Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Monday, May 26, 2003
    Got Eggnog?

    Hi, back again. I hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day weekend.

    I have a relative coming to visit, so have been running around trying to get the place looking decent for the past few days. In the course of all this activity I uncovered a book which had been buried on my desk under a layer of papers. It's part of my cookbook collection - one of the oddest cookbooks I've ever seen. It's called Food 'n' Fun for the Invalid, publication date 1942.

    The book's first half consists of recipes and definitions of various diets (the full liquid diet, soft diet, etc.) The second half describes ways to make the sickroom more pleasant and various games to keep the sick person entertained (remember, this book predates the television era). The book assumes that the caregiver is female, but that seems like a realistic assumption for the time; even today more often than not that is the case. The book also assumes a high level of literacy on the part of the patient - one verbal game suggested is "Poetry," in which the first player quotes a line of poetry and the second person takes the last letter of the last word in the line and uses it as the first letter of the next line. I wouldn't last more than thirty seconds at that game.

    The most interesting part of the book, though, is the recipes. The authors seem enamored of the nutritive powers of raw eggs; they often suggest mixing one into cooked cereals or beverages like malted milk (ugh). Clearly, salmonella was not a problem in 1942. Wartime rationing is not mentioned, but this is not surprising as the book was probably being readied for publication just about the time of Pearl Harbor. Therefore, sugar and dairy products are recommended with abandon. There are quite a few recipes for eggnog, including one for coffee eggnog (a precursor of the Starbucks eggnog latte, no doubt).

    Interestingly, the book includes chapters on diets for patients with diabetes and food allergies. The diabetes chapter is almost unreadable, as it goes into weights, measurements, and food energy units in excruciating detail - much more so, I think, than current diabetic diets do. The allergy chapter seems fairly close to today's approach and has quite a few recipes for egg-free, wheat-free, etc. diets.

    But to be honest, I get the most fun out of this book by fantasizing that I am, in fact, the invalid in question, enjoying an extended convalescence after some unspecified operation (and collecting disability!). My caregiver is named... uh... Raoul. Yes, definitely Raoul. Now we're getting somewhere. Raoul looks the way you would expect a guy named Raoul to look and, even better, works tirelessly to satisfy my every wish. Because it is the nineteen-forties (hey, it's my fantasy), everything has a fabulous retro look right down to the bed tray. I languidly gaze out into the street watching the Studebakers roll by...

    "Raoul! Where's my beef tea?"

    "Coming, my little angel. It's almost ready. Here's a magazine for you, and seventeen get-well cards from all your friends."

    Sigh. Welcome to Fantasy Island.



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