"It's a good thing you came in; the meat was hanging out."
There's no context in which those words portend well - especially not when they're uttered by a medical professional. In this instance, a physician assistant was snipping off the ninth and final stitch she'd sewn into my lidocaine-numbed index finger*, sliced nearly in two by a tumbler I was using to measure cocktail ingredients this past Saturday. Suddenly I felt like a dope for even having thought of toughing out this injury at home.
Not only did her co-stars give her grief about the decision - the day of my injury, writer Carol Blymire tweeted, "Sliced two fingers on Greek yogurt lid an hour ago. Still bleeding. I probably need a stitch or two, don't I? #iblamejamielauren #stitch."
Journalist Catherine Gelera replied, "That was me yesterday after slicing my thumb open on a mandoline: "Do I pull a Jamie and get stitches?" (I didn't.) #baller." Then the very physician assistant who was treating my wound brought up the episode of her own accord. Her take - stitches are stitches, two or twelve doesn't matter; if you need them, you've hurt yourself badly and should take care it it.
Then again, the four of us may be avid cooks, but we're not on a restaurant line. Professional chefs are, and I say this with tremendous love and respect, often total nutbags when it comes to wound care. As chef Traci Des Jardins says in the video above, "Going to the hospital isn't an option in the middle of a busy service."
Not only can the kitchen not spare the manpower - it's an expensive proposition, especially for a cook who is likely to be uninsured. They've developed their own care regime, which several were more than happy to share when I posed the question on Twitter, "Kitchen folks – pro ways to accelerate cut healing? Not using index finger is hell on the wrist & other 4."
Lest that bit slip by, I'll reiterate. By "cauterize on the fly," the chef meant placing the open wound on a hot surface, such as a cast-iron skillet, to stop the bleeding and sear the injured skin shut. And yes – glue. A wounded chef in the middle of service may indeed stop, rinse the cut, pour on a disinfectant and squirt professional-grade glue into the wound, or bind it together with duct tape, and return to the line. Perhaps consider the next time you're a tad cranky at the lag between apps and entrees that your cook may indeed be undergoing outpatient surgery on the flattop.
With all that wear, tear and shedding of blood, chefs are also experts at coaxing injuries to heal faster. They're also not stingy with the shared knowledge. After I reiterated that I would not be fricasseeing any of my digits the Twitter hive mind offered a few less extreme solutions.
As it happens, I was in and out of the emergency room within an hour, in monstrous pain, but Tweeting the entire time to assure my party guests that the soiree would be taking place. "Final tally – 9 stitches, and back to cooking shortly." As I was awaiting paperwork at the front desk a reply came from Jennifer Carroll, one of the toughest, coolest chefs to ever grace the Top Chef kitchen. "that's my girl," she wrote.
That took the sting away - even for just a second.
* A really gross picture of the wound if you want to see it.
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