Cooked Bananas or Grilled Cheese?

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.

A tasty grilled cheese sandwich

A tasty grilled cheese sandwich

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.”

Cooked bananas, wrapped in ham, dipped in cheese sauce.

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?



7 Responses to Cooked Bananas or Grilled Cheese?

  1. alwaysbuddy says:

    bananas, ham and cheese: that’s just sick and wrong.

  2. Linda Miller says:

    I confess to gagging when I read the banana ham and cheese part. I wonder what they were thinking? If you can’t walk your taste buds don’t work either? If the food is lousy you will get through rehab quicker so just make it gross and everyone will go home? The thing that is really sad is that the bananas by them selves would have been edible, and send up the ham and cheese with some bread and you could have made sandwiches and ate the bananas plain. Plain, basic food that is palatable instead of a mess of wasted food. The group approaching the nurses desk must have been a site.

  3. Lyn Meeker says:

    bananas, ham, cheese …..Ewwwwww~ LOL~ … That is so wrong on so many levels … I could see a three year old coming up with that combination .. but not a hospital dietitian! (Maybe it was bring your kid to work day…) –

    Now how many people are really wondering how it tastes? ….

  4. Sara A says:

    …an awesome lesson! Being a foodie myself, I think that bananas and ham has to be the WORST combination…although I have had some strange combinations that were actually good. That picture of the grilled cheese looks really yummy….and its lunch time! LOL!



  5. Lyn Meeker says:

    So I “Took one for the team” … I had some sliced ham .. I had banana’s .. I didn’t have cheese sauce … but I took a piece of banana and wrapped the ham around it and tasted it… all I can say is .. I don’t think the cheese sauce would have helped it at all .. I don’t think it would have disguised the odd taste and most certainly not the very weird texture between the ham and banana… And heating it all up would not have improved it one bit! .. I’m so glad that you were able to convince the nurse of your need for cafeteria food! And it makes you wonder if the cooking staff were having a contest to see who could come up with the weirdest concoctions!

  6. Lyn Meeker says:

    Can you tell I have other things to do this morning .. but am putting them off ..

    You will not believe this .. has a recipe! (And by one of my favorite shows .. Paula Deen! .. )

    Cheesy Ham and Banana Casserole

    Recipe courtesy Paula Deen

    Prep Time:
    15 min
    Inactive Prep Time:
    hr min
    Cook Time:
    10 min


    9 servings

    12 slices white bread
    8 large slices deli ham
    4 bananas, sliced on the bias
    2 cups shredded Cheddar
    2 cups crushed potato chips
    6 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
    4 large eggs
    1 cup milk
    1 cup cream
    Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

    Copyright 2008 Television Food Network G.P., All Rights Reserved
    Cheesy Ham and Banana Casserole

    Recipe courtesy Paula Deen
    Butter a 9 by 13 glass baking dish. Butter both sides of the bread and layer 6 of them into the bottom of the
    baking dish, overlapping them as necessary but keep them even. Layer the slices of ham on top of the bread and
    then the bananas, 6 more slices of bread, then the cheese, potato chips, and bacon. In a separate bowl, beat
    together the eggs, milk, cream, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pour this over the casserole almost to the top. Bake
    for 45 minutes until brown and bubbly. Cut into squares and remove with a spatula, like lasagna.

  7. Lyn Meeker says:

    Ohhh … and here it is .. probably the ORIGINAL recipe ..

    of course it suggests if you don’t have ham .. you can substitute with cooked tongue or corned beef….

    And look how old the book is .. LOL!

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