In my case, that knife started spinning because its newfangled handle didn’t allow it to lie flat, something I didn’t know until it was too late.
To the bone
Often, the cuts happen because you’re using the knife for an unintended purpose. The NEISS survey is rife with such wince-inducing mentions: using knives to open packages, cans of icing, sticks of lip balm, boxes, wine bottles, bags of chicken, or to pry apart frozen hamburgers, hamburger buns or sausages, before the knife slips and the skin bleeds.
Kathleen Flinn, author of “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” said that when she teaches knife skills, she gets an earful of such stories. “One woman used her chef’s knife handle as a hammer, when she dropped it and tried to catch it as it fell,” she said. “My favorite was a TV host in Tampa who somehow cut herself on the wrist while making brownies. Apparently, the cut occurred while she used a boning knife from her block to pry them from the pan.”
At Georgetown University Hospital, Sanjay Shewakramani estimates that the emergency department where he is attending physician treated one kitchen-related injury a week, out of about 100 patients, during the holiday season. Most of the time, he said, the culprit was an onion, or perhaps an avocado. “These are things that can be kind of tough to cut, or people do silly things like try to take the seeds out of an avocado in a funny way,” he said.
He sees it on his days off, even. Once, he was cooking with a good friend when she decided to slice up an onion without using a board, just holding it in one hand and cutting with the other. “I think she thought to herself, ‘This probably isn’t smart what I’m doing, but just one more cut,’ ” he said. She cut almost down to the bone on one of her index fingers, and while he rushed to help her, Shewakramani didn’t try to stitch it up right there; he took her to the ER.
You’d think a recreational cooking school such as CulinAerie in downtown Washington would be the site of many a cut or burn because so many students of all experience levels come in to learn techniques and recipes. Not so, says co-owner Susan Holt. In the school’s four years of classes, there have been only a couple of dozen minor cuts and nothing serious, and she thinks it’s because the students are in a foreign environment, paying attention, and very careful.
And therein lies a lesson.
“I cut myself much more often at home than at work,” Holt said. “When people cut and burn themselves, it’s when the kids are running around and the dog is barking. You cut yourself when you’re distracted.”
I learned that the hard way, after my visit to the George Washington University ER resulted in four stitches to my pinkie. I spent more than a week conducting my two most frequent tasks — typing and cooking — with one hand, and not my dominant one. Besides gaining newfound respect for people with missing or disabled limbs, I may have finally internalized one of the most important aspects of knife skills: focus. I treat that knife, and all others, much more carefully. And I haven’t cut myself since.
Yonan is The Post’s Food and Travel editor.