Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On Julia Child and the Duchess of Catastrophe


I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to become a doctor. Although my dad was a physician and my mom was a psychiatric nurse, medicine and nursing weren’t exactly what I had in mind. I had lots of interests: drawing, painting, sculpting, cooking, writing poems and short stories, and reading philosophy--not exactly profitable aspirations, but enriching nonetheless. Frankly, I never really envisioned myself “becoming” much of anything. In high school, I cultivated an obsession with classical French cooking, and cooked my way through “From Julia Child’s Kitchen.” From her explicitly written instructions and detailed step-by-step drawings, I learned proper technique. Whether it was chopping an onion, boning a chicken, beating egg yolks and sugar until they formed “the ribbon”, or baking baguettes, I felt like a chef, imagining myself working alongside my breathy, 6'2" idol. What I loved most about Julia was her attitude toward culinary mishaps: they happened to everyone, even her, but there was always a fix. “Oh dear! I’ve just cracked my bûche de Noël while attempting to roulade. Let’s see...I’ll just spackle over it with a little buttercream, and plop a meringue mushroom on top to hide the defect. There! No one will ever know the difference.”
There’s a humorous old adage that quite accurately describes the practice of anesthesia as “hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror.” Cartoons often depict anesthesiologists as oafish, unintelligent doctors, who sit on our asses behind the surgical drape, reading the newspaper or chatting on our cell phones whilst lazily reaching up--without so much as looking--to silence an alarm or adjust the dial on our anesthetic vaporizer. In my seven years as an operating room physician, I’ve somehow managed to miss out on that kind of (in)action. Somewhere along the line, I inherited the proverbial black cloud, prompting my self-deprecating nickname, “The Duchess of Catastrophe.”
On a completely involuntary level, my experience as an anesthesiologist has involved a disproportionate amount of terror with grossly insufficient levels of boredom, to the point where my residents and anesthetists purposely traded shifts so as not to be on call with me. OK, I admit, that’s probably stretching the truth a bit,  but you get my drift, right? Apparently, I’m a magnet for disaster. The worst part of it all is that I absolutely detest crisis and drama, especially in the operating room. I’ve given this a fair amount of consideration over the years, and have concluded that there is some crazy universal law in effect, operating under the principle of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Yes, as unfortunate as it may seem at times, I’m definitely the right person for this all-too-often hair-raising, but mostly gratifying job. Give me your failed code blue airways, your super-morbidly obese dialysis patients in need of IV* access, your bleeding parturient whose congenital heart disease is in need of an updated repair, and your septic 95 year old with a perforated diverticulum. Hey, you can even throw in a ruptured aortic aneurysm for good measure: the fainter the glimmer of life, the brighter I’ll keep the home fire burning. Maybe being an expert at what I do isn’t such a curse after all.
Being a good anesthesiologist is a lot like being a good cook--both science and art in part--seasoned by knowledge and experience, steeped heavily in versatility and intuition, and liberally peppered with a healthy dose of anticipation, preparation, humility, and humor. I’ll put it to you this way: had an anesthesiologist been available somewhere amidst all the king’s horses and men, Humpty Dumpty would’ve been put back together again. I wonder if my love of cooking is what drove me to shift gears during my internship from surgery to anesthesia. Anyone can dice an onion, peel a carrot, or truss a chicken. However, making delicious and sustaining soup from these few simple ingredients mandates more than just knife skills--it demands innovation, ingenuity, and vision. Bon appetit
(and to my surgeon friends, whom I couldn't do without, you know I love and respect you! It's all in good fun...XOXO)
*IV: intravenous



Christmas 2008...me & my homemade saucisse de Toulouse, made especially for our holiday cassoulet. Julia Child would definitely approve!
My battered old original copy of "From Julia Child's Kitchen", beneath which lies a signed copy given by Paul & Julia to their friends as a Christmas gift, which in turn was given to me and Spartacus as a wedding gift by our dear friends, Allen and Bryan.




19 comments:

  1. Nice to hear that you choose your own path 8)

    I know people tend to think its best to follow the foot steps of their parents of elder siblings but nah... follow what YOU want to be!

    And I see you have done just that and I looks like you have made a good choice and enjoying it to the full ^_^

    Furita x

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    1. "Follow what YOU want to be"..yes, Furita, I'm with you!

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  2. My wife is a bad cook, numbs my taste buds, ... would she make a good anaesthesiologist?

    Just kidding, my wife's a wonderful cook... but that's less funny as a comment. :)

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    1. One never knows, Robert; there might be an anesthesiologist just waiting to break out of that casserole dish :-D

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  3. "Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror" -- love it! The Duchess of Catastrophe,indeed. Plus it sounds liek you had quite the Julie and Julia experience. You must be a great cook!

