Tales from the pandumbic – part 11

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Hi Gene, how’s your hygiene?

Today is apparently Global Hand-washing Day, so it’s the ideal day on which to talk about my portable washing kit – and why it exists in the first place.

I’ve always had a distrust of other people’s personal hand hygiene – and there are two particular examples that spring to mind of where that distrust brings itself to the fore:

  1. Shaking people’s hands. I’ve always been uncomfortable doing that, but in my line of work it’s something that has always been kind of expected when meeting new potential clients, or when clients introduce me to people they consider important, so it’s always been something I’ve done with gritted teeth. And, especially when I was younger, would be followed by me looking for the earliest opportunity to visit the bathroom to wash my hands. Until this year, I’d managed to suppress that urge. (And thankfully, from now on I have a perfectly acceptable excuse to decline handshakes!)
  2. Door handles. If I have to touch a door handle, especially one on a door leading from a bathroom used by other people (such as one in a place of work, or a pub, etc.) I will either use a tissue or something disposable where practical (e.g. if I can hold the door open with my foot and reach a bin, or know I’ll pass a bin after exiting), otherwise I’ll aim to touch that door handle in a way I hope means I’m less likely to touch a surface that other people might have done. Depending on the type of handle, that’s not always possible, unfortunately – but where I can I do.

As it became increasingly apparent in the early part of this year that the newly identified coronavirus was leading us fast into a global pandemic, and one of the earliest and most obvious defences highlighted was handwashing, my distrust of other people’s hand hygiene became justified. Not because of the virus itself, but because being wary of the virus made me more observant to other people’s habits.

For example, in early March I realised that from where I was working one day in particular, I could hear the flush, hand dryer, and bathroom door. And sometimes I could hear the flush being pulled and heard the door closing without the hand dryer making a sound – with not enough time between those two sounds for whoever had left (and PULLED open the door to exit) to have even run the tap.

As I said, that was in March. At that point, you could argue that people may not have fully appreciated the nature of what was spreading around the world – although if you did, I’d respond by saying something along the lines of “Yuck! That’s no excuse!” – and I’d forever think you (specifically you) must definitely have poor hygiene if you tried to justify other people not washing their hands after visiting the toilet.

But what about more recently? What about the last couple of months?

At one point recently, as I opened an outer door to the toilet at one office, I could see it was already occupied so I backed out into the hallway. As I did so, I heard the flush being pulled, so I decided to wait rather than return to the office in which I was working.

The outer door then opened, and the previous occupant exited. He hadn’t washed his hands. This company has a large hand sanitiser dispenser in the hallway, and he went straight to that. I commented that soap and water is better; the hand sanitiser should be a last resort. He muttered something that I didn’t catch and walked off.

At a location where the company I was working for rents a single office from another, larger company – along with a number of other companies – I recently visited their bathroom to discover there was no soap at all. When I pointed it out, I was told there was none available until someone next went to the wholesalers.

I’ve also encountered a couple of instances where soap dispenser bottles have been topped up with water when the soap is running low.

And going in the other direction, to long before the current situation, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people leave bathrooms in pubs without going anywhere near the sink. Indeed, on one occasion, I entered a bathroom to see someone I know (although not part of my social group that evening) emerge from a cubicle and exit the room without washing their hands.

In all these examples, an obvious thing to ask is what I’ve been doing to protect myself from other people’s poor hygiene – and the answer is that since early March (or was it late February?) I’ve been taking extra precautions when it comes to hygiene, in the form of a my own cleaning kit, which currently consists of:

  • A small bottle of hand sanitiser
  • A hand wash (soap) bottle
  • A hand wash (soap) bottle containing water
  • A spray bottle containing disinfectant
  • A roll of paper towels

(The hand sanitiser wasn’t part of the original kit because, when I first put it together I couldn’t find any in the shops – in fact, I think I came up with the kit because I couldn’t get any hand sanitiser, which I wanted for use when out and about!)

It’s not practical to take and use the full kit wherever I go, which is why there is both hand sanitiser and soap and water – sometimes I only take the hand sanitiser, but if where I am working I have an office to myself, I take the full kit with me, and set it up in that office ready for use while I’m there.

Whenever I then leave ‘my’ office and return to it, I (now) leave the office door ajar so that I don’t have to touch the outside handle to open it again. If I’ve touched any surface beyond the door to that office, I use the soap and water to wash my hands when I return to it. (If I’ve visited the loo, that means I’ll wash my hands a second time – because, not being a filthy animal like the people in the examples above – I wash them in the bathroom as well!) If I’ve ventured out of the office and haven’t touched anything, however, I use the hand sanitiser just in case I did touch something without realising.

In addition to washing my hands whenever I leave and return to the office, I also introduce them to soap and water from that kit whenever I make myself a coffee, or have lunch (or a snack) – and also a few times at random, just because.

The disinfectant is used to wipe down all surfaces when I arrive, particularly if I’m working somewhere that other people may have used the office. And also if I need to ‘borrow’ a piece of equipment from elsewhere; I’ll bring it into the office, wipe it down with disinfectant, then wash my hands… then I can use it.

Where taking the kit is impractical, though – such as where I’m sitting in an open office – what I usually do is keep the kit in my car, so that when I’ve finished whatever work I’m doing and I head home, the first thing I do when I get to the car is wash my hands. Meanwhile, the hand sanitiser will go with me into the office, and gets used frequently.

It’s not a perfect solution – squirting water from a soap dispenser bottle isn’t a patch on using running water, for example – but it’s better than nothing. Especially when other people are so ready to demonstrate how poor their own hand washing regime is!

And even more especially considering there even needs to be such a thing as Global Hand-washing Day!

The bottom line, though, is this:

Wash your hands, you filthy bastards. You touch things with them that other people then have to touch!

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