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By Tom Palen 

Hospital Corners

 

February 9, 2024



Someone had to do it. "I don't have opposable thumbs; I can't do it," said Edgar Allan, the black cat. "Make the dog tell her, she's the one who did it." Good grief!

I had just finished my shower. I dried off and had the towel wrapped around my waist, tucked into itself. The towel doesn't fit as well as when I was younger, but I'm working on it.

I took a second bath towel from the cabinet, bent over, and draped the towel over the back of my head. I twisted the front of the towel together, then stood up and flipped the towel like a tail over my head. My sisters used to do that when I was a kid. I never could make it work for me; how did they get the towel to stay on their head? Maybe I just didn't have enough hair. Anyway, both towels were holding on pretty well that day. My movement started to loosen the head towel as I stood there laughing. Suddenly, I was distracted.

In the bedroom, I heard Nova Mae making that heaving noise that no one wants to listen to their dog make. I scrambled to make sure she was over the hardwood floor, which is far preferred to the dog being on a throw rug – or worse yet, the bed! Despite my haste, I was too late.

"That's disgusting, Nova," Edgar Allan said while perched on Melissa's pillows. "Dogs are so unrefined. I don't even know why we let them inside the house!" In my haste to get to the bedroom, my towels fell to the floor; I stood in my birthday suit. "That's disgusting, Dad," Edgar said to me, "For Pete's sake, go cover yourself."

Poor Nova stood on the bed with her head hung in shame. "It's okay, Nova. You didn't do it on purpose." I gave the remorseful canine a rub on the head. "I can help you take care of this," I said.

Nova sleeps on the bed, so we keep a flat sheet over the top of the bedspread; it keeps her dog hair off the covers. Unfortunately, Nova missed the sheet and got the bedspread – the white bedspread. Ugh.

I took care of the bedspread first and put it in the washing machine. Next, I stripped down the bed; Edgar stayed on "his" pillows, amused by it all, like a king looking over his subjects at work. When I got to the other side of the bed, Edgar remained on the pillows as I slid the sheets out from under them, "Excuse me, your Highness. I need the pillowcases," I said to the cat.

"Why should I have to move? I'm not the one who did it," Edgar protested.

"That's it, Mr. High and Mighty. Move it," I warned, "or I'll toss your can into the washer with the bedding!"

Edgar slithered off the pillows like a Slinky, then meandered across the mattress, complaining. "Why am I always being inconvenienced because of the dog?"

I had several errands to run in town that day, and I knew the bedding would not be out of the laundry before my wife got home. Thus, Melissa would inquire why I was washing the bedding when it wasn't time yet. "We should tell Mom before she gets home," I suggested. "You could help us out by texting her to explain what happened, Edgar."

"I don't have opposable thumbs; I can't do it," said Edgar Allan. "Make Nova tell her, she's the one who did it." Good grief!

"I've got you covered, Nova," I said. "I'll send Mom a text." And so, I did.

I wanted to break the news as gently as possible so my wife wouldn't be too upset with the poor dog. "It's 11:11. There's good and bad news. The bad news is Nova barfed all over your bed. She got the bedspread through the top sheet; it's a mess. The good news is, you're getting your bedding washed free of charge. I do these things because I love you. (Not barfing on the bed, but washing the bedding.)"

I heard the washer clunk, following the spin cycle. I moved the bedspread to the dryer. Then, I started the next load with the sheets. Once they were in the washing machine, I had to run errands.

When I returned home, I turned on the dry to 'freshen up' the bedspread, then put the flannel sheets in the dryer. I folded the bedspread so that it wouldn't be wrinkled.

Finally, the sheets came out of the dryer about when Melissa got home from work. "I can help you make the bed," she offered. But I insisted I would do it myself; after all, I told her she would have clean bedding at no charge, which should also be without her time invested.

"Do you know which side goes up," she asked. "There is an up and downside to a flannel sheet, you know," I assured her I knew which way was up. "Make sure the tag goes to the foot of the bed…."

"Melissa! I know how to make a bed," I said. "Just go away and find something to do."

A few minutes later, she was back in the bedroom. I had folded the top sheet in half, lengthwise. Then I laid the sheet on half the bed, lining it up with the center of the head and footboards. "Oh, you're doing it the professional way," she commented, "Did you make sure the correct side is down on the top sheet…."

"Melissa! I know how to make a bed. I know which way the sheets go and how to make hospital corners, too. I don't need your help," I said, "When I told you to go find something to do, I meant to find something NOT in this bedroom. Now go! Shoo!"

From the living room, I heard my wife instructing, "Make sure you put the tags to the inside, so they aren't hanging out the open end of the pillow cases…." I walked over and closed the door, but she continued. "The tag on the bedspread goes on my side at the foot of the bed…."

I grabbed my sound cube from the bathroom and cranked up Bob Seger's Ship of Fools, turning up the volume until I could no longer hear my wife in the living room. I sang along, "Tell me quick said old McFee; what's this all got to do with me? I've spent all my time at sea, a loner…."

As I was folding the hospital corners at the bottom of the bed, I said, "These sheets aren't even long enough to do proper hospital corners."

Proper hospital corners were made on the bottom sheet to keep the sheet on the bed because fitted sheets didn't exist. A flat, oversized sheet was draped evenly over the mattress. The foot and head of the bed were tucked under the mattress first. At each corner, the side sheet was pulled up on top of the mattress at a forty-five-degree angle; the tail was tucked under the mattress. Finally, both sides were tucked in snuggly for a crisp, wrinkle-free bed.

