Monday, January 31, 2011

The Toaster of Doom

I spotted Seamus sticking a knife into the toaster to retrieve an English muffin.  "Don't do that!" I shrieked and  launched into the "electrocuted by toaster" lecture.

Then I started thinking.  Are the heating elements really live electrical wires?  It seems improbable.  I remembered that my source for the "toasters will electrocute you" story was my second-grade teacher, Sister Maurice, the most evil nun ever unleashed on innocent children.  Sister Maurice was a fountain, a veritable spewing volcano, of misinformation.  Sister Maurice's sole responsibility seemed to be to get us through our religion workbook and give us a taste of what hell was like. Indeed, the daily classroom routine broke into three sections:
  1. Religion
  2. Sister Maurice's reminiscences about her childhood and personal philosophies
  3. Punishment

Of all the adults I encountered in my childhood, Sister Maurice probably had the biggest influence on me.  She was the very first person I ever met who actively hated me, and it has taken my entire adulthood to expunge my brain of the incorrect things she taught--that the four seasons are caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit around the sun, that sitting on the curb in a month with an "R" in it will kill you, that Amherst, NY was almost bombed by the Russians.  The last one, of course, my mother told me was ridiculous but I would have none of her reasoning: "But Mom, Sister Maurice said!"  I can still see her, telling us that for Catholics it is a mortal sin to miss mass on Sunday, and how dreadful we were for grumbling about it and then gesturing out the window to St. Peter and Paul's Lutheran church across the street. "You gotta hand it to the protestants," she said, "if they're in church it's because they actually want to be there." At that moment, I wanted to be a protestant more than anything in the world.

Anyway, I realized that if it was Sister Maurice who told me that toasters will kill you, it was probably not true.  Here I was, 42 years old, and still clinging to fallacies taught to me when I was a gullible seven-year old.  I decided to do some research.  What did I find?  That toasters actually can kill you!  It's not common and there are now safety features built into toasters, but you can't depend on the safety features being  installed correctly and even if they are, you can't rely on your house's wiring, especially if your house was built before 1940. (My house was old in 1940.)  Not only that, unplugging the toaster doesn't make it safe!  Because you could damage the wiring and cause a future electric shock. Not only that, on the Snopes website is a post from a woman who says her mother got a hole blown out of her thumb after she picked up a toaster (presumably one that was turned on) with wet hands. I thought of my cavalier handling of my toaster these many years.  How with downright smugness, I would unplug my toaster before jamming knives into it.  Let other idiots electrocute themselves.  I knew better.

I don't know why I am so surprised.  As a nurse on the trauma floor at a level 1 trauma center, I know that freak accidents aren't called freak accidents because they are rare, but because they are freakish.  I also know that there is almost no object in your house that doesn't have the potential to puncture your lung, lacerate your spleen or break your neck.  Think your leaf-blower has no chance of sending you to the hospital for an entire week?  Think again. Think changing a lightbulb can't buy you an ICU stay?  Wrong.

We've had our share of home-based accidents.  If you've been reading me for a while you might recall that I got chopped in the head by an axe.  Ian once tripped over the clutter in his bedroom and put his arm through a window.  One time, when Jon and I were replacing the sash cords in the living room window, Jon set the end of the new sash cord on fire in order to keep it from fraying.  I licked my arm--idiotically thinking that a thin skim of saliva would somehow protect me--and put the smoldering rope out on my arm, startling myself mightily and burning the shit out of my arm with a horrifying sizzle. This is just a choice few of a much longer list of incidents that I have edited.  Obviously, a modicum of intelligence will prevent many home accidents.  I'm not sure what we can do about the Sister Maurices of the world.


  1. Now you have me afraid to touch my toaster.

  2. Home appliances are dangerous! In India, we used to heat our bath water with something called an "immersion heater" which involved a heating element, yes, you guessed it, immersed in a bucket of water. As I recall, it was clipped to a wire hanger to avoid it sinking to the bottom of the bucket. As a result, I grew up with a healthy fear of all electrical appliances. I live in terror of accidentally dropping my hairdryer in the tub, even though I never bathe in the tub and thus it is never full.

  3. Sister Maurice sounds terrifying! When I was a kid my elementary school was across the street from the Catholic Church and I always had a fear that the nuns were out to get me. I think you've just backed up that fear!

    I'm a little weary of appliances as well. The hairdryer and the tub is one of my biggies but toasters are high up there on the list. I'm always ready for them to suddenly catch on fire!

  4. I used to enjoy the section in Parents Magazine when they'd warn you about some dreadful danger awaiting your child from a household appliance. DANGER! The suction from a vacuum hose could suffocate your child!
    They were SUCH freak accidents that I found them funny. Am I bad for that?
    I bet you wonder what happened to Sister Maurice.

  5. My mother unplugs the coffee maker when it's not in use because she thinks it will catch on fire. My ex-MIL kept everything unplugged. One Thanksgiving she unplugged the oven which was cooking ex-FIL's turkey. Now that was a scene. She's lucky he didn't clock her with a toaster.

  6. I harbor an active hatred of our toaster oven. But perhaps I should fear it as well.