Pam Wooster and Stephanie Muhlbauer

Jan. 6, 2022

Making a patient’s day with hot dogs and ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce

Hospital nutrition workers show a plate full of hot dogs that were requested by a patient.
(From l-r) Nadine Steele, cook; Stephanie Muhlbauer, food services lead; Charles Fleischman, executive chef; and Pam Wooster, registered dietitian nutritionist, were among the nutrition services team members at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center who made a special meal possible for a patient.

When Pam Wooster, a registered dietitian nutritionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, asked a patient what he would enjoy for lunch the next day, the patient said a hot dog. While he noticed the offering wasn’t on any of the menus he had been given, that’s what he really wanted for lunch.

So, Wooster and other members of the nutrition services team at YVMC jumped into action.

“Earlier in the day, the patient had made the difficult decision to transition to hospice care,” said Wooster. “As a team, we in turn made the decision, like we do so many times for our patients, to make it happen.”

Wooster texted Stephanie Muhlbauer, food services lead, after hours to see whether the patient’s request could be made into a reality. Muhlbauer said it wouldn’t be a problem as by chance, a last-minute lunch special at Yampa Joe’s, the coffee and lunch bar at YVMC, had offered chili dogs that week and there were still hot dogs in the freezer.

Muhlbauer then texted Hope Dahlin, a cook; Jessica Moon, food services technician; and Charles Fleischman, executive chef; to let them know of the plan for the next day. Muhlbauer received a thumbs up from everyone. She picked up hot dog buns on her way into work the next morning.

“That’s just what our team does,” said Muhlbauer. “Whenever we have a special request, we try our best to make it happen. Our whole department takes pride in all the food we serve, whether it’s for a patient who needs a special diet to help them heal or for comfort to make their time here a little better, or we’re feeding fellow staff who are caring for patients and haven’t had a meal for hours.”

At lunch the next day, a platter of hot dogs was delivered to the patient’s room. That evening, Wooster met the patient’s daughter, who expressed her gratitude and thankfulness for the hot dogs her father had received.

“She told me, ‘Thank you for making it happen,’” recalled Wooster, “to which I responded, ‘It’s why we’re here.’”

Prior to discharging on hospice to a skilled nursing facility, the patient had one more request – ice cream with caramel sauce. Nadine Steele, a cook at YVMC, thought quick on her feet and found caramel sauce at Yampa Joe’s.

“Food stimulates our senses and creates memories at special moments in people’s lives,” said Wooster. “While I don’t know why this patient requested hot dogs and ice cream with caramel sauce, my guess is that it made the patient think of a special time in life, maybe a ball game. Whatever it was, we were glad to be able to contribute to that memory.”

About the author

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She has spent the last ten years working in marketing and communications in health care, an industry she never considered but one to which she's contributed through her work in media relations, executive messaging and internal communications. She considers it an honor to interact with patients and write about their experiences; it’s what keeps her coming back to work each day.

A native of Nebraska, Lindsey received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, with a focus on public relations, from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University – she bleeds purple.

She could see a Broadway musical every week, is a huge animal lover, enjoys a good shopping trip, and likes spending time in the kitchen. Lindsey and her husband have two daughters and enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing all winter long.