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Catherine Lowry: Don't Rush to Heaven

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Some ten years after arriving in the USA, I was working at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. One night when I came on duty I was asked to work on the oncology unit as they were short of staff. I had previously stipulated that this was the only unit on which I would not work, but I gave in insisting that this was a one-off situation. I was welcomed by a very pleasant staff headed by an English nurse.

At about 2 o’clock in the morning, a patient put his light on, requesting help to move into a chair. As the nursing attendants were otherwise engaged, I offered to help him. He was a short gentleman, as thin as a skeleton, with a big crop of dark hair and the most amazing, sparkling blue eyes. Smiling. He apologised profusely for bothering me as this was not my job, he said, but if he could only sit out for a while it would be a great relief. I helped him and indeed it was an honour to serve him; he gratefully thanked me with that beaming smile again. A dying, happy man! The only difference was that I was smiling too, because I had a feeling that this was where I belonged. And so began the most enjoyable part of my nursing career.

During my time in London and the USA, I had taken a great interest in food and nutrition and believed that the information I was taught was correct. When I was told that frozen, canned and fresh vegetables were of equal value nutritionally, I believed it even though my gut feeling told me it was not so. I believed that the food served in hospitals was healthy. Breakfast may include fruit or juice, yoghurt, toast, cereal with milk, and bacon, sausage or eggs. Lunch usually included a starter, a main course of meat, fish or chicken, with vegetables and a starchy food, followed by dessert and tea or coffee. The evening meal varied but usually included a starchy food, meat, chicken or cheese and salad, with tea or coffee. For snacks between meals tea, coffee, cocoa or milk was served with cake or cookies. Today, in spite of all the research into nutrition, the above diet has hardly varied in our primary health institutions, the hospitals. It is not healthy!