Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Cook's Life #6 - Adding Insult to Injury

about six months ago, i injured my back at work. i was wrapping up some mise en place, when i suddenly felt a sharp twinge down the right side of my lower back. i screamed from the pain, and surprise. i wasn't sure what happened, and everyone around me was concerned. i assured them i was okay, but as the night progressed, i had trouble walking, cutting, moving, and pretty much everything physical you need to do when you are cooking. i was sent home early and tried to rest.

the next few months were fraught with tests, painkillers, muscle relaxants, insurance and workers compensation paperwork, tons of sick leave, all mixed in with drugged up loopy work days (according to HR, i shouldn't have been working at all because they didn't want to be liable), and making absolutely no money. i was also depressed, because my doctors (i saw a total of four) were telling me it didn't look good. after the MRI came back, i was told that i had severe back spasms and that i would forever have back problems.

as a cook, my greatest weakness has always been physical strength. this has made me work harder and faster, trying to compensate for this. i've now been told that years of lifting things that were too heavy for me, and reaching for things that were always a few inches too high have contributed to my back problems. as of August, i've been working cold apps/garde manger while doing physical therapy to strengthen my back.

the restaurant has also been extremely slow. summer has always been our slow season, but this coupled with the recession has led to layoffs and the cutting of schedules. so in addition to having sick leave i've been working only 20 hour weeks. just to make it clear, i made about $1000 over the course of three months...$1000 over the course of three months...i won't write it again, but that's the reality of working as a cook. even as a skilled cook, we make barely enough to live on when we work full time, and anything less is unbelievable. yes, that's a little over $300 a month.

the good news is that i'll be working full time during DINE LA, and back on the hotline for at least three weeks. the chefs asked me if i was going to be ok doing this, and i told them it would be like anything else. i've always been the cook they moved around to whatever station or schedule because they knew i would handle it. they even asked me if they could count on me to work DINE LA, since they knew i was looking for part time work. i said yes because although i do have some prospects, nothing is set and i'd rather say yes to a sure thing. i need the money and i need to start working as a cook again, the kind of cook i used to be.

but lately, i've been feeling let down. first my back, then the restaurant; two things that i depend on for my livelihood have been so shaky, and with the chefs asking me to at least commit to DINE LA, i mean, i understand that everything has been bad for everyone, but honestly if i have a better offer in the next few weeks, i'm going to take it. i am the only one who can take care of myself, and i haven't been able to do that for half a year. i had spoken to the chefs a month ago about needing more hours, and they told me they couldn't guarantee anything, but now they come to me and ask the same? there is no reciprocation, no satisfaction, no guarantees, but still the expectation of professionalism, even if that means i get the short end of the stick. yes, i feel used and abused, but also lucky that i even have a job. and it hasn't helped that all i've been making is cold apps/salads. it's been months of my self-confidence and self-worth slowly being stripped away.

i am looking forward to DINE LA, because it will give the kick in the pants i need, and who knows, maybe the restaurant will get busy again, and i'll have full time hours, and i won't need to get a part time job, or maybe something unexpected will fall into my lap and i'll be doing something completely different. it's been tough, but i'm still trying to stay positive. i'm hoping October and November will bring resolution and a return to normalcy, but for right now i still struggle with lifting the french pans, paying bills, and wondering what comes everyone else, we are all struggling. hope your story is a better one.


No comments: