It’s that time of year again – when strangers indiscriminately share their most intimate bodily organisms. That’s right. I’m talking about flu season. Germs are everywhere. Name a surface, the pesky little microbes have taken up residence.
When I visit the guest bath at friends’ homes this time of year, will I be greeted with a fresh, germ-free stack of single-use paper guest towels decorated with festive shamrocks and leprechauns? Or am I expected to dry my hands on a damp terry cloth rag hanging askew from a hoop on the wall above the toilet? How many before me simply ran the tap over their bacteria-ridden fingers before wiping them on the nasty fabric? Yes, I will judge you.
Rules of the Germ Game
Thank goodness, during a health class at work a few years back, I learned the simple, foolproof steps for avoiding contamination.
- Wash your hands often, with soap, for 20 seconds.
- Don’t touch your face.
At last, a sure-fire prescription for staying healthy. It sounded easy enough. I became vigilant about scrubbing my germ-ridden extremities throughout the day for the recommended duration. We teach the kiddies to sing the alphabet song twice. That may be fine for the little rugrats, but I need accuracy. Yes, I count. One Mississippi, two Mississippis, and so on. But here’s the dilemma. What if I’m counting too fast? What if I get to 20 Mississippis and I’ve only been lathering for 17 seconds? Oh the horror! No problem. I continue full-on to 25 Mississippis.
Step two has its own set of caveats. First, it’s a fact that grocery cart handles are among the most disease-ridden surfaces in the modern world. Indeed, you may have noticed that most large chains now provide wet wipes at the entrance. Nice try. But here’s the thing: they store the carts outside and the wet wipes inside. What’s up with that? By the time you reach the antibacterial napkins you’re already contaminated.
What about hand sanitizer? you ask. Not good enough. Turns out this snake oil is just strong enough to give folks uneducated in germology a false sense of security.
So I shop with full awareness that I cannot touch my face with my bare hands until I’m safely home and washed for the full 20, well, 25 Mississ…you get the idea. Simple enough. No problem, right? A tickle on my cheek? Relieve it with a sleeve. A sneeze? Directly into the elbow.
Until the other day, when halfway through my journey among the aisles at the local Safeway, a rogue mascara flake dive-bombed into my eye socket. Crap. Cannot touch face. Must wash hands. I clenched my fist to fight the urge to flick that flake, as I whizzed down the canned foods lane, headed for the restroom, one eye twitching to the rhythm of the muzak. I nearly collided with the guy stocking kipper snacks. I wheeled back to the bowels of the store and slid my cart alongside the sagging racks filled with expired consumables waiting to be environmentally discarded. I lunged for the handle and jiggled it. Damn. Locked. I listened at the door for flushing or running faucet, my eye a frenetic flutter. Silence. Impatient, I continued shopping with flake-infused eye shut, tears streaming down my cheek, my depth perception gone, trying not to crash into the end caps as I U-turned down each corridor.
One more trip to the restroom. I parked my cart and tried the handle. Huzzah! The door opened. I hit the soap dispenser a couple of times and began the sanitation process. With the efficiency of a surgeon preparing to wield a scalpel, I scrubbed my palms, fingers, and wrists, until they glistened a pristine pink. I dried off and ran a nail under the lip of the socket, at last evicting that pesky squatter.
I steered into the self-checkout aisle and ran my items and my store discount card over the sensor, rammed a couple of bills into the cash slot, and reached for the coins in the change dispenser. My hand stopped, mid-grab. %!#&! Another contaminated surface. I reached up and ripped off the receipt, bagged my purchases, and left behind 37 cents for the next customer careless enough to finger that dirty money.