today marks the one year anniversary of The Day I Burned My Foot, setting in motion the chain of events that would reveal to me The Fact That I Am Actually Black, and also marked the turning point where i decided to walk away from the restaurant industry. i was working the day pasta station at canoe, featuring my nemesis, the "spag" machine (basically, a self contained unit that boils water, and features little baskets so that you can cook or reheat individual portions of pasta). this picture isn't the exact model we had, but you get the idea. twice a day, before and after service, i had to empty the just-boiled water into a bucket, and drag the bucket around the corner to empty it into the slop drain (the machine did not drain automatically into the sewage system, due to an incredible shortsightedness in design and implementation). i'd been doing this for months and months, and well, on january 16th 2006, with me freshly arrived back from a vacation with my family, the bucket caught on something on the floor as i was dragging it, and it tipped over onto my foot.
lesson learned #1: salt raises the boiling point of water. ergo, the water was actually hotter than regular boiled water. starch probably also raises the boiling point of water (i'd just cooked 40 orders of rigatoni in that water) or at least, maybe makes it stick to the skin a bit more? at any rate, i screamed: "S**T, F**KING, S**T, S**T!" kicked off my shoe and ripped off my sock, and plunged it into a bucket of cold water that my friend andrew got for me when he heard the commotion and saw what happened.
i think i went into shock or something, because while they were figuring out what to do with me, i was joking around and laughing. they decided to send me to the hospital. i was assuring my sous chef that i'd be back in THREE DAYS (!!!!!) at the latest (classic cook martyr supermachoman randy savage syndrome), and i was apologizing to them about being such a numbskull. then they sent me to the emergency room with the most awkward guy in the world, my nemesis sous chef, brent maxwell (not his real name). at this point, my foot was no longer in the cold water, and i was beginning to feel the pain. i took the elevator down to the ground floor (we're on the 54th), on one leg. then i had to HOP from the building, to king street, where the cabs are, crossing the distance equivalent to the distance between king and wellington. with socially awkward brent maxwell by my side.
when we get to the hospital (st. michael's), i had to wait for an hour or so, and at this point, the pain was so intense that i had trouble breathing through it; my breath was coming in quick gasps. this is also when i realized that health care in ontario, and in our hospitals, blows. the skin was kind of peeling off my foot in big swaths, and the doctors put some flamazine (the white cream in the really grody picture) on the foot, wrapped it up, told me to get the bandages changed every day, and sent me on my way with a prescription for percacets. oh, wait...did i mention that brent maxwell was completely fidgety the whole time? while i was waiting to be seen by the doctor, he says: "umm..well...i guess i better be going back to the restaurant for service". to which i replied, through GRITTED TEETH: "yeah. go." thanks for making sure i got home okay, chump!
the next day, not knowing any better, i went to a walk-in clinic to get the bandages changed, where they were VERY reluctant to do so, because "it costs them money". they did it anyway, and told me to go to my family doctor. that night, being the supreme idiot that i am, do you think i kicked back, took some percs and relaxed? hells no! i went drug-free, and hobbled around my house making a meatloaf dinner. i'm stupid.
then my mummy stepped in, calling me and freaking out on the phone. she insisted on taking me to another hospital, where the emergency room doctor pulled off the bandages to reveal the monstrosity that is picture 3 and 4. he immediately referred me to a plastic surgeon (plastic surgeons handle all burns and things to do with skin), who i found out, was at st. mike's when i was there, and for some reason, the emergency room doctor didn't page him, even though he was the on-call plastic surgeon. the plastic surgeon popped all the blisters in one quick motion (tricksily catching me by surprise by distracting me with inconsequential banter), revealing the open wound that is picture number 5. the plastic surgeon also told me that the doctors coating me with flamazine were doing nothing, because they were basically applying it to what was already dead skin. great! your tax dollars at work, people!
i had a very very deep second degree burn. i know it was second degree because my nerves weren't burned off, consequently, the next month or so was a blur of pain, daily trips to the hospital to get my bandage changed (yes, that's right...DAILY), and sponge baths. it was awful.
it took a long time to heal, and it was about 6 weeks before i walked on it. i moved back home to markham for about 5 or 6 weeks so that my mom could "rally the forces" (her words) to make sure i got to my appointments on time, and make sure that i was fed and didn't have to do anything. the boy came up and lived in markham too, and was very sweet, supportive, understanding and caring. during this time, i had to deal with the lovely cook management at canoe. my chef, tom, made snide comments every time i called in with a progress report, insinuating that i was faking it, and milking my condition so that i wouldn't have to work winterlicious. the sous chef, whom i had worked with at two other restaurants and had known for 6 years, also made some comments to other cooks behind my back, basically to the effect that i was milking it.
i think the way they treated me when i was dealing with my foot was the strongest factor for my decision to apply for my MISt, and to leave the restaurant industry. the final nail in the coffin was the day that my sister had her second baby. there was an emergency c-section, and my nephew was born under extraordinary circumstances, and we're very lucky to have him around. it was during summerlicious, and i couldn't call her all day, because cooks aren't allowed to use the phone to make personal calls. i couldn't make plans to go see her that weekend, because i was tied to this horrible job, feeding people i didn't like, working in a demeaning, belittling environment, and for what?
this is what my foot looks like now. the scarring is called keloid scarring, which is a particular kind of scar that occurs when there's a particularly severe wound, and happens mostly in people of african descent. it's weird thinking that i used to have two feet that looked the same. and sometimes in the summer, i caught people looking at it on the subway and stuff. i kind of wish that people would just ask, instead of the whole sidelong look thing. i'm definitely more offended by the looking than if someone came right out and asked me what happened.
there's not a lot cosmetically i can do to make the scar less visible...with keloid scars, the likely probability is that they grow back, and not even that, grow back LARGER than they were before. i kind of like having the reminder there, of what i went through, and i'm just grateful that it was my foot, and not my hand, or arm, or torso or something.
there's a lot of concern from members of my family, that i'm entering a profession that i'm not passionate about, in order to make some money, and that i'm sacrificing something by not being a cook anymore. yes, i do love cooking, and a part of me does miss working in a restaurant. but i chose a quality of life. i chose being able to see my niece and nephew, arrange my schedule around what i want to do, and while my life as a librarian won't be *quite* as professionally fulfilling or intellectually engaging or creative as being a cook, i'm more than happy with my decision to choose a life. i believe the idea that a job is going to fulfill you is a sick fallacy perpetrated by capitalism. i work to live, not live to work, because i know that my time with my family and friends is the substance of my life, not what i did to make money. being able to be home to make dinner 5 nights out of the week is gratifying in and of itself: i'm cooking for people i love, and **i** get to call the shots, not belinda stronach and her weird dietary restrictions.
with that in mind, dinner tonight is ribeye steaks, probably pan seared in my cast iron skillet then finished in the oven, with brown sugar glazed, oven baked acorn squash wedges, sauteed mushrooms, and panisse. panisse are chickpea flour fries. so i make basically a polenta with chickpea flour and water, season it, stir in some chopped thyme and pour it into a square baking dish. when it's cold and firm, i unmold it, cut it into fry shapes, then deep fry them and sprinkle with some salt. they puff up and get crispy on the outside, souffled on the inside.