Yes, ok. So, I'm a germophobe.
I'm going to be really, really honest here and say something out loud -- yes, friends, I am a germophobe.
When I was little, my Dad worked in a hospital – something to do with cleaning and working on electronics. It was a technical job and one where he was, unfortunately, exposed to a lot of germs which he really didn’t enjoy much. My Dad has always been “Mister Safety” and a germophobe…and maybe that has something to do with his mother, my grandmother, being a registered nurse? I’m not sure, but when he would come home from work at the hospital, he’d have his hands out in front of him and he became adept at opening doors without touching them and was insistent about cleanliness. He was methodical about decontaminating himself from any possible germ when he came home from work -- before greeting all of us at home. At home, because my Mom stayed home with we three children, in a home out in the country where we didn’t necessarily see other people every day, we were pretty insulated from illness – in a bubble of wellness in our home you might say.
Still, we occasionally did get sick. Being sick at our house meant staying home and recuperating – whether that’s what you wanted to do or not. A social and busy person, this imposed quarantine didn’t always sit well with me! I wouldn’t want to miss anything! I recall having serious temperatures, roaring sore throats and all-over malaise – but mustering the gumption to tell my Mom, “I’m just fine!” She knew better and would become very angry if such sickness came to light after we’d potentially exposed others to our germs. In fact, I think that was among the top things that would make her mad. Maybe that was foreshadowing of some sort.
Many years later, when my Mom went through four and a half years of chemotherapy, our family’s sense of germphobia was heightened even more.
We all found ourselves as the “germ police,” looking at others and ourselves for any sense of illness that might impact her already compromised immune system and cause her to feel any more ill than she already was. Dad was captain of the Germ Police. We worked hard to not get sick so that we wouldn’t unknowingly give that sickness to her. In her worst of times, a common cold could have spelled tragedy. This was a hard time for all of us…I had a toddler and an infant and kids usually involve germs. I remember once taking Jamee to “just see” her because we had needed to stay away for what seemed like a very long time for fear of getting her sick one winter. I say “just see” because we went to her house and stood on the back porch – with sliding glass windows separating us from her. I remember her eyes filled with tears – just wanting to hold that sweet little boy, but knowing that any germ he may have had would make her horribly sick. I remember him, too, with his little face and hands pressed against the glass trying to reach her and not understanding why we couldn’t go inside. We all just looked at each other because it was the closest thing we could have to being together at that time because she was so sick. (Oh, what I wouldn't give to "just see" her now...)
The thought actually did occur to me a little while after she died that maybe I didn't need to be so germ-phobic because we didn't need to protect her anymore. But, to be perfectly honest, I’m still a germophobe. It doesn’t go away and I believe I’ve come by it honestly. I’m the mom who sends her kids to school with antibacterial wipes for their desks and hand sanitizer. I actually appreciate gifts of hand sanitizer for holidays – and I have multiple bottles of it in my purse, the car, everywhere. I use little pieces of paper to prevent touching the buttons on the bank machine. I go to the full-service gas station to avoid touching the pumps. I avoid water fountains. I request straws in restaurants so that my mouth does not come in contact with the surfaces of cups that may not have been washed thoroughly enough. I use my own pen to sign my name at the bank or at the store after I buy something. I avoid public restrooms unless absolutely necessary and if I do have to go there, I have a whole routine for avoiding germy surfaces in public restrooms that is too detailed to outline here.
Also, I stay home if I’m sick and I keep my kids home even if they “might be” sick. I will avoid you if I think you may be contagious. If I’m worried that a place or situation might be the perfect breeding ground for germs, I’ll avoid that place or situation. Too many people in small spaces sounds germy to me. I feel angry when I see sick kids out in public and I think it is particularly awful, despite the reasons, to send a sick kid to school, to sports team practice or anywhere really. Sick kids need to be in their homes and doted upon -- at least that is my opinion. It still infuriates me that one year, someone brought a sick child to a pre-holiday holiday event and my child ended up with a stomach ailment at church on Christmas -- ruining one of his earliest memorable Christmas experiences. Ok. Maybe I should get over that last part.
With all of that admitted “out loud,” you’ll know I’ve spent a lot of time thinking lately about H1N1 and flu and sickness in general. Everyone has something to say about it. Everyone is scared for one reason or another. Everyone has an opinion. I firmly believe there are things we can do to keep ourselves well, our families well – and my views may not jive with your views and that’s ok. Wading through all the images and information about vaccines, attendance rates at local schools and the prevalence of illness this flu season, I received one message this week that I believe hits on information we should all be more concerned with: how to keep ourselves well. Maybe it’s kind of the “glass is half full, half empty” kind of scenario. We can focus on who is sick and what is making them sick – or we can focus our energy on staying well, avoiding situations that will get us sick and doing a variety of things to improve the likelihood that we will remain healthy.
My father-in-law, whose opinion I value and who I think is quite wise, sent this message of hope and sensibility on a day when I really felt like I needed to receive it. I’d love to credit the original author of the message of sage advice – but nothing was attached. I am italicizing it so that you know I didn't write it.
The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/throat. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible to avoid coming into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is. Proliferation is the growth or production of cells by multiplication of parts.
While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms, and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, though not fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced.
1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).
2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe, or sleep).
3. *Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don't trust salt). *H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/ nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.
4.. Similar to 3 above, *clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt
water. *Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.
5. *Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C (Amla and other citrus fruits). *If you have to supplement with Vitamin C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.
6. *Drink as much of warm liquids (tea, coffee, etc) as you can. *Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.
This week, I’ve made an exceptional effort to do all of those things. Already a frequent hand-washing, I’ve been in overdrive on that lately. I’m gargling at least once a day or more if I think about it. You can get neti pots in local pharmacies for nasal cleansing or you can buy the small containers of nasal saline which also seems to work well (just keep your container to yourself for germ control). Warm beverages are great – teas, hot cocoa, coffee or cider. And, who can refuse a glass of orange juice or some extra vitamin C tablets this time of year. That seems like some of the most sensible things we could all do to avoid being sick – or improve the chances that if you did get sick, it wouldn’t be so bad.