Busy is a monumental understatement describing my past few months. Ever since returning from New York over 4 months ago, my professional work went into turbo hyper drive and has now settled comfortably into a constant state of wide-eyed panic; I contributed to another freelance writing project with a super tight short turnaround time; and my other main project is coming to fruition: I am one of the organisers of the 2nd national Australian foodbloggers conference – the Eat Drink Blog 2011 Conference to be held this coming Saturday on the 5th of November. We started out with a small group which has dwindled down further to just three of us, the others being Jen from Jenius and Simon from the heart of food, and it has taken us 6 long months to slowly coax the tendrils of this conference together and for one that has never organised a conference before, I now appreciate how many millions of decisions need to be made to make a conference happen. From the top priority decisions like the conference venue, the total number of conference attendees and the sponsors to bring on board – right down to the seemingly banal decisions like the wording and tone that communications need to take on – someone has to make these decisions. In hindsight, it was a slight ignorant oversight to think that 3 people could pull together a national conference in their “spare time”.
With so much on, I really couldn’t spare any time for much else – my blog post frequencies have dwindled; I haven’t read another blog in months (sorry all!); my friends have forgotten what I look like; and even my own engagement party planning is on hold (yes, I realise it’s now 4 months late). I certainly couldn’t spare any time to get hospitalised with a collapsed lung.
Last week someone tipped shampoo into our bathtub and didn’t clean it away properly. The next morning when I stepped into the bathtub at 6am I slipped in shampoo residue and smashed my ribcage into the side of the bathtub. It was unequivocally the most pain I’ve ever felt. I eventually regained enough breath to squeak out to the Co-pilot. I was wracked with pain but our crude amateur prodding of my ribs didn’t reveal any broken bones. The Co-pilot was convinced that it was merely a bruise since, he said, my descriptions of pain are often so exaggerated he couldn’t tell how serious it was. So I decided to go to work as a my work is conveniently situated over a medical centre. Unfortunately the GP came to much the same assessment. Very specifically that my lungs were fine, that it was just a bruise and nothing that some painkillers couldn’t fix. It was yet again, a thinly veiled call for me to “man up”. So, left with not much choice, I dug deep and found a hitherto unknown capacity for pain tolerance. I limped through work, wheezing, coughing and flinching at the pain of my bruised ribs – even went for an aided walk as my colleagues thought some physical activity might help my bruised condition. I was still alive after a full 11 hours at work, so off I went to a SIFF dinner with the lovely Anna from Morsels & Musings, one we’d booked in almost 2 months ago and not something that I could reasonably cancel on the day. I coughed, spluttered and laughed my way through dinner (although every cough or laugh had me doubling over in pain) but I thoroughly enjoyed myself – that’s a 7 course dinner with matched wines lasting 5 hours and ending at midnight! Are you doing the mental arithmetic? Yep, that’s 18 hours since I smashed my ribs.
And I would have gone to bed too had it not been for the soft, whisper quiet, peculiar but very definite wet bubbling noise coming from my lungs when I inhaled. It was nothing I’d ever heard before, but was so unsettling, I convinced the Co-pilot to take me to the emergency department, just in case. A few hours and one x-ray later, I was being admitted for immediate surgery for a collapsed lung – or a pneumothorax. We were told that normally patients present with a pneumothorax that shows slight collapse of the lung, my poor little lung on the other hand was so completely collapsed that it couldn’t be seen on the x-ray. The radiologists had colleagues called in to ogle at my x-ray – that’s what you definitely don’t want – to be classified as a medical oddity. And because medical and scientific stuff is so fascinating to me (now that I have the luxury of looking back and laughing about it) – below is the photo of the x-ray – taken by the Co-pilot so he could show me later as I was confined to a hospital bed with tubes sprouting all over me. Now compare it to the one on the Wikipedia entry to truly appreciate how collapsed my lung was – that empty, dark as onyx space in my left lung is as disturbing and abnormal as it looks.
Surgery involved a fat drainage tube inserted between my rib cage into my chest cavity to drain the air out and create enough negative pressure to encourage my lung to re-inflate on it’s own. When I thought hitting my ribs on the bathtub was more pain than I’d ever felt before – I stood corrected. The process of re-inflating my lung and the friction of that tube against my lung was suddenly the most pain I’ve ever felt. Enough pain to reduce me to mewing softly and weeping constantly for hours. The poor Co-pilot sat by my side and dabbed at my tears. Only a morphine-induced limbo between pain, waking and unconsciousness got me through it. And then as suddenly as I was hospitalised, miraculously, a mere 24 hours later the drainage tube was removed and the relief (and probably the morphine) made me feel that much better that I was immediately trotting around the ward unaided at a brisk pace (it was definitely the morphine). The difference was so dramatic the Co-pilot could scarcely believe his eyes.
I’m recovering nicely now but as far as the multiple x-rays show, I don’t have broken or fractured ribs. They suspect I had traumatic tension pneumothorax, where the blunt trauma of smashing my ribs on the bathtub was so great, it was enough to make my poor wuss of a lung deflate into a proverbial fetal position. On a more concerning note, I have since seen other examples of pneumothorax and I can’t believe I let my own lung get that deflated. There was talk of cardiac arrest risks! Now, as I look back on the experience retrospectively, the risks are so surreal it can only be adequately expressed by a loud profanity.
So after reading all that – are you ready to experience the 5 hour degustation I had on one functional lung? Well, take very short, shallow breaths to emulate my breathing that night and plunge on.
