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Food for the Soul

Posted by Jin Schnitzler, RN, and Chef Stephen Manno

Food for the Soul

Today Jin Schnitzler, RN, and Chef Stephen Manno, Director of Dining Services in Glenview, share their story of how they worked as a team to help a patient and his wife experience a day of joy in hospice – all through the simple comfort of food. The duo is part of the team at our Marshak Family Hospice CareCenter in Glenview and both help spread the JourneyCare philosophy of treating the whole patient: body, mind and spirit.

Jin: When our patient arrived he could not swallow and had medical devices for nourishment. But he wanted to experience food, even if it was just to chew. So I got to talking with him and asked about his favorite food.

He said he loved lobster, because he and his wife had a tradition of sharing lobster dinners during their anniversary each year. That’s when Stephen and I collaborated to make a lobster dinner for both of them – with china, a linen-covered cart and a beautiful rose centerpiece – and we aimed to time it around when his wife would visit.

Stephen: When I brought the meal in, it was so meaningful for the couple. The food was the catalyst for them to share a special moment together, and to spark memories that took him back to all of those romantic dinners with his wife.

But it’s also important to know that the Certified Nursing Assistants are the backbone of what we do here in the CareCenter. In this case, it was them who ensured that our patient was eating correctly for his physical condition. So they make it easy for us to look like rock stars, but the kudos really should go to them.

Jin: Our patient died a few days later and it was such a privilege to create that special moment for him and his wife.

Like the experience with this couple, food plays such a special role for so many people we serve. I’m Korean and, for us, food is love. Some cultures have a special sick food – the kind that makes you warm all over. In Korea it’s a rice dish that is cooked extra-long and blended with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil.

This special food allowed us to help another patient, too. She was Korean and we got to talking about the rice dish of our shared culture. She shared that she wished she could have it one more time. So I spoke with Stephen and he figured out how to cook it that very same day. It was food for her soul and that day was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had.

Stephen: On a personal level, I make it a point to meet every single patient, family and guest that comes in – just so they know we are here. Because the moment they walk through our doors, it’s crisis mode for them. So we want them to feel cared for, we don’t want them to have to worry about running out for food, since so many families want to stay.

Even if it’s just soup, sometimes that brings them comfort. Food is not just a reason to eat. Sometimes people like having it around for the smell, or just to see it. Maybe you’ll have a patient catch the smell of a cheeseburger and reminisce “Oh, that was my Mom’s favorite thing.”

When I first meet patients, I have a conversation about food. And then it snowballs into a million different directions, like, “Oh my mom loves this.” It’s therapeutic.

I had one patient who we talked on and on about cooking and – when she died – she had left a box in her room with all of her favorite recipes. I tried to return it to her children, telling him it’s their family’s history, and they told me “No, she wanted you to have that.”

That is how much food can move people and help them feel joy. So when people come through our doors, we don’t know if they will be with us for weeks, days or even hours. But food can often be a way to start helping them in that moment.

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