…involved 24 stitches. They ran across three fingers on my left hand, and required two months of rehabilitation. All at the ripe age of 21.
I was a culinary student in Portland, Oregon and I was midway through my school. My grades were ok up until that point, but truthfully I wasn’t rocking it in that department. Early on at school, I felt I already had the abilities, and that I was above everything they were teaching. It was the height of arrogance. I was working as an expediter (not touching food) in a James Beard award winning kitchen, and I was pretty much just going through the motions there too.
So how do you teach someone who thinks they know it all already? At school I was in bake shop class and we were slicing 9 inch round layer cakes to prepare them for frosting. I was using a very long slicing knife, straight-edged, razor sharp, with a very flexible blade. After slicing a few cakes the blade needed cleaning. So I grabbed a paper towel. That was mistake number one.
To clean the knife I gripped the blade tightly in my fist (I’m cringing as I write this, literally squirming in my seat), carefully wrapped in that paper towel (read: I’m an idiot) and I quickly pulled the knife through my clenched fist to clean it. Mistake #2.
Mistake number 3 was that the blade was turned away from me when I pulled, meaning as I pulled the knife through my clenched hand I literally pulled it through my hand, cutting through the paper towel and my fingertips.
I was shocked. At first I didn’t fully realize what I had done but as I started to see the blood, I knew. And I passed out. What followed was a trip to the hospital, those 24 stitches, and a meeting at school, where I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my class because I was going to miss too much time with the injury. I was thoroughly defeated. The cut to my fingers was deep but this was far worse.
Following that meeting I ventured to my job in search of some much needed sympathy. With an air of drama I walked into the kitchen, hand bandaged, anticipating the nurturing I wanted and needed. After taking one look at me, the Chef called me to his office, sat me down, and asked me how I was feeling. As I told him how I was and how it happened he looked at me, nodding in a cold and unemotional manner. After my dramatic retelling of the events he looked me straight in the eye and said words to me that I’ll never forget:
“I’m not trying to kick you while your down Michael, but you’re completely unfocused, and your cut is a direct result of that. You’re suspended for two weeks.”
I thought I had already experienced the worst, but this was total devastation. At the time I couldn’t imagine a worse day. But in the end, it was really the best thing that could have happened. It became the firing point for a complete turn around in my time in that kitchen. I’ll finish telling the story next week…