Go to main menu Go to main content Go to footer

Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Hospital food

BY Will Nicholls Jan 10, 2024

Recently I headed north to assist in my mother’s well-being. My brother Don had to be in meetings down south and wasn’t available. He usually takes care of the family these days, so I was glad to help. 

We were worried that the Quebec public sector strike would affect her care. The caregivers at her CHSLD nursing home are also part of the province-wide job action to obtain better salaries and working conditions in this era of high inflation. We support their cause.

However, we were right to worry about mom’s living conditions. 

During the late evening shift, staffing would go down to just two people – to take care of about 30 residents. Many are unable to walk or use the washroom on their own. Some need assistance in changing clothes and protection against accidental leaks. A couple needed to be fed by a caregiver or nurse. 

Then I received a 7am call from mom. She was upset as she had soiled herself because no one was available to help her go to the washroom. She was told to wait for the morning staff to arrive to get assistance. 

I called to speak to a supervisor, to whom I expressed the opinion that it is morally bankrupt to hold helpless Elders hostage because of a strike. The supervisor said my concerns were valid on the health issues and explained there is a shortage of qualified personal and that they are doing the best they can. Hopefully the strike will end soon with a negotiated settlement that everyone can live with.

I realize that it’s a difficult job and I personally agree they should get a decent raise. In this regard it is interesting to see CAQ government members voting to give themselves a 30% raise when most of them are quite well off to begin with. 

Those two issues could be resolved if people work on it. Another issue will be much harder to fix and that’s the hospital food. 

Since the home allowed me to stay in the family room for several days, I ate the food they offered. It was $15 for soup and a meal of fish, rice and waxed beans in the cafeteria – the same food provided to residents. 

The waxed beans on the menu should have tipped me off as I had them when I was in a hospital in Montreal a few years ago. As then, the beans were almost transparent and dissolved in your mouth; they obviously had any nutrients boiled out of them. The pea soup wasn’t bad, but the rest of the meal was terrible. The rice tasted funny, and the fish turned to mush in your mouth. To my tastebuds it felt like the fish was rotten. 

A cook there told me that there was a recipe book that they were not allowed to deviate from in any way. From my past experiences I would say that they haven’t changed that recipe collection in many, many years. The people who created it should be forced to live on the same food they force upon hospital patients everywhere. 

One good thing is that Cree patients are allowed to receive food made by relatives and friends. I made various meals and even brought in a pizza from Markos, a local pizzeria. All of which was shared gladly. I encourage other people to do the same. In that home I saw some of the skinniest Cree I have ever seen. 

It was always my understanding that the sharing of food by a Cree hunter, gatherer or fisher was like paying into our version of a pension plan. When you got older and couldn’t hunt, others would help to ensure that you got some country food. Let’s hope people continue that tradition and Cree organizations take up the slack. 

Take care and have a great holiday.

LATEST ᒫᐦᒡ ᑎᐹᒋᒧᐧᐃᓐ

Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.