In the summer of 1986 my diving accident put me in the hospital for three months. I wasn’t there long before I realized that the myths and legends I had heard about the horrors of hospital food were all true. It’s amazing the things that they can come up with in a hospital kitchen.
While I was in ICU, they brought every meal to my room. Once I moved to the rehab floor and my health improved, I would go to what they called the “Day Room” to eat lunch and dinner with the rest of the patients in the unit. They wanted us out of our rooms as much as possible and the camaraderie I had with the other quadriplegics made the days go faster.
In the “Day Room,” we would sit and wait until the food service workers brought us our food. They would walk in, load up the buffet bar with the food, and then stand back and announce what we would be eating that day. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words “Liver,” “Goulash,” or, “Scrod” They even found a Way to screw up the things that actually sounded good, like lasagna, burritos, or hoagies (I mean seriously, how hard is it to make a hoagie). No matter how bad the food was our options were few. In fact, there was only one way out.
Each week every patient could get one pass. This pass allowed you to go down to the hospital cafeteria and order anything you pleased. I understand that to the average reader the hospital cafeteria doesn’t sound like much of an out. But, when you’re stuck in the hospital the cafeteria sounds like the finest steakhouse in the world. In my life I have learned there are few places that execute a grilled cheese sandwich as well as a hospital cafeteria.
We treated these passes like gold. You had to be very careful that you didn’t squander your pass on something that was mildly bad when something terribly bad could be coming later in the week. At the same time, you didn’t want to hoard your pass and eat something terribly bad when the rest of the week would only be filled with the mildly bad.
For the most part, if you were smart, between the food that friends and family would smuggle in and the passes a person could make it without having to eat anything you’d later regret.
One week however, the kitchen staff really outdid themselves. We ate bad meal after bad meal, and by Saturday everyone had used their passes. That Saturday, just like every other Saturday, they brought in the trays, loaded up the buffet, turned, and announced the meal.
They said, “Tonight’s dinner is a delicacy, We’ve prepared cooked bananas, wrapped in ham, dipped in cheese sauce.” I couldn’t believe it! I had never heard of anything like this in my entire life. I remember thinking, “I don’t know where that’s a delicacy, but I never want to go there.”
This was bad. This was the worst meal we had ever been served by a mile, and none of us had a pass left. We looked at each other with great concern, and then made a decision. We would go to the nurses together and ask them to give us an extra pass.
We all headed to the nurse’s station. I’m sure this was quite a sight. A gaggle of people, men and women, sitting and standing, with wheelchairs and walkers, using canes and crutches heading down the hall. With all this in front of her, the head nurse figured out a way to get all of us passes, and together we headed down to the hospital cafeteria.
That day, I learned the power of cooperating with my fellow man. I saw that as a group we could get more done, more effectively, and more quickly. I’m quite sure that had I gone to the head nurse on my own, she could have found a way to turn me down and send me back to the cooked bananas in failure. But, together, I realized that not only did we get to enjoy the cafeteria’s grilled cheese, were able to get a taste of success as well. This experience showed me that if I thought of the well-being of the group instead of only selfishly considering myself I could increase my potential and productivity.
Since then, I have found the same concept to be true in the normal every days of my life. When I think only of myself I am able to get a few things done. But, when I think of how my efforts can not only benefit me but can enable others as well it is amazing what can be accomplished. When groups truly cooperate and synergize, then the talents of the many are maximized and the weaknesses of the few forgotten.
So, next time you have to choose between doing things only for yourself, or cooperating and utilizing the power of the group ask yourself; cooked bananas, or grilled cheese?