Video Blog: See and hear Chef Vern Bauer narrate his hearfelt blog originally posted in April 2011.
The year is flying by. Faster it seems then it did the year before. When I stop to think about it, I get the mental cinematic vision of the movie Hachi, starring Richard Gere. It’s a true story about a dog that faithfully waits by a train station for his beloved master to come home, continuously for 10 years, after his owner has already passed on.
The scene where the tree in the background shows the passing of time, replays in my mind, where in a few moments the leaves grow on the branches and change color and then blow away with the passing of each season. It’s a strong visual reminder to me that the time we have on this earth is precious and really not as long as we would like it to be.
My background started like so many in this field with the addictive, high-profile events that we all love to reminisce about… the dinner for the dignitary or the movie star, that wedding of a lifetime –complete with ice swans and edible presentation vessels, the time we catered for ten thousand people or this elite reception or that unforgettable event in an airport hanger... I’m sure all of us have these memories of tremendous effort and skillful outcomes that have helped make us who we are. We’ve seen so much it seems and in some ways, seen so little.
I’m thankful for those times and happy to have shared experiences with so many other passionate people in the field. But the part I didn’t realize that would have the most impact on me didn’t have anything to do with any grandiose function or ostentatious event. Instead it was the most small and ordinary thing I’ve ever done in my career that has left me with the most profound feeling of personal and professional connection.
Some nurses would call it a “healthcare moment.” I guess I didn’t know what to call it because I’ve not had an experience over the last 10 years at Saint Alphonsus that was anything like it– or for that matter- at any point in my time as a chef.
The call came at 10 o’clock in the morning. While the request was being made, my mind was racing through the mental hurdles we all probably tune in to at the same time a request is being made, to do something off the beaten path. A quick mental check up of our already tight schedule, a glance at the clock, a brief pattern of management flowed through my thoughts, got to do line check, place the order…etc etc.
It didn’t sound especially difficult at first. The request was for a simple “dinner for two on the fourth floor garden” for a couple who were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary here while the gentleman was under going serious cancer treatment. He’d been here in the hospital for months. His favorite meal was crab legs, Caesar salad tossed at the table and crème brulee or something like that for dessert. Piece of cake I thought. Not really the case as I was soon to learn. The nurse on the phone, asking if I would consider doing something like this on such short notice, hadn’t mentioned the hardest part. The final sentence she said was it was to be their last anniversary dinner together.
It took a few seconds to realize what she just said. For some reason I needed to clarify what she just told me and at the very same moment I already knew the answer.
My grip tightened on the phone and the internal and external noise which, just moments before were so loud, had nearly muted themselves and my complete, full and absolute attention became one with this request at that very moment. It was to be the very last “celebration-like” thing that they as a married couple were to have with one another the nurse said.
My mother had had terminal cancer and at that second, while the nurse’s words came into my ear, I was back in 1998, saying the Lord’s Prayer with my mom for the last time – and then I thought of the length of time the couple had been married for and compared it to my own marriage. “God, he’s got to be my age,” I thought…
Each reflection was just a nanosecond long, but each created more motivation why I was totally invested in doing this for them – no matter what needed to be cancelled or done to make it happen.
I didn’t hesitate in saying yes – and as you could probably imagine, it was the best meal I could serve. The weather was a little windy that afternoon and it made cooking table side slightly challenging and even entertaining for fleeting moments. The fauna of the garden terrace embraced us as we shared the moment. It was really the nicest place in the hospital to have a meal like this. Even though the hospital’s exterior walls prevented the view of the mountain range, the new tower’s architecture added an artistic touch of scenery. A volunteer softly played the flute a few steps back from us and made it seem, for a split second, that we were on location at some exclusive resort.
Both the husband & wife were very kind and welcoming with thanks- she, dressed in her best outfit and he, semi seated in the gurney - still with the IV unit - donned a festive “tuxedo & tie” bib to mark the occasion that the floor nurses had bought for him. He wasn’t always conscious during the meal. At times, he would drift off as if he was almost sleeping. His wife would take these moments to have a bite herself. When he awoke she tended to the feeding of him. You could feel the love they had for one another –it was obvious.
Dinner concluded and as I packed to leave I stopped back to the table to take the woman’s hand and affectionately thank her for the privilege to serve her. It was at this moment the man suddenly awoke. His face turned up to me and after a moment to gather himself, he took a breath and smiling he said, “That was a wonderful meal – thank you so much chef.”
I was humbled by his sincerity and taken aback, that given the circumstances, here he was paying a compliment to someone. I took his hand and told him that it was entirely my pleasure. It was I that really was given a gift.
Of all the things that we spend our time on this earth doing, saying, starting or finishing – this person had the capacity to show kindness and thanks under the most severe conditions – I was moved by this lesson in humility. Our chance meeting that had aligned itself in my life reminded me that, it is truly the little things that mean the most. That it isn’t always about the glitz and the glamor – but about the time we spend with one another and that the seemingly smallest actions can make the most profound impact in our lives.
Chef Vernon Bauer
Executive Chef for Thomas Cuisine Management
@ Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center