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    1. Janene, cooking is how I unwind. Sounds crazy, I know. Yes, I did Julie and Julia decades before that book came out...oh, how I adored JC. I spent many a Saturday afternoon, watching "The French Chef", frantically trying to copy down the recipes before I finally bought her cookbook!

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  4. In high scholl I wanted to be a well known, wealthy, well traveled architect to the rich and famous. To prove this fact I went to college to get a degree so I could be set on that path. Then, life happened, marriage happened, and inevitably the Air Force happened. I sit back and wonder on occasion what life would have been like if I followed my passion instead of my dream.

    You keep doing what you are passionate about. Remember, mistakes taste good too!

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    1. Mistakes DO taste good, Steven...I love that!

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  5. AND SHE COOKS TOO!! :)

    Nice article

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    1. Yeah, You noticed all of her accomplishments, too! She has a way with words. :)

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  6. You sound a lot like me. I watched Julia Child for years and simply cherish her memory. To have a signed cookbook is a feather in your chef's cap. I wondered about attending (at that time number four out of the top-ten culinary schools in the USA) French L'Academie de Cuisine, outside Washington, DC. Julia Child died two sys before her birthday, on my birthday, and I took this a a sign that I should go for my dream and apply to LAC. The rest is history. I became tired of being on an assembly line, not getting to prepare those incredible French Pastries. So I took off my apron and became a food writer. On day I'll open my own Jazz Cafe`. I will admit my French is pretty rusty and I thought the first food photograph was a cake. (I really need new computer glasses!) and it was homemade (beautifully I must say) sausage! Ha!

    Somehow when our daily grind is acknowledged, it is time to switch-off and re-group. Follow your heart, add in a healthy dash of passion and embrace your dreams!

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    1. Yes, Theresa, I think we are a lot alike! Back in the 90s, before I went to medical school, I wanted to open a jazz cafe called Helena's. I envisioned offering simple, but rich bistro-style fare in a cozy, intimate setting: soft, warm lighting, well-stocked bar, big comfortable leather chairs, plenty of tables with a good view of the musicians, a couple of fireplaces, etc. I still love that idea! I don't have many regrets in life, but I do regret not having written to Julia before she died, just to let her know what an influence she'd been. That is SO cool that her death prompted your enrollment at LAC. I still haven't ruled out cooking school...

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    2. No regrets. Julia's influence is so strong sometimes I feel her nearby. Write her a letter and then read it aloud. I bet she'll smile as she listens to your voice giving her appreciation. Let's win the lotto and open a joint cafe`, although you'll have to relocate to my area. Ha! :)

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  7. Kris, interesting how you started out wanted to be like the French chef but chose medicine! I bet you are excellent at both cooking and medicine and perhaps the dedication and skill involved in both are very similar. Great photo of you with the homemade dessert!! I loved Julia Child too. You are so right about her attitude about culinary mishaps, that’s what really endeared her to us. “No one will ever know the difference.” LOL! It was perfect! Btw, “Duchess of Catastrophe” LOL! I can relate to that one myself! Wow, a wedding gift of Julia Child’s cookbook signed by Julia and Paul Child, that is special!

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  8. I definitely didn't think I would be doing what I'm doing now and be in what I would call a 'privileged position' but one thing is for sure, it works extremely well alongside my character, personality and mindset. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to state what I do.

    As an adult I felt that if I was more stable as a young person I would have had the ability to study to become a surgeon as I just love all the surgery related things they do or even work in autopsy or similar. It really fascinates me and I don't mind the blood and gore. I was thrown out of home at 15 years old, although I continued to go to school then later to college, my mind was not focusing on such a career then, I was too busy fending for myself in what ways I could.

    If I could press a magic button right now, I'd be a surgeon alongside what I'm doing now.

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  9. I definitely didn't think I would be doing what I'm doing now and be in what I would call a 'privileged position' but one thing is for sure, it works extremely well alongside my character, personality and mindset. Unfortunately, I am not allowed to state what I do.

    As an adult I felt that if I was more stable as a young person I would have had the ability to study to become a surgeon as I just love all the surgery related things they do or even work in autopsy or similar. It really fascinates me and I don't mind the blood and gore. I was thrown out of home at 15 years old, although I continued to go to school then later to college, my mind was not focusing on such a career then, I was too busy fending for myself in what ways I could.

    If I could press a magic button right now, I'd be a surgeon alongside what I'm doing now.

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  10. well, you certainly have a rich life: physician, artist, and a cook! "god" (if he/she is there) bless your multi-talent and energy! i never truly love cooking (i wish i do so my health could be benefited from it), so i agree that a good chef requires much more than cutting and chopping. :-)

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