So Scott and I are at our favorite local sammich joint the other night to grab some dinner before heading home after work. We place our order, and I decide I’m going to nip off to the ladies’ while we wait for our food because my back teeth are floating. I settle myself in an available stall of acceptable (but by no means exemplary) cleanliness, and do my thing. While I’m there, I hear whoever was in the neighboring stall flush and soon thereafter start up the sink to wash her hands. When I’m done in another minute or so, I leave the stall and this woman is STILL washing her hands. And washing. And washing. And washing.
Now, she can see me standing there behind her, waiting to use the only sink in the bathroom to wash my own hands; I am not so slight as to be missed. Nonetheless, she is neither deterred nor rushed by the queue forming behind her, and continues to scrub her hands to the point where I’m certain she will be performing surgery immediately upon exiting the restroom, because otherwise, there’s really no other reason any human being needs to be that thorough with the extended handwashing, barring him or her being an obnoxious twit (which I am not discounting in this case).
Her daughter was also waiting in the restroom, having apparently done her business prior to my entering the bathroom, but she had to wait for her mother and her little sister. Her little sister apparently had fallen in, so big sis decided she would knock on the stall door and tell little sis that she should hurry it the hell up.
This causes the mother to flip out. “HAVE YOU ALREADY WASHED YOUR HANDS????” (Yes, she really did ask it with four question marks’ worth of interrogative inflection, because she knows full well that the kid did.) The girl, missing the irony of the question, says yes, and her mother, having lost the power of speech in her apoplexy, conveys through a series of grunts, gestures, and eye-rolling to her daughter that she is now unclean, having undone all her self-sanitizing by knocking on the door. When she recovers enough to speak, she tells her daughter to wash her hands again, adding “And use soap!” as she leaves the bathroom.
Frankly, I was surprised that she didn’t stay to supervise.
I understand people are worried about swine flu and various other illnesses, but the problem is, they aren’t just prudently cautious; they’re terrified. Mobbing-vaccination-clinics terrified. The media have done their level best to stir up public fear, when the fact is, H1N1 is, for most people, no more dangerous than the seasonal flu that comes around every year. 30,000-50,000 people die annually from regular old flu in the United States; it primarily hits the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable, though, so is generally not on most people’s threat radar. I know as many people who don’t get a flu shot each year as do. I think I’ve had one in 38 years, and only because they offered them right at school when I was still teaching. I still got the flu that year, and decided not to bother after that.
But H1N1 may as well be the Plague, for all the panic and hysteria around it. This year, I’m seeing hand sanitizers popping up everywhere like mushrooms after two straight weeks of rain. You see them all over the workplace, travel-size bottles of it sold at every checkstand, and a container of antibacterial wipes in the front of any store that has carts. I don’t use the stuff myself; I like to use soap and water, and indeed, the CDC is still recommending that as the best preventive course of action. I’ve tried hand sanitizers, and they don’t make my hands feel clean, even if they are germ-free. I just want to wash the hand sanitizer off then.
Everyone is all about the hand sanitizers and avoiding handles of all kinds in the bathrooms in their anti-flu hysteria, but it seems no one remembers to cover their coughs and sneezes, or to stay out of public places as much as possible when they’re sick, which would do a helluva lot more good to keep cold and flu transmission down than gallons of hand sanitizer. The same people who won’t touch a restroom door seem to have no reservations about touching a communal coffee pot handle or accepting change from a sniffly cashier. I recall a family-friendly event I attended where a parent made the rounds of all the tables toting one very sick, very snotty, very sneezy toddler in his arms, (face out, natch) who sprayed his aerosol cooties on all present. A sick kid should’ve never been there, let alone dragged around for maximum exposure.
Simple hygiene is really all that’s required, and a little common sense; the rest is up to your immune system, and unless you’re the boy in the bubble, or otherwise immunocompromised, you’ll probably be all right, unless you have a habit of touching potentially bacteria- and virus-harboring surfaces and then diligently rubbing your fingers into your eyes, gums, and nasal passages. Or if you go around touching everything with open cuts on your fingers, which, really, is just gross, and you should stop that.
I don’t do those things, so I’m going to just continue to chill. The CDC estimates that of 22 million U.S. cases of H1N1 there may have been as many as 6000 deaths. Which seems like a lot, but by those odds, you have 1/50th of 1 percent chance of dying from this flu. Not astronomical odds against it, admittedly, but certainly not worth living in mortal fear of your grocery cart. Your odds of dying in a car accident this year are about the same, but that doesn’t keep people from driving, or from engaging in known risky behaviors while driving. I say, take care of yourself, get a shot if you want, wash your hands (knowing it CAN be done in under 10 minutes), get your rest, avoid obviously sick people, and stay home when you’re obviously sick, and then settle down, because the rest is out of your sanitized hands anyway.