My Dirty Little Secret

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I don’t typically announce this to people I meet, but if they are around me for any length of time, they generally figure it out: I am a closet germaphobe. I will admit that my efforts to avoid germs may be, perhaps, a bit on the fringe. But as I sit here in a Dayquil-induced stupor after spending the bulk of a rare, free weekend in bed from some wretched little microorganism, my neurosis feels somewhat less irrational. And given my own scrutiny of the broader public’s personal hygiene habits, I need to say this in my defense: PEOPLE HAVE DISGUSTING HABITS.

Okay, okay…I realize that there are good germs and bad germs and the body needs exposure to germs to build a good immune system, blah, blah, blah. And were it just the occasional pesky cold, I might not be quite so skittish. But with H7N9, SARS, E. coli breakouts, and legions of other wacky flu germs laying in wait to ambush my immune system and put me on my back with a vomit bucket for days just because some asshat forgot to wash his hands before serving my burger….that sends me running for my Purell bottle and industrial-grade disinfectants. Plus, there is the plain old gross-out factor. Seriously, I just do not want some random schnook’s mucous anywhere near me. People can be awfully reckless when it comes to the biological well-being of those around them, haphazardly spreading bad germs around like a juicy rumor. I doubt I would need to take such extreme measures in germ avoidance if everyone followed some basic hygiene practices, but given some recent observations of my fellow humans, I will say it again: PEOPLE HAVE DISGUSTING HABITS.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has made this observation. Not too long ago, I sat in a popular coffee shop due to my unnatural addiction to its caramel coffee drink, enjoying the first fall-like day of the year. During one of my many resulting restroom breaks, I noticed a common sign instructing all employees to wash their hands before returning to work. Now, you might think it unnecessary to remind a grown-up that she should wash her hands after going to the restroom and before handling a customer’s food; and yet, what I saw next caused me to re-think that. Directly below the text were step-by-step illustrations on how to wash one’s hands. It is unfortunate enough that a food establishment should have to prompt grown individuals to wash their hands after going to the restroom…but to find it necessary to provide an accompanying pictorial so that they do it properly is downright distressing.

For the record, I will say that I’ve not witnessed any troubling personal habits of the employees of this particular coffee house, which is why I continue to go there. A few months ago, however, I observed a truly vile example of why this may be necessary.

A friend and I decided to meet at a local restaurant that had been getting reasonably good reviews. We sat at the bar so that we could people-watch, and what we saw, instead, was the bartender’s blatant apathy for the broader public health. This place needed the coffee house sign. Of course, I didn’t witness this until after I ate. At some point during my conversation with my friend, I noticed that the bartender was fussing with her hair and her shoes. In between the finger-combing and the shoe-touching, she would fill drink orders for patrons. Without washing her hands. Do you know how many germs are on shoes?? Aaack! The gross-out moment, however, came when she took the bar towel, wiped the BOTTOM of her shoe with it, and then placed it back on the bar, presumably for further use that evening. I quickly ended up in the restroom, purse balanced awkwardly on my back since I refuse to set it down in a public restroom, and dry-heaved over a paper-covered toilet seat.

All around me, all the time, I see people cough and sneeze into their hands and run their fingers across their noses, and then immediately touch some publicly-used item, providing countless germs, waiting like tourists with their little germ suitcases, a free ride to vacation in their next unsuspecting victims. So, I have become something of a caricature when it comes to germ combat. I put on my full fatigues and break out the semi-automatics. I now refuse to touch any door handle not in my own abode, carry hand sanitizer and wipes in my purse and can no longer grow the nails on my now 80-year-old-looking hands due to chronic washing. I’ve even considered having my name monogrammed on my beloved bottle of Purell…but then, that would just be weird.

Just the other day, someone stood beside me at my precious coffee shop and sneezed as I was making my tea. Not so much as an attempt to turn his head or cover his mouth, and no subsequent apology for this abhorrent infraction of all that is civil and healthy. I, of course, still said “bless you,” right before dumping my newly-made tea and silently wishing that an invisible flying dog would come and pee on his pastry. Just…gross. I won’t even eat at fast food restaurants, anymore. Mostly because it’s not food. But also because I have ordered my last batch of fries delivered by a teenager who picks at his pimples right before grabbing the fry scooper. I wish I were making this up. And for those who tout the “five second rule,” after they’ve dropped some treat onto the floor… that is a comfort level with germs I do not ever care to understand.

So…I will accept the label of “irrational OCD germaphobe,” and I will try to keep it to myself so as not to offend those who see the goodness in germs. And for those of you who can find peace with someone sneezing into your tea or touching your food after handling something foul…God bless. I realize that avoiding all contact with germs is impossible, and probably not healthy, but I prefer to minimize any unnecessary exposure. And until I no longer see the causal connection between disgusting personal habits and my dwindling sick days, I will keep my Purell and wipes handy. © Racheal Lee Bradford

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11 thoughts on “My Dirty Little Secret

  1. chriscap says:

    Sam would love this article…he’s a phobe. Me on the other hand…well I slept with my dog in her dog house when I was a kid and helped my grandpa fertilize the garden with cow manure so nothing much fazes me. Loved the article.

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    • Thank you, Chris! I honestly don’t know exactly when it happened or what triggered it, as I used to be a tomboy who would feed my cat cereal from my own spoon. Yikes. But I am, unquestionably, a full-blown germaphobe now. Thank you for reading it!

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  2. Phylis Pomerantz says:

    Awesome..and right on!

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  3. Michelle Shipman-Stolar says:

    My family claims I am one as well, although I think that’s an exaggeration. I believe it started with all those health and hygiene classes at Wood Lane. If you didn’t wash your hands properly, you could catch Hep B or some other truly awful, life-altering stuff. It intensified when I was pregnant with my first child and read up a lot on food safety and handling. I don’t thaw meat on the counter and I only eat leftovers for so many days, etc. I just wish my germ thing would extend itself to cleaning out my refrigerator more often.

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  4. Jeremy says:

    R, I’m a neat freak, have been for years. I probably don’t fall into the germaphobe territory. But I once had an employee in my office after a rain storm take off his shoes, dry his feet with paper towels and then proceed to wipe my meeting table top with same towels. I practically brought in the CDC to remedy. I feel you.

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  5. Jeremy, thank you for your sympathy. I’m not sure what level of batshit crazy the paper towel incident would have taken me to…but I’m imagining it would have been much less polite than a CDC call. Thanks so much for reading!

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  6. Mom says:

    I’ve gotten to be a little bit of a germaphobe, not full blown yet. I always wipe the cart handles in the grocery and elsewhere (even bring my own wipes in case they don’t have any :-)) I’ll dig in dirt and plant things all day long, but won’t dare touch a grocery cart handle or bathroom door knob!

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  7. This is true, I carry baby wipes and germicide.
    It is sad that so many people are lacking in simple hygiene.

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