The Elephant Man and His easily bruised Male Ego

A funny thing happened in the Emergency Room one morning.  At least it’s funny now, it wasn’t particularly funny at the moment.

For an employee of a restaurant, the world can be a dangerous, painful place.  Slips and falls, broken glass, sharp knives, and some serious equipment with the sole purpose of cooking, grinding, and slicing raw meat.  Inanimate commercial kitchen equipment are equal opportunity providers, they don’t care whose raw meat they process.  During a life’s work spent in many a kitchen, I’ve seen more than my fair share of lacerations, severe burns, and broken bones.  And that was sitting at the bar after work.  The kitchens were really dangerous.

Electricity powers a certain percentage of the kitchen’s equipment, but most of the bigger pieces function by burning natural gas.  The deep-fat fryers, stove tops, and ovens have a pilot light, burning most of the time, so that the cooking temperature can be quickly increased and adjusted.  But every once in a while, somebody’s got to re-light that pilot light.  There were several times during my younger days, due to poorly designed or malfunctioning equipment, or stupidity, when I singed the hair from my eyebrows or right hand and forearm.  No big deal, when you’re young.

Skipping ahead in the medical file of past injuries; it was around 9 o’clock on a sunny Tuesday morning.  Shortly after someone had ‘cranked up’ all four gas ovens used in baking that day’s luncheon special, it was discovered that the oven on the far left had quit working again, no pun intended.  Occasionally, with the back door opened for a delivery truck, a strong breeze would blow-out the pilot light in that particular oven.  Someone would have to re-light it.

“I’ll take care of it!”  WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Whoever designed this model of oven should have been burned at the stake.  The pilot light was located at the bottom of the oven, hidden behind a decorative steel panel, about midway into the oven’s depth.  All you had to do was lie on the floor, reach up with your left hand and continuously press in a safety- ‘primer’ button, while stretching your right arm, which held the wind-resistant lighter, through a 5-inch space which was protected on all sides by sharp metal edges.  Then hold that pose for 35-45 seconds.

After four or five attempts that successfully began with a lit pilot, only to fade back to darkness, I gave my aching butt and back a rest.

Never lacking determination, my break from full-contact yoga was quickly over.  After assuming the position, I gave it one more try.  Seems a malfunctioning oven-part was slowly leaking natural gas into the cavity of the oven while I had been resting on the floor.

Ever see the movie ‘Backdraft’ with Kurt Russell, where they have those really cool special effects with balls of flames exploding through doors and windows?  Yep, that’s what it was like.  Co-workers screamed, I cursed, and off to the ER we went.

As the nurse turned, while assuring me that the Doctor would be right in to see me, she asked if I like something for the pain, either a pill or a shot.  Yes, please.  After twenty minutes passed, and still without any pain relief, I reacted to ANY sound of movement near the privacy curtain by lifting my trash bag full of ice cubes from my face and abruptly, politely screaming “PAIN PILL!”.

Shortly after the Doctor arrived, so did the Fire Marshall.  Perhaps there had been a rash of other church-affiliated businesses cooking up crack as part of their tax-exempt status.  Notification by staff is in fact the law with any similar reports of explosions.

The afternoon was spent self-medicating.  Pain pills and margaritas.  I slept well that evening, likely due to the emotional stress of the accident.  One big concern of the Medical staff was the possibility of permanent damage to my eyes.  So, throughout my overnight opiate/alcohol induced stupor, I was to apply a thick, creamy medication, with my finger, directly onto my eyeballs.  Have you ever noticed how no one does that as a hobby?  There’s a reason.  I couldn’t use my index finger because it was wrapped in gauze after being severely cut as I quickly withdrew my arm from the ball of fire.  Like Bruce Lee quick.

In the morning, I felt my way to the bathroom.  I faced the large bathroom mirror but couldn’t see myself because my eyelids were crusted over, despite the random streams of oozing creaminess.  After prying apart my eyelids, I began to inspect the peeling skin of my face and lack of hair on the usual places.  My facial skin fell off in clumps, transplanting itself onto the bathroom’s sink.

I was to return to the hospital later that morning for a follow-up with the Doctor and meet with an eye specialist for hopefully good news.  Clueless Alicia Silverstone was the receptionist on duty that morning.  After being asked to fill out the normal paperwork, I explained that I’d need a little help and perhaps she might assist me.  “Oh sure.  Name?  Address?  Emergency contact?”

She then glanced up from the clipboard and said,

“Extent of injury…Let’s see, it’s a laceration of your Right index finger?”

“And My Face!” I wailed through lips swollen with pain, causing me to look and sound a lot like John Merrick himself.

“Oh, and your face is burnt?”

Later, the Doctor tried to humor me with an analogy of how women in Hollywood pay thousands of dollars for a chemical peel with similar results, and mine only took a millisecond.  I’d have laughed if it didn’t hurt so much.

I am not an animal!  I am a man!

With really soft skin.

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