While attending a local Rotary Club luncheon recently, I sat next to Bob and Jean, a married couple in their mid-70s who recently moved to the area.

Upon learning that I am a physical therapist, Bob told me he had recently been receiving physical therapy treatments. Last November, he fell in a parking lot while leaving an early morning breakfast social, causing him to be hospitalized for two weeks. He was unable to determine the cause of his loss of balance.

Jean and Bob asked me if it is common for the elderly to experience loss of balance. I took this inquiry as an opportunity to educate them and those around the table about balance and the effects of the aging process to equilibrium. However, I did not expect the direction that our conversation would take.

In an easy-to-understand explanation, I described the role of vision, proprioception and labyrinthine system in an individual’s balance. I also spoke about the various strategies used by individuals to regain balance and how these strategies are integrated by PTs during rehabilitation. Bob validated my statement by describing the exercises that he performed in PT that challenged his ankle, hip and step strategies for balance.

One of the Rotarians asked him what the most difficult part of his rehabilitation was. Bob responded, “Nutrition. I couldn’t eat what I needed to eat.” Bob and his wife are vegetarians.

Jean explained that upon Bob’s admission to the hospital, she told the physician and nurses they were both vegetarians and asked that their dietary needs be accommodated. Bob’s issue seemed to stem from the dietitian’s lack of knowledge or familiarity with the nutritional needs of a vegetarian.

Bob said whenever meat and mashed potatoes with gravy were on the menu, he received only mashed potatoes with gravy. He was not given any proteins. After meeting with the dietitian about his concern, he was given black bean soup — for two days! Then, Bob stopped receiving the menu item. Bob was told the kitchen had run out of black beans.

When Jean asked if she could bring fruit and vegetable-based smoothies from home so Bob could get proper nutrition, the physician denied her request, even though the PT supported her request.

You can just imagine the reaction of the Rotarians around the table upon hearing Bob’s experience. They could not believe that in this day and age of easy access to information, the hospital’s dietary service staff did not even take the time to find out how Bob’s nutritional needs could be accommodated and met. They also questioned the knowledge and training of the dietitian.

What is also interesting is the recorded message that plays while you are on hold when you call the facility. The message claims that the facility caters to the individual needs of its patients.

Our conversation was interrupted by the server as she told us the day’s specials, which included black bean soup. We all burst into laughter when Bob said, “Now I know why the hospital ran out of black beans. You hoarded them all here! I’ll pass. Two days straight on that diet makes me appreciate tofu. Do you have that on the menu?”

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