Food Friday: Feeding the Unwell

The natural follow up to Wellness Wednesday’s post about visiting the unwell is one about feeding them. I guess I am a true Jewish mother in this regard, since feeding people is one of my love languages. 

I wrote a post about “ Food for Healing” last February (HERE) when I was talking care of my son who was recovering from a femur fracture. I am inspired to write again, since is dear friend is recovering from surgery, and I am in the role of support person instead of physician. 

When people are under the weather their tolerance for food and drink becomes limited. There may be very little tolerance at all, such as when they are nauseous. Or, their doctor may have made them “NPO” or ordered that they take nothing by mouth. This may be because they need to have a empty stomach before surgery. If they do not have an empty stomach before surgery, theyhave an increased risk of aspirating stomach material into the lungs while under anesthesia. After surgery, the doctor may have prescribed that they advance their diet slowly and stepwise. Be sure you know their status before you go bringing them food. 

For those that are NPO, I like to bring something for them to partake, even if they cannot eat. Often I bring aromatherapy oils to apply. These are the natural kind, since synthetic fragrance can provoke nausea, headache, or allergies. I favor lavender, which seems to help nausea, and the citrus oils, since they have been shown to improve mood. 

Also for the early post op, I like to provide a source of music. Numerous studies have shown music helps the healing process and decreases requirements for post op pain medication. Shakespeare, the great bard, said that music is “ the food of love” so it is no wonder that it helps. Patients these days still maintain control of their smart phones, so what they tend to lack for is a bluetooth speaker. There are many great ones on the market now which are small, high quality, inexpensive and even waterproof. Buy one and lend it, or make it a gift. To spend less, lend a pair of earbuds which they may have forgotten. To learn more about music and healing, check HERE

Those that are just beginning to advance their diet are usually placed on “ clear liquids”. This means just what it says. Their virtue is that they are easy to absorb, are generally not irritating, provide hydration, and will not cause serious problems if they are accidentally aspirated into the lungs. People wake up groggy, and could choke on food or drink if they are too medicated or groggy.

When a patient “ goes to sleep” from anesthesia, her bowels go to sleep too. To function, the intestines need to move. This is one important way that they accomplish digestion and move material down the line. If a patient advances their diet too quickly and puts bulky foods into a sleepy gut, digestion cannot happen properly and the patient feels worse. 

Clear liquids in the hospital are sometimes very sugary. I find homemade or store bought organic broths are a better choice. Herbal tea is ideal. Also, some people like a little sweetness by mixing 100% fruit juice diluted with water, herb tea or club soda. Regardless, it all should be given in small portions. Post op patients are often very tired, and sitting in a reclined position, so straws are helpful, and they are usually provided by the hospital. 

Even when patients advance to regular diets, their capacity to eat will probably be reduced. Do not get too excited and bring big baked creations unless there are plenty of healthy helpers, guests or family to feed. Stick to simple items like fresh fruit in small bites with plain yogurt. Offer soups, such as chicken soups, as it is full of electrolytes, vitamins and protein. For more help with chicken soup, check HERE and HERE

Visiting the sick and helping the to get their strength back with appropriate foods is a great way to show you care.