Delivering A Slice Of Joy To Every Hospital Room

July 05, 2017

Her time with them is brief. Carmen Santiago is in and out of each hospital room in minutes – seconds, in some cases.

But it happens time and time and time again.

“When I go to the room and the patient says, ‘Oh you’re my favorite person,’” Santiago says. “Oh, I love that. I just say ‘Awww.’ I love that so much.”

Inside the walls of IU Health Methodist Hospital, there are hundreds of jobs. Santiago happens to hold the title of nutrition services rep.

It’s her duty each day to deliver meals to patients inside those hospital rooms. And, as she does, she gets a brief but raw glimpse into the life of each and every patient.

She sees the sadness and the joy. She sees the tears and the celebrations of success.

Sometimes, the patients don’t feel like talking. They barely acknowledge her as she delivers the tray filled with food. Sometimes, they want to get to know this feisty, cheerful woman who is bringing them their meals.

Santiago, a 42-year-old mother of two and grandmother of three, used to paint apartments. She wasn’t a big fan of that. Before that, she worked in a warehouse.

“I was looking for something better,” Santiago says. She feels blessed to have landed the job at IU Health in May of 2015.

“Excuse me,” Santiago says as she pushes the cart filled with trays of food down the hallway. Her bright personality elicits a smile from those who pass.

On this day, Santiago is at Methodist, delivering meals to the 7th floor.

Her job is truly an important one. With dietary concerns and food restrictions – depending on a patient’s condition – each meal Santiago delivers may be different.

So, her routine is the same at each door she approaches. “Knock, knock, knock.”

“Hi, Classic Cuisine,” Santiago says. She then walks into the room and asks for the patient’s name and birthdate – to be sure it matches the name on the tray of food she is about to serve.

The simple meal delivery often becomes much more than that.

Sometimes, patients ask her to adjust their beds. Sometimes, they want to get to know her. Sometimes, Santiago needs to call a nurse to check a patient’s blood sugar before they can eat. She keeps tabs on all of that.

As she leaves the room, she calls out, “Enjoy your lunch.” And she’s on to the next.

Her favorite floors are the busy ones, where she has a lot of stops to make. Her absolute favorite unit is on the third floor, where the mothers and babies are.

“I like that one,” she says. “I like that one so much.”

No matter the floor, Santiago sees a lot. And, she admits, sometimes it makes her cry. “I’ve got a chicken heart,” she says, laughing.

No Carmen Santiago. That’s called a caring heart.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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