Background: As a writing workshop in 2015, one of the exercises was to write as though we had only one story to tell. What would it be about? Who would it be for? My one story was about how I became devoted to stories of love expressed through feeding someone who is sick. I wrote this piece for students and young dietitians who are trying to develop comfort in their approaches to nutrition counselling, and for dietitians who had been in practice for a few years who had interest in enhancing or rethinking their approaches. Here is what I wrote:
I was a young know-it-all.
I had a job as a dietitian in a cancer clinic.
I thought I knew what was best for people.
I counselled my heart out.
I thought of oncology nutrition as a way to help people get better through making sure people knew how much energy and protein to eat.
I was very good at my job.
I had a much-loved brother.
I was shocked when he died; young men don’t experience liver failure and leave us at 36 …except they do.
I knew grief; I knew the pain of loss.
I wandered about that clinic lost in the unspoken sea of sadness, grief, and fear in which I now knew family members were struggling.
I knew not how to do my job now knowing that feeding = love. Beyond the nutrients, databases, energy and protein calculations, tube feedings, dietary adequacy – there was love.
I knew not how to bring love, fear, and faith into my job as a dietitian, although I knew it had to be.
I did know someone could be with another in their pain and not say a word.
I did know that I could make a new way for myself.
…I was not so good at my job.
I was lonely.
I was as broken as I have ever been.
I knew that this really mattered.
I listened for the fear.
Diet histories became nutrition narratives.
I listened for the faith.
I listened for the beliefs that a bowl of soup, a dish of pudding, a bite of cake, or a sip of ginger ale was hope… was love – given one sip or one spoonful at a time.
I wondered how it was that working as a dietitian had come to be as the purveyor of cold, dry, impersonal, hard facts – as though human bodies, nourishing the body and that of others was as disconnected and utilitarian as filling up a gas tank to run an engine.
I wanted and want work as a dietitian to be seen as being human – to embrace the pain, the disorientation, the unknown, the chaos… and to support others as they find their own way through it… with spoonfuls of soup and sips of ginger ale.