The Way We Live With Hungers

February 19, 2021
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Hospital food has the reputation for not being very restorative...

Richard Berlin, MD, shares his meditation on hospital food.

Hospital Food

We lower a plastic tray on his ribs

as if food can stop the dying:

cold potato scooped like a snowball,

canned spinach oozing green,

microwaved chicken thigh.

I’ve watched anorectic men clog

N-G tubes with brown rice

and Kombacha mushroom tea,

listened to wives plead

just make him take a few bites,

withstood lectures on macrobiotics

delivered by a Camel chain smoker.

No, I’ve never seen hospital food

stop the dying.

Some days, worn and hungry,

I take refuge in smooth noodles

glistening black beans and red chilis,

fragrant sips of jasmine tea,

sweet white sesame balls the size of prayers.

And I think about the sick men

dissolving like tailpipes in the sea,

what they long to devour,

how we die without appetite

and the way we live with hungers

that consume our hearts like another kind of dying. 

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 23 years in Psychiatric TimesTM in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA.