Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hudson in the Life of a French Chef

In 1974, Jacques Pépin was operating his innovative La Potagerie in New York City and living in Hunter with his wife, Gloria, and their young daughter. On a summer night, he hit a deer on the highway and ended up--for a prolonged stay--in Hudson. I'll spare you the description of the accident and just share this excerpt from Pépin's 2003 autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen.

I should have died. Once the paramedics had extracted me from the wreckage of the car, I was rushed by ambulance to Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, New York. My prognosis was anything but good. The tally of my injuries from the accident included a broken back, two broken hips, one broken arm, one broken leg, and a pelvis that was broken in three places. In the first days after the accident, the doctor told Gloria that I would probably never walk again. My left arm was so badly fractured that he had no doubt it would have to be removed--if I lived and gained enough strength. Fortunately, he felt that I was too weak to survive an amputation.

But I was also too weak for them to risk moving me to a hospital with better facilities than Hudson's. For two and a half weeks, I lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness.

Dr. Johnson, my physician at Columbia Memorial, approached a former associate of his, Dr. Arnold, a surgeon at New York City's renowned Hospital for Special Surgery, one of the best hospitals in the world for treatment of injuries like mine and with a waiting list months long that included more than its share of dignitaries, politicians, and noted philanthropists. I was allowed to move to the head of the line for one reason: in all their years of practice, the surgeons in New York had never seen injuries as severe as mine in a living person. Their prior experience had involved only autopsy cases. They cut a deal--they would take on my case provided that they could use me as a teaching device for their students--a living cadaver.

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