The top sheet would also use hospital corners at the foot of the bed only, with the sides tucked in. In the military, an army blanket or wool blanket would be fitted the same way. Proper use of hospital corners allowed a bed to be made so taut that it is said a quarter would bounce off the surface.

I've heard drill sergeants and military instructors would toss a coin on a recruit's bed during inspection. It was said if their coin did not bounce, the soldier would have to remake his bed. A loosely made bed indicated a lack of attention to detail and discipline. However, some soldiers claim a drill sergeant who wished to exercise his authority could toss a coin with a spin to keep the coin from bouncing. Military personnel weren't the only ones to use a taut bed to measure detail.

The bed is the largest piece of furniture in a motel room; it's also where a guest will spend the majority of their time while in the room. Housekeepers pride themselves on a well-made bed. Housekeepers and maids also use flat sheets with hospital corners to achieve that level of quality. Although I appreciate their effort, and the bed looks nice, I've never cared about the sheet being tucked in so tightly. Whenever we stay at a motel, I always pull the sheet loose from the sides of the bed; I like my feet to move freely.

The use of hospital corners on bedding flowed into another ritual – tucking the children in at night.

Children gained a feeling of security when they were tucked in snuggly like they couldn't fall out of bed; plus, kids stayed warmer because they couldn't kick the covers off in their sleep. It seems hospital corners are good for babies, grandparents, and everyone.

So, who was the genius who invented the hospital corner?

It came from a medical setting, thus the name Hospital Corner. It had to be a nurse because they knew far more about patient care than the doctors. (Sorry, Doc, but it's true.) And we can conclude it must have been a woman for two reasons: 1) Male nurses were uncommon in those days. 2) Many men wouldn't even make the bed if it was left up to them.

In 1860, Florence Nightingale established the Nightingale Nursing School, the first nursing school in the world. Nightingale changed modern nursing and patient care and is said to have made nursing a respectful profession. Florence is credited with training nurses to make a bed properly, using hospital corners at her school. People were tucking sheets under the mattress before 1860, but with Nightingale's hospital corners, the sheets stayed tucked in and taut.

Nightingale's hospital corners worked smartly and are still used today. As a matter of fact, I found it interesting to learn the fitted sheet wasn't invented until almost 100 years later! Why do we need a fitted sheet if the hospital corner is still working? Because of men, that's why.

Men had difficulty mastering the hospital corner, but we didn't want to admit to our inability, so we deemed making the bed was 'women's work.' It wasn't slothfulness that kept bachelors from making their beds; they simply couldn't figure out the bottom sheet! But women were soon liberated, men were forced to help with the housework, and in 1957, the fitted sheet was invented.

The fitted sheet eliminated the need to mess around with hospital corners in the homestead. Men could now help

(and even act like they enjoyed helping) make the bed. But there was trouble ahead for the fitted sheet.

Manufacturers started making mattresses thicker, and soon, the fitted sheet wouldn't stretch over the taller mattress. Without the sheet wrapping under the corner, the fitted sheet would work itself loose and come off the bed. A new frustration was found until sheet companies made the sheet sides taller to fit the mattress. Still, it wasn't the original challenge to fitted bed sheets.

Many a person has lashed out in frustration while attempting to fold a fitted sheet. It's nearly impossible to do and make it look good. This is why most bachelors own only one set of bed sheets, so they can come home from the laundromat and put the sheets right on the bed – never having to fold that dreaded fitted sheet!

I had one set of bed sheets when I was a young bachelor. When I could finally afford a spare set, the fitted sheet was wadded up and shoved in the bottom dresser drawer. Eventually, I learned to fold that bottom sheet, and I can now make the fitted sheet look good, too. Granted, it's not nearly as neat as my folded flat sheet, but I have developed a method that works for me.

After folding the fitted sheet, I lay it in the driveway, run over it a few times with the van to flatten it out, and then it actually looks pretty decent. So, to whom do we give credit for the fitted sheet?

Bertha Berman invented the original fitted sheet in 1957. Bertha's fitted sheet had elastic garters at the corners to hold it in place. Although many people thought it was better than hospital corners, the sheet still managed to come loose from the mattress.

Over the years, many more types of fitted sheets were developed. Still, the real game changer in sheetology, the modern fitted sheet as we know it today, wasn't patented until 1992 by Gisele Jubinville in Alberta, Canada. I researched and found an article titled: "The Fitted Sheet - An Alberta Invention and Folding Nightmare." YES! The truth is told!

The difference in Gisele's sheet was a deeper pocket at the corners that would wrap securely around the mattress, holding the sheet in place through the night. But the truth is, even Jubinville's sheet is a pain in the neck to fold. (And, two people doesn’t make it easier,) I'm not so sure I wouldn't prefer returning to flat sheets and hospital corners.

Nova Mae looked on as I finished making the bed. I lined up the pillows perfectly meeting in the center of the bed, leaning them on the headboard. I positioned the decorative throw pillow against the other pillows, then placed Melissa's special stuffed owl from Scotland on the bed as a finishing touch.

I smoothed a final spot in the bedspread and finished singing the song with Bob Seger: "I alone survived the sinking, I alone possessed the tools, on that ship of fools. On that ship of fools."

Edgar jumped on the freshly made bed to curl up between the owl and the pillow for a nap.

 

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