Cooking up a cure

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For patients who have broken bones, torn muscles or suffered a stroke, Bellevue’s crown jewel is its newly renovated rehab kitchen


  • NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue Rehabilitation Department and the Auxiliary to Bellevue Hospital unveiled a newly renovated Rehabilitation Medicine kitchen. Photo: NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

  • Rosentha Tamaklo, a patient in the Rehabilitation Medicine Service at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, with occupational therapists. Photo: NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

  • Rosentha Tamaklo (center), a patient in theRehabilitation Medicine Service at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, with occupational therapists. Photo: NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue

“Every experience with our patients makes us humble.”

Dr. Own Kieran, Bellevue’s Director of Rehabilitation Medicine

As anyone who’s been there knows, rehab, short for rehabilitation, is no walk in the park.

Restoring power to torn muscles, broken bones, or neurological wiring frazzled by a stroke is serious work. Actually, it’s serious team work between the patient and her multi-person rehab specialists. For more than 30,000 New Yorkers a year, that team is the Rehabilitation Service at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue.

Several H + H hospitals have in-patient rehab units, but Bellevue’s is the largest with 46 beds that tucked in more than 400 patients last year, one at a time to each bed, of course. Thousands more checked in for therapy during the day and then went home to sleep in their own beds at night, waking up the next morning to make breakfast in their own kitchens thanks to skills perfected in the hospital’s rehab suite whose rooms resemble a regular NYC apartment.

As expected, there’s a bedroom, a bathroom, and a dressing area where working out means making beds (no extra neat “hospital corners” required), learning to maneuver through a bath or shower and the like and slipping in and out of clothes with buttons, zippers, hooks and ties.

But the current crown jewel of the “apartment” is a fourth room: The kitchen.

Like yours, over the years, Bellevue’s rehab kitchen ended up with appliances that were either worn out or outdated (think hand mixer instead of Cuisinart or cotton pot holders instead of super-cool fire-proof silicone ones). But in February the hospital unveiled a completely updated make-over with new plumbing and wiring, new cabinets, new counters, backsplashes, sink, and floors. The new pantry and storage areas are wheelchair-accessible. There’s a new electric stove, a new refrigerator, a microwave oven, new pots, pans, and serving plates. And there’s a clutch of interesting utensils like the one Judith Wilson, OTR, assistant director of occupational therapy considers a favorite: A long rod with a pincher-like end that makes it possible for someone in a wheelchair to reach across the top of an electric stove to turn on the burners — taking particular care to avoid touching hot ones when it’s time to turn them off.

The whole $43,500 kit and caboodle was financed by the century-old Auxiliary to Bellevue Hospital, a group of dedicated volunteers whose motto is “Keeping Humanity in Medicine.” “Deciding to underwrite the renovation of the rehab kitchen is consistent with our mission to make life better for Bellevue patients,” says Medicaid expert and longtime Auxiliary member Will Weder, a former chair of the Community Board 6 Health Committee.

“True,” says Ai-Lian Lim, DPS, OTR/L, Bellevue’s Director of Occupational Therapy. “This new kitchen makes it possible to teach effective body mechanics to those with cumulative and complex trauma, improve meal preparation and safe cooking over a hot stove, assess patient safety in a kitchen, and guide patients toward safe discharge.”

As for the patients, Judith Wilson says they really like the new set-up. “It’s my favorite place in the hospital,” says one, a sentiment seconded by a second: “Who knew that being in therapy could be so enjoyable and end with cooking your favorite dish!” There’s an extra bonus every year at Thanksgiving when patients spending the holiday in the rehab unit cook up a dinner that, thanks to the cultural culinary diversity of the Big Apple, may include everything from hummus to kabobs to noodles and, yes, even a turkey.

Finally, if Bellevue’s patients appreciate the kitchen, their rehab team appreciates them. “Every experience with our patients,” says Dr. Own Kieran, Bellevue’s Director of Rehabilitation Medicine, “make us humble.”

And, come Thanksgiving, definitely well-fed.

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