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March 17, 2020

On Being New to Handwashing

As I’ve written many times, I blog to make sense of the world—but I’m not quite ready for that yet in terms of how this crisis is unfolding, as I’m cycling through all the feelings at supersonic speed, and the ground underfoot just feels ever-shifting. We are not in a place to make sense of any this yet, but in the meantime, and in response to recent judgy internet memes, I want to write a frivolous explanation for one specific instance of poor personal hygiene.

And I’m talking handwashing, which has become all the rage these last few weeks, to the point where our hands are chapped and bleeding. Whatever it takes though to protect our health and that of others—SIGN ME UP. But yes, it’s true that obsessive handwashing is kind of a new thing for me. “I washed my hands before it was cool,” so goes the judgy meme, and I did too, I guess, at all the obvious moments, but never while singing Happy Birthday.

I have never been very squeamish about germs, which is good, because I have children, and when my daughter was two, she ate part of a cheese sandwich she found under a table in Glasgow. When I’d take my children for walks in their strollers, they liked to reach out and touch the garbage cans on the sidewalk as we strolled by. They licked subway poles, and the bottoms of shoes, and I’d read that scientific study about how picking your nose and eating it builds immunity, so I just decided to let it go.

And so washing our hands just wasn’t really a thing, unless maybe your fingernails were green, or you’d just gone to the bathroom, or had been finger painting, or digging in the dirt. Definitely after handling raw chicken, and usually before. Yes, I am gross, but “better gross than neurotic” was honestly my kind of slogan.

Of course, I’ve since gone over to the other side. Now I watch TV and see people shaking hands, touching their faces, and my heart starts palpitating. Ordering takeout and fetching the mail seems fraught. I am going to have to go out grocery shopping one of these days (we’re on Day 5 of Keep Calm and Stay Home) and the ideas honestly terrifies me. Potential contagion everywhere. I am washing my hands constantly, even though I don’t leave the house, as though lather was a kind of prayer, and maybe it is.

2 thoughts on “On Being New to Handwashing”

  1. Christine M says:

    For the first time ever, and I mean ever! I went to the grocery store and as I reached for the cart my hand hovered and I thought, what’s on this handle? Who has been touching this? And as I maneuvered through the aisles I thought who has left traces of germs on these fruits? These vegetables? These canned goods? What if I have to touch the debit machine??
    I follow hygiene protocols but I am so far from being a Germaphobe that this is uncharted territory for me. I also suffer a reaction to scented chemical products like hand sanitizer! so where do I turn? I can’t use it and I can’t be around it. I have a good supply of natural soaps so fingers crossed they don’t let me down.

  2. Sharon says:

    Same, same. Germs have never bothered me (with the exception of stomach bug germs….*SCREAMS IN TERROR*). I guess this is the good fortune of a robust immune system but I’ve always thought of germs as pals because they keep those Killer T-cells on their toes. I know nothing about immunology; these are just my personal theories based on good health and laziness.

    But now…now it’s different. I think once we’re on the other side of this thing, I’ll go back to status quo. I hope so. I want to be back on good terms with my germ friends again.

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