Dishin' That: Can I get a hand?

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For reasons mostly to do with nature, and the polar opposite of nurture, I am down for the count.

Benched on the sidelines (which is better than being beached like a whale), I’m punched out indefinitely. As nasty arm, wrist and hand injuries wreak havoc on my professional existence, I yearn for the day when “ace” will once again mean requested server, and not a twisted fabric swath.

The inevitable carpal tunnel and multiple trigger-finger surgery was coached along by a fender-bender that jammed my hand into the steering column of my CRV. Taking place on a recent snowfall-turned-skating-rink, otherwise known as Interstate 295, the accident involved a gentleman who hit me but was contrite.

Cited for driving over the reduced 45mph speed limit, he was the one who needed assurance that everything would be just fine. If the officer hadn’t insisted, I would have gone my way and avoided medical attention altogether. Until I saw my wrist morphing into a baseball, that is.

“I have to work at my restaurant job later,” I told both men. “I’m waiting tables in the lounge area and it’s a coveted shift guaranteeing big bucks. I’m still new at this place and due to a series of ridiculous events, they think I’m a crappy server.

“A few of my new coworkers are nasty to me and one of the owners has passively-aggressively indicated I’m incompetent. But the manager is a sweetheart and I hate to let her down. Today is a big break for me.”

“It may be just that,” the cop replied, and off to the hospital I went.

Like most of us, my hands are my lifeline. While not as steamy as Tina Turner’s gams, I wish they were insured, or that I had at least invested in short-term disability. Instead, I’m a non-union hospitality worker, and the reality is, I am unable to perform in that role. As far as my other hat, writing, I’m pecking away with one hand at turtle-like speed.

While the music hasn’t exactly died, I do feel like the jester, because these potentially nerve-damaging injuries were long in the making. Carrying heavy trays up and down the stairs at Bintliff’s American Cafe, when it was the only brunch game in town, may have been the initial culprit. Schlepping cases of wine up another treacherous set of steps also didn’t help.

Then there was the time I dropped a full keg of Geary’s (Summer? HSA?) on my big toe. Although unrelated to my hands, this was a battle wound not easily forgotten. Spring was fast approaching and I couldn’t wait to break out my sparkly flip-flops and wear anything besides Danskos and Bean boots.

That toe hurt like crazy, but I powered through and was grateful to work the service end of the bar. Turning 50 shades of grey before it was hip, the nail was downright nasty for over a year. In fact, it looks a little weird to this day.

As far as my hands, the final stir stick was eight years of full-time employment at a busy restaurant with the heaviest bowls and dishes of anywhere I’ve worked or eaten. Many of the entrees were double-dished to keep the food hot and the diners from burning themselves.

I burned myself often, and as an accomplished stacker who routinely carried three to five plates across a room, the repetitive abuse took its toll. Parting ways with that job was bittersweet, but ergonomics is a foreign word in the restaurant business, and I’m glad to be out of there. Bartender’s elbow, pulled back muscles, and of course, carpal tunnel are yawners in a world where wiping out on a greasy floor is the norm.

And now? Worse than being broke is the fact that I’m out of sorts. Unable and unwilling to outgrow it, I miss everything about waiting tables, tending bar and restaurant culture. I miss how people can be simultaneously generous and obnoxious, and how no one shift is like another.

Hands down, I’ll be back.

Peas and Q’s

Speaking of restaurant injuries, my worst ever is not the hands or toe thing. The worst injury, and most unique, was when an industrial-size can of tuna fish fell from the top shelf of the walk-in and landed on my head. The wound required six stitches, and I felt as if I’d partied for a week. It was hilarious … to everyone but me.

By the way, are you a hospitality person with a story that would tug at a personal injury lawyer’s heart-strings? We all have such tales, so send me yours (anonymously, of course) and we’ll commiserate together.

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Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.

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