Death in my Dryer

I was doing my laundry. A common, ordinary, everyday thing usually associated with life, not death. But a T-shirt and a book I read recently combined to make my thoughts meander down the cemetery path.

old-union-cemetery

“A T-shirt? What’s a T-shirt have to do with death? Is it Goth?”

No, it’s better than Goth.

It’s a shirt for a very special school. I’m sure there are only one of these T-shirts in my home town – along with three hoodies.

They read: WORSHAM – COLLEGE OF MORTURARY SCIENCE

Worsham is a privately owned and operated, fully accredited two year school that has been in Wheeling, Illinois for a little over 100 years, training morticians/funeral directors. It is one of the most respected schools of mortuary science in the US.

And how did my family come to have Worsham shirts & jackets?

Because my hubby used to teach insurance seminars.

Prepaid funeral packages are tied into life insurance policies, so the future funeral directors at Worsham need to get licenses to sell life insurance. Hubby used to go to Worsham once or twice a year to do their life insurance pre-licensing  seminar.

I proudly wear my Worsham “T” and hoodie, and people in town may see my daughter or my son-in-law wearing their Worsham hoodies.

statue-in-old-union-cem-copy

The book I read was about the assassination of President James Garfield: “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.” by Candice Millard.

I love well-written books about historical events more than biographies. With event focused books you get a broader view, I think, of the time period as well as learning a good deal about the primary people involved. In this case, you also learn about the state of medicine at a time when Joseph Lister had been promoting the practice of “antisepsis” in all medical procedures but it had not yet gained total acceptance amongst practicing physicians – especially here in the US.

Quite literally, President Garfield was as much killed by his doctors’ care as by his assassin’s bullet. None of his doctors washed their hands before dealing with the wound. The instruments that were used on him were not sterilized, or if they were they were being handled by unwashed, ungloved, hands so it didn’t really matter. Plus, the handles on the instruments were usually wood or ivory – porous materials that don’t sterilize well anyway. He quickly developed infections, which the man who assumed the position of chief physician dealt with poorly (even for that time) or did nothing at all. The wound was deep and could have killed him anyway, but many felt then, and now, that with the best care of that day – meaning the use of antiseptic procedures – the President may have lived as there were many Civil War veterans who survived serious bullet wounds, lived and still had the bullet inside them.

The author acknowledges that many of her readers were probably wondering why the president wasn’t taken to the hospital? Why was he taken back to the White House?

Back then, in 1881, hospitals were places for the indigent. They were where you went if you couldn’t afford a physician who would come and treat you in the comfort of your own home. Hospitals were, because antiseptic procedures had not been well accepted yet, filthy, smelly, vile places. No One wanted to go to a hospital back then – Even more so than today.

You were sick at home.

You were cared for at home.

You died at home.

You’re funeral was in your home.

As hospitals improved, all the events of serious illness and surgery began to happen there, more people died there instead of at home, and funerals began to change as well. Instead of the funeral being in your home it was in the mortician’s or funeral director’s home. You would be laid out in his parlor and people went to his house to mourn and pay their final respects. Hence the now familiar terms: funeral parlor and funeral home.

And so I’ve come full circle back to Worsham College of Mortuary Science, trainer of morticians and funeral directors . . .

and one of their school T-shirts in my clothes dryer.

worsham-t-shirt

Hugs from Pearl

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