With all of the news out there about Ebola, I decided it was as good a time as any for me to out myself as a certified germaphobe.
Have you seen the 1991 movie “What About Bob” with Bill Murray?
It is one of our favorites. In the film, Murray plays Bob Wiley, a single man with numerous phobias and mental hang-ups, one of which is his extreme fear of public places and more specifically of germs. His new psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin, played by Richard Dreyfuss, is a pompous and controlling person, who is also hilarious in the role. Marvin has just written a book called “Baby Steps,” and suggests Bob “take a vacation from his problems.” His advice is for Bob to practice taking “baby steps” when it comes to all of his “issues.”
While I might not be as paranoid as Bob, I have always been wary of germs. When our children were young, it was torture for me when they had to use public restrooms. When you have children, you know that children will need to use the restroom while running errands, traveling, etc. Before we headed out on an outing, I would beg my little people to use the restroom, but nobody ever “needed” to go until we were on the road or at the store. I so remember saying, “Don’t touch that” and “Wait — wash your hands really well and use the paper towel to open the door.”
Our grown daughters laugh at their memories of my neurotic antics in public restrooms, but thank goodness they don’t seem particularly scarred by my paranoid behavior. I did notice one of them had hand sanitizer in her car, so I am sure some of my germaphobia tendencies rubbed off.
Speaking of germs, are you worried about germs on door knobs and other surfaces when you are out in public?
I was thrilled when grocery stores and other big shops began putting the sanitizing wipes near the shopping carts, but I still carry a pack in my purse in case they are empty. I have also noticed some stores have a bottle of hand sanitizer next to the credit card machine. I wonder if anybody ever cleans those.
I once read that the most germ laden public thing to touch is the gas pump. Who would have thought? But if you do think about it, who would ever clean the gas pump? The attendants? I don’t think so. The man who fills the gas tanks? Nope. So, they are probably never cleaned. Eeewww!
In case you are wondering, yes, I am a nervous wreck at airports and no, I don’t like flying.
As a self-admitted germaphobe, my ears perked up when I heard about fist bumps becoming the new hand shake. There have even been studies about the fist bump being much more hygienic than the handshake. One study said the transfer of germs using the fist bump is 90 percent less than a traditional handshake. That same study said a high five would reduce germs by 50 percent.
Of course it is hard to imagine heads of state greeting each other with a fist bump or a high five, but why can’t us average people start a movement? The work place in modern times has certainly become a more casual place — I vote for “Fist Bump Friday” for a start. Wouldn’t employers be happy if workers were not out sick as much? I think I am on to something.
Of course, if we all really want to start a movement, perhaps it should be a pro-handwashing movement. Did you know that some recent studies show that only 5 percent of people wash their hands long enough to destroy many infectious germs? As if that weren’t disturbing enough, some studies also show that only 50 percent of men and 78 percent of women use soap when washing their hands.
Suddenly I feel like a validated germaphobe. To thoroughly kill infectious germs, experts say you need to vigorously wash your hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds. When you actually time this, you will see it is longer than you think. The average person who does wash their hands only spends about six seconds on this task.
I could really go on and on, but all of this has reminded me I need to go sanitize my keyboard. Baby steps.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.