Saturday, January 13, 2018

A day in the hospice life: Meatballs

I wrote this back in 2011...

I visit patients and families in their homes, which is fundamentally different from working with them in a hospital.

It’s not my turf, it’s theirs. I’m the guest. I have to earn their trusting welcome, and have to keep earning the right to return. That’s usually not a problem, and wasn’t so today.

No, today is Wednesday, which in this neck of the woods is affectionately known as Prince Spaghetti Day. It’s the day everybody sits down to steaming platters of pasta covered with thick, rich, deep red tomato sauce.

And meatballs.

Many of my patients and families are Italian, or of Italian descent. Or, in today’s case, Sicilian. There’s a difference.

Today I visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. She cooks up a big kettle of sauce every Wednesday, enough to last the week, and browns up a pan of meatballs and sweet sausage. Every Wednesday, her kitchen smells fantastic.

I asked about her recipe. She uses Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes, and pointed to the empty 28-ounce can on the counter. “And I add a can of water to that.” She also uses Contadina tomato paste, pointing to a much smaller can. “And I add another can of water with that one. I don’t like my sauce too thick.”

Mrs. doesn’t use onions, “They’re not good for my colitis,” but she does add a touch of sugar. “And I don’t cook it all day. Just a few hours.”

She makes her meatballs with a mixture of ground beef, an egg, some bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, dried parsley flakes, and a little bit of onion powder. “The onion powder doesn’t seem to bother me like onions do.” She mixes everything up well with her bare hands to a smooth, even consistency, then rolls the meat into portions somewhere between the size of a golf ball, and the size of a tennis ball.

She browns the meatballs and sausage in the oven, then adds them to the sauce, where they finish cooking. “My daughter doesn’t brown her meatballs, she just tosses them in the sauce. I like to brown them first. I think it makes a big difference, but, hey, everybody likes their own a little better than somebody else’s, right?”

We stepped into a small bedroom just off the kitchen to visit Mr. He has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia. His FAST score has been 7f for as long as I've been working with them. Mrs.’ devoted and exquisite care has no doubt extended his life by quite a few years.

She slowly and patiently feeds him, three times a day, every day, and over the course of about two hours, he eats a whole meatball at lunch.