Thursday, August 4, 2011

(True) True Grit


"True Grit" became a buzz phrase this spring when the Coen Brothers' remake of the 1968 film adapted from the Charles Portis novel was nominated for ten Academy Awards. Since Sunday, when I spent the day with my younger brother, Matt, the expression has been buzzing in my head. In the story, U.S. Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn is described as having "true grit." But his fortitude is fiction. Matt has reminded me that there is such a thing as (true) true grit.

Last week, Matt was promoted from his role at Nougatine to Garde Manger at an affiliated restaurant, Jean Georges-- the premiere restaurant in the famous chef's portfolio and one of only nine restaurants in the United States to have earned three Michelin Stars in 2011. For any aspiring chef, Jean Georges represents the pinnacle of employers. Understandably, Matt's very excited, which made his accident Saturday even harder to bear.

While training for his new role, he was asked to carry a pot of 300 degrees cooking oil down a flight of stairs, from one kitchen to another other. Because of his rushed pace, some of the oil sloshed over the side and splattered on the steps. Matt didn't have time to react. He stepped on an oil slick and wiped out, the pot of oil spilling onto his legs. He shrieked from the pain. Two colleagues ran to him, lifted him up, and carried him to the restroom, where they helped him remove his pants, which were covered in searing oil. They found him a pair of shorts, and he was rushed to the E.R.

He has splotches of first and second degree burns on both legs, from thighs to shins. Sunday morning we picked him up at his apartment, so he could recover on our big couch in front of the TV. Anyone who has suffered a burn knows that it is an intense pain. This pain didn't stop Matt from going back to his apartment Sunday night, so that the following morning, he would be closer to the William R. Hearst Burn Center. If they had a morning opening, he would be able to get there in time from his apartment. He wanted to hear from a doctor when he could return to work, and he wanted his manager to know his status ASAP, so that the manager would have sufficient time to adjust the staff schedule.

It was so disheartening to hear of Matt's accident during the training for his new role. He'd been aspiring to work at Jean Georges for the past three years, and then as soon as he achieved his goal, he experienced this setback. Before I heard about Matt's accident, I'd been having a rough weekend. Researching the arsenic trioxide treatment had reminded me of the reality of relapses, survivor rates, and side effects that come with fighting APL. Initially, Matt's accident further darkened my mood. But as he and I chatted while he was lying on our coach, my attitude changed.

Matt's focus on healing and getting back to work as soon as possible shows he has true grit. I admire his passion and dedication. He wants to be back in that premiere kitchen as soon as safely possible. He cannot take his pain medicine while working because knives and narcotics don't mix well. He's willing to endure the burn pain just to get back to that kitchen. Listening to him talk, I realized how important and admirable it is to have tenacity.

As the phrase, "true grit" buzzed in my head, it occurred to me that I've been surrounded by it. In spring of 2010, my mother's knee cap shattered during an accident. A week later, she was back at school, lecturing and conducting lab experiments while on crutches. She could have taken a disability leave of absence, but teaching future scientists and doctors about evolution and human body systems was far too important to her.

Our friends' baby girl, Charlotte, spent her first month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She was five pounds of pure true grit. As a result, she is now a happy and healthy seven pounds, and back at home with her twin.

I learned yesterday that my boss had been hit by a car while bicycling at 22 miles per hour. He was knocked unconscious, taken to the E.R., and suffered several broken ribs. He's a marathon runner and had been cross-training. He can't run until his ribs have healed, but he's already biking again in preparation for when he can resume marathon training. His passion for running won't let him be skittish about biking that same road.

Because of the ongoing nature of treatment, cancer patients have true grit forced upon them. Although they don't have a choice, my grandma and the friends I've made all embrace it. My grandma is tough and courageous. Rebecca, Marci, Amber, Marsha, Rachel, Jeff, and Summyr are all young adult leukemia survivors whom I admire. All the members of my "Cancer Club" support each other, because we understand the need to maintain our true grit day after day. So do our families, who serve as our pillars of strength day after day.

Instead of wondering why this string of mishaps has happened to people I care about, Matt's positive attitude has made me focus on the resiliency of the human spirit. It's amazing how strong individuals can be, when they chose to do so. Thank you, Matt, for reminding me that although it begins with the mind, there is nothing fictional about true grit.