too.  Too often they get overlooked.
Hopefully, by the time you read this we’ll be at home. Then our only worry will be entrusting Petey to my own bumbling, puppy-like, sometimes smothering ministrations.
Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is