At least it wasn’t any old midweek dinner to risk my life on – it was a special SIFF event: The Chef, The Young Chefs and The Chemist, held at Sepia last week. The Chef was of course, Martin Benn, head chef and owner of the recently crowned three-hatted Sepia Restaurant and the Young Chefs are four former and current winners of the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award and well lauded chefs in their own right – Mitch Orr from Duke Bistro (the 2010 winner of the award); Phil Wood from Rockpool (2007 winner); Daniel Puskas formerly of Oscillate Wildly, Sepia and the soon to be opened sixpenny (2006 winner); and the current 2011 winner of the award, Terry Robinson, from Sepia. Although most have held stints at Tetsuya’s, the true link between all these chefs is Martin Benn – he has worked with all the young chefs at either Tetsuya’s or Sepia. And The Chemist? That’s none other than special guest Hervé This, a published and decorated French physical chemist, the father of molecular gastronomy and indeed the man who is credited with coining the term “molecular gastronomy”. The night started with introductions of the chef lineup by SIFF festival director Joanna Savill, followed by a quick demonstration from Hervé of his famous perfect boiled egg technique. With his thick French accent he was lively and enthusiastic, gesticulating wildly whilst rattling off quick bursts of heavily French tinged snippets molecular gastronomy insight and engaged the audience physically in strange and awkward demonstrations of molecular chemistry using human pawns. Yes, it was exactly as I remembered my uni science lectures.
Before each course, the contributing Chef would personally introduce the dish to the diners and discuss the flavours, ingredients and given the molecular gastronomy overtones of the dinner – the techniques and textures featured just as importantly. So with a glass of champagne in hand we started the experience with Martin Benn and his amuse bouche of smoked trout consomme. The consomme was so very rich, savoury and singing with umami flavours. It was so moreish and I wanted much more than the few sips offered.
The next course from Mitch Orr was very visually appealing – small morsels nestling in the middle of a wide plate masquerading as a flattened sea urchin shell. A clear viscous soup was poured over the components slowly, swirling and mixing with the disc of squid ink. The translucent slivers of calamari draped over the chickpea squares were impossibly thin and delicate but it was the subtle sea-tasting squid ink soup that made this dish for me. It made me want to lick the plate clean.
Lumps of coal in the next course by Martin Benn turned out to be nori-rolled scallops flanked by baby pink gelatinous gloops of pickled ginger jelly and velvety smooth dollops of avocado cream. It was a Japanese inspired dish in flavour and presentation – the isolated components each retained their own simple, pure flavours and visually rather reminded me of a picturesque zen rock garden.
Phil Wood’s offering was our third course and served up glazed pigs head. It was slippery, fatty and unctuously smooth – a mouth filling rich texture that is so typical of soft pigs skin and in my mind synonymous with guilt. It was flavoured with the sweet aromatic notes of master stock like star anise and soya sauce and chewy nuggets of sweet and sour gluten provided the contrast in texture and flavour.
Slow roasted duck breast was served for the 4th course and one from Daniel Puskas. The duck was delicious, incredibly tender without a hint of dryness and sat aplomb on a generous smear of apple buttermilk cream so vivid, green and rich.
With the mains completed, a palate cleanser was called for and the gingerade did the trick. It was very refreshing – like a lemonade icy pole married with ginger beer.
Terry Robinson’s dessert offering was particularly memorable as it was foraged! Terry spoke about being inspired by a white mulberry tree in Wollstonecraft and he pairs the foraged sweet mulberries and blackberries in this dish with chewy hibiscus pearls and crunchy cocoa crumbs. It was delicious and from Anna’s very appreciative murmurs and constant references back to it, I gather she enjoyed it too.
The final course was Martin Benn’s Japanese Stones – chocolate covered shells dusted with pistachio powder. Anna set about cracking the stones with a gleeful tap from the back of her spoon. The cherry stones tasted as bright as their colour leading to involuntary eye squinting and head shakes, but the coconut cream was delicate and the chocolate rich. The pistachio “moss” covered stones sat puddled in what tasted like a clear gelatinous melee of yuzu and black sesame seeds. I loved the playful visual scenes created in Martin Benn’s dishes.
Lastly, to end the night, all diners, staff and guest chefs were ushered into the central area for a demonstration with Hervé and the lineup of chefs. Truth be told I can’t recall what Hervé was demonstrating – I took this photo, then I starting feeling pretty lightheaded and promptly left the room to concentrate on keeping my wits together. I recall him making something that was shockingly orange and perhaps whipped. I didn’t possess the most astute powers of observation by this stage.
But I made it through the 5 hour, 7 course matched wine degustation – and honestly really enjoyed it and though in pain, felt reasonably ok all things considered. So who says a collapsed lung should hold you back. Bah! Clearly, I have proved you can go at least 18 hours on one totally collapsed lung. And you can too if you “man up”! But *ahem* now that I have proven this, I will not be making a habit of this – as once was quite enough.
I recall the Co-pilot delighting in telling the A&E staff at the hospital that I’d been through a full day’s work followed by a 5 hour degustation with matched wines before checking myself into hospital. On the day I was to be discharged, I called my mother to tell her that I was in hospital but I was fine and she need not worry. After her initial strange outburst of misplaced anger that I’d dare let myself get hurt she was very worried and offered me comfort in the only way she knew how. I leave you with her exact words of wisdom to me – words which were uttered in response to me saying “Mum, I slipped in the bath and my lung collapsed”:
Don’t wear high heels, don’t eat ginger and don’t eat anything sour
Sage advice so very befitting my surreal experience. At least now I can laugh without hurting.
For a behind the scenes look at the chefs toiling in the kitchen to make the stunning dishes for this event, here’s a video of the event preparation, shot and provided by Trixie Barretto:
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