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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Semper ubi sub ubi... and other morbid throughts

I'm sure most of you reading this were told at some point in your life that you should always make sure to wear clean underwear when leaving the house... especially when embarking on a trip. 

From what I gather, the reasoning behind this bit of parental advice is that in case you are ever in an accident (G-d forbid) and have to be brought to a hospital, the medical staff will not have cause to ridicule you for the sorry state of your skivvies (presumably somewhere between cutting off your outer garments and beginning life saving measures).

The logic here is obviously flawed, since one can safely assume that any accident serious enough to require medical staff to cut off your outer clothing is almost certainly going to result in your undies being in, ahem, less than pristine condition (if you catch my drift).  Also, I want to believe that professional medical staff are above leering and jeering at critical patients (feel free to jump in and correct me if your experience is otherwise).

Being both a bit of a rebel as well as a male of the species, I've never really gone in for the whole meticulous underwear thing.  In fact, IMHO, a clear indication that underwear is just coming into its prime (comfort-wise) is when wives or mothers start trying to throw them out.

But I promise you that I didn't set out to write about undies today.  Honest, I didn't!  What got me going down this line of thought was an even more morbid memory.

For several years I volunteered as a member of our community's Chevre Kadish (burial society).  In Jewish tradition, once a person dies, their body must be watched over (guarded), ritually washed and dried (a ritual called a 'tahara', or purification), dressed in pure white burial shrouds, and conveyed to the cemetery for a proper burial.

The responsibilities I've listed above were split amongst several people, but I was usually involved in the washing and preparation of the body.  In most cases I hadn't known the people personally for whom we were performing this 'favor', but occasionally it was someone I'd known... and that made things a bit hard (although I was never squeamish). 

To help deal with such potential emotional upheavals, I used to go through a small mental preparation ritual on the drive over to the place where we prepared the bodies for burial.  I used to tell myself that even if I walked into the room and saw a face I recognized... it was no longer them.  The person I had known was long gone, and all that I was doing was taking care of something that they'd left behind... like a forgotten jacket or a hat. 

Once I was actually in the room and working with a few other members of the society to wash, dry and dress the body, I would maintain that narrow focus by looking at only the part of the body I was dealing with at any given moment.  This wasn't a dead human being, I would tell myself... it was a hand, a head, a foot.  Somehow that helped depersonalize the process for me and allowed me to maintain the necessary 'distance'.

But on one particular evening when we were preparing a body and I was narrowly focused on the task, my mind made note of the fact that the toenails of the deceased were particularly long.  It was just a passing thought, but for some reason my mind wouldn't let it go.  Perhaps the man had died after a long hospitalization and nobody had thought to trim them.  But whatever the reason, that observation stuck with me for the rest of the evening... and well into the next day.

It was such an odd thing to have stuck in my mind.  After all, I had performed many taharot for accident victims, amputees and others whose imperfections (for lack of a better word) should certainly have stuck more solidly in my mind.  But they didn't.   At least not nearly to the extent that this one corpse's long toenails had.

I'm not sure how long it was between that day and my next business trip... but I distinctly recall showering the morning of the first airline flight I was to take after that particular tahara, and thinking absently to myself, "Oh yeah, when you get out of the shower, make sure to find the nail clippers.  After all, if (G-d forbid) the plane crashes, you don't want to have someone on the Chevre kadish staring at your overgrown toenails tomorrow".

Ever since then... even if I'm not so careful about clipping my nails at other times (c'mon girls, what husband is?), I've never gotten on a flight since that day without having trimmed my toenails within the previous 24 hours.

Nuts, right?

This is the kind of information that is unlikely to be helpful to anyone... and I'm not even sure why I shared it today... other than the fact that I have a blog, and I can. 

But I'm sure of one thing:  When I get back from England next week, the first thing my wife is going to do is hit me in the head with a frying pan for timing this post to appear after she's seen me off at the airport and I'm still in the air.  :-)

Posted by David Bogner on December 24, 2009 | Permalink


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That reminds me -- I promised to trim my wife's toenails (not that we're expect anything untoward to happen).

Posted by: Bob | Dec 24, 2009 6:07:02 PM

Ya think?!

Funny that.... >:-o

Posted by: zahava | Dec 24, 2009 8:24:12 PM

Years ago during R.'s last weeks, I noticed several things about him.
Long ugly toenails - probably couldn't reach down that far without pain.
Scraggy scrotum - did I mention arthritic fingers? That may have impacted his ability to close the crotch of his pajama pants.
Bad breath - chainsmoker to the very end.
Keen mind - we went over several parshas during those final weeks.

I suspect that the chevra kadisha probably only noticed the first item. And probably took the last item for granted.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Dec 24, 2009 9:25:50 PM

From recent experience, I learned that nursing staff in certain settings is not allowed to trim a patient's finger- and toenails because of possible medical problems that might result if the patient has certain diseases (such as diabetes). In the case I have in mind, a doctor's permission was required, and I think that in some cases the doctor had to do the trimming him- or herself.

At least that's what I was told in this particular case. In other cases I've seen in the past, I could only think that it was neglect by the staff of the institution where the patient was living. But I could be mistaken.

Posted by: Rahel | Dec 24, 2009 9:33:41 PM

Hoping you and your pristine toenails come back safely. Can't wait to hear about the trip.

Posted by: Baila | Dec 24, 2009 10:00:11 PM

Thank you for the valuable lesson. I can assure you that I will never get onto a plane again without being properly manicured and pedicured.Make that FRENCH manicured and pedicured. Should it become necessary, at least the Chevra Kadisha will be impressed with my immaculate grooming.

Posted by: Marsha, freezing in Englewood | Dec 25, 2009 3:00:40 AM

Except that it is far more dangerous to get into a car than into a plane! :-)

Posted by: Mark | Dec 25, 2009 3:28:28 AM

this comment directed to BOTH: tmi, tmi, TMI!

Posted by: zahava | Dec 25, 2009 8:38:56 AM

OTOH, it will be easier to rejoin you with your feet (tfu, etc.) in the event of an aeronautical accident. "Look for the ones with freshly trimmed nails," they'll say. ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Dec 25, 2009 9:48:03 AM

Re the state of undergarments following a vehicular mishap - Bill Cosby covered that in one of his routines. The quote went something like this:

"I felt like telling my mom that if you're actually in a car crash, you will have soiled underwear! Because first ya say it, then ya do it!"

Which is, to my knowledge, the closest BC ever came to uttering an actual obscenity in his standup career.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 25, 2009 7:18:48 PM

Weird. I had a friend who died two years ago. I visited him in the hospital shortly before he died, and all I remember were his toenails. He was very tall, and his feet stuck out from the blankets. His toenails were very long, and well, gross looking. I wondered why the nursing staff didn't take care of that. Bedpans are on the job list but not clipping toenails? Weird what sticks with you.

Posted by: Alissa | Dec 26, 2009 10:23:47 PM


Posted by: RivkA | Dec 27, 2009 1:11:35 AM

o great. Like I need more to add to my list of things to do before I travel.

Posted by: weese | Dec 29, 2009 4:19:08 AM

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