True Confessions of a Poultry Paranoiac

June 18, 2007 at 4:54 am (Uncategorized)

I’m not sure how much of my brush with serious illness I have shared with the readers of this blog. I mentioned my two-week hospital stay just last week in a comment, and perhaps there’s been the odd throwaway reference to ‘typhoid’ in one or two posts, but I don’t think I’ve given you the full feathered feast. Let’s talk typhoid.

I was reminded of that hideous infection as I stood preparing dinner the other night. I was making chicken tikka masala, and I was cutting up chicken thigh fillets for the dish. It was, I think, my first time handling raw chicken since before I contracted typhoid whilst honeymooning in India in December 2004. I’ve given the task a thoroughly wide berth since then, and I must say, I immediately regretted having slipped from what has proven to be a fine policy indeed. Uncooked, I don’t touch the stuff anymore, and the other night was an excellent reminder as to why it’s been so very easy to avoid. Raw chicken is completely disgusting.

By the time Llew got home, I was a traumatised wreck in a corner of the kitchen, shuddering, snivelling, dry retching, and speaking in tongues.

“I’m not doing that ever again” were the first coherent words that greeted him.

And that’s it. I mean it. My chicken cutting career is over. Unless someone else is going to cut it up, I’m not cooking it again for love nor money. It’s a combination of elements, I’ve decided, that’s responsible for my wholesale revulsion. The first is the smell. Some raw food actually smells pretty cool – a fresh serve of sashimi tuna, for instance, can smell so clean and pure and oceanic. Yum. I’ve taken a good whiff inside the Coolah Butcher, too, and there’s something about a rural butcher’s shop that smells wonderful. Meat from the Coolah Butcher is always excellent, and my mother-in-law is a woman possessed every time she hits town to visit the family farm. Stand back, people, there’s an eye fillet with her name on it. Actually, there are several. She literally calls ahead now so they can prepare for her arrival. Anyway, their meat doesn’t smell putrid and grey the way it sometimes can. Their meat makes me feel positively carnivorous.

But chicken…chicken never smells anything but vile when it’s raw. Roast chicken smells delectable. Tandoori chicken smells divine. Chilli basil chicken from our favourite Thai local is nothing short of tremendous. But you slap those slimy fillets of raw chicken onto a cutting board in front of me, and there’s every chance I’m really going to want to throw up. Raw chicken smells rank.

Oh yes, and there’s that aforementioned sliminess, too. The colour and texture of raw chicken are similarly nauseating. Cutting globs of sticky fat off chicken is also an acutely sickening experience. I can’t talk about dealing with chicken bones because I just don’t. I don’t deal in bones pretty much at all, save for fish, and even then it’s with reluctance. I am a shameless fillet filly. But you get my drift. Raw chicken preparation feels like I’m being punished for something terrible.

I’ve never liked it, it’s too viscerally foul for that, but I could at least manage to hold my nose, close my eyes, and hack apart a chicken breast without too much lasting trauma in the past. That was until I went to India on my honeymoon. That was until I got greedy at a 4-star function and picked the biggest chicken piece on the tray of canapes. That was until I realised, the second that big lump was in my mouth, that it wasn’t cooked properly. That was until I madly looked around for somewhere to spit and, finding myself completely adrift in a sea of social etiquette, ultimately swallowed. That was my mistake, and my relationship with chicken changed for all time.

I can’t really describe the intensity of the pain that piece of chicken caused me later on that night, except to say I fell out of bed. A high bed, in an old, charmingly dilapidated former palace in Jaipur. I was in enough pain that I cried whilst lying on the bathroom floor clutching my stomach against the alien invasion. It was bad news, and I had a long time awake that night to reflect on the greedy moment when I scanned the tray and selected the prime piece. That’ll learn me, I thought, that’ll learn me good.

I was a washout at my friend’s Indian wedding the following night. I was so ill I couldn’t eat or drink a thing, and anyone who knows me at all will recognise that for a true health crisis; I was so pale and shaky and barely there it required something almost superhuman (ah yes, that would be the love of an old friend) to get me through it. And then nothing. For three weeks, I just had diarrhoea, but I simply put that down to being in India. I’d heard a vague rumour it wasn’t uncommon among travellers.

Then came the fever, because, you see, the typhoid incubated in my system for three weeks, secretly gaining strength and vitality before hitting me with its full arsenal. About two days before we were due to fly back to Sydney from Mumbai, I got sick. Very, very sick. And I started to get frightened about how sick I was feeling. I knew it was serious enough that when it came time to leave, I actually hid from airport staff at my gate. I waited for the flight at the other end of the airport quaking and sweating with fever until the absolute last moment. I was saturated. Freezing. Burning up. When it came time to board, I held my head high and strode onto the plane as though nothing in the world were amiss, and then I limped off at the other end virtually delirious and so wet I looked like I’d jumped in a pool fully-clothed. I went to hospital the same day.

As those of you lovely people who came to visit me know, Prince of Wales was delighted with its new resident. They don’t see a lot of typhoid, so the infectious diseases specialists were, in a word, stoked. Friends amused themselves for weeks by calling me “Typhoid Di.” I went yellow for a while because the infection got into my liver. I was on a drip for 14 days. I had a temperature so high I had staff come in to look at me just because they were curious about the effects. There was a big table full of disinfectants and plastic gloves and instructions for everyone to follow before they stepped inside my door. As I said at the time and since, I felt just like ET when they find him lying at the bottom of that creek bed.

So, I ask you, can anyone blame me for feeling a little jaundiced around raw chicken? I don’t think so.

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