Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Progress from the handkerchief: Hand sneezing?

Do sub zero temperatures kill bacteria? I sure hope so. As I waited in line at the supermarket last week, while the cashier was waiting for the customer in front of me to finish screwing around with his coupons and money, the girl needed to sneeze. And she did so...right into her hands. I shuddered. My turn was coming up soon, but not imminently, so she had time to correct the situation. I glanced over above the cash drawer and was delighted to see a pump of hand sanitizer. It would be any moment that she would reach over for a pump to cleanse her hands of the mucus and swine flu setting up camp on her hands.

I know she has a tissue, but she's sneezing and has cool hair.

After eventually finalising her transaction with the other customer, and passing on her sickness to him by way of his change, she then turned to my three frozen items, picked them up, and scanned them. After sneezing directly into her hands, no effort was made to clean them. I wanted to die. I may curse myself for the rest of my days for not asking her to use the hand sanitizer, a thought I had seriously toyed with but was unable to carry through with because I am gutless.

Never a fan of the handkerchief, the idea of carrying a day's worth of snot around in my pocket an unappealing one, I have never had a propensity for one, though for those who carried them, they were usually at the ready to catch a sneeze. With the advent of the tissue, the handkerchief gradually became obsolete, though rarely stuffed up a nearby sleeve. In the interest of expedited snot discarding, this has been a good thing. But what of the sneeze itself? What is containing that? It seems tissue only comes along to mop up the yellowish-grey devastation, but the viral mist that is otherwise destined to roam free, commonly ends up in the offender's (and I say offender because I find it offensive) HANDS.

Hands are not like the plastic sheath used to cover an otoscope. A doctor pokes it into your ear with the sheath, it is used once, then discarded. No, hands are, if you're lucky, for life and serve as the vehicles for food to mouth, and exchanges with other people. As such, it seems perfectly logical that these living tools should be kept free of bacteria as much as possible. This all seems so obvious, so why it has become a common practice for people to sneeze into their hands is nothing short of baffling to me.

I appreciate the sentiment. I know people are trying to contain their sneeze and prevent it from floating freely and infecting many, but is it really a good idea to contain the germs, all concentrated on two hands, only to use those hands to touch shared spaces? I think not.

So what are we to do? Well, there are options other than hands for sneeze containment and I, and others who are aware of this ever increasing problem would appreciate if you would adopt them, should you catch yourself sneezing into your hands.

My first preference, depending on the cut and stretch of my collar, is to sneeze down my own shirt. This method is sometimes initially met with confusion, but I don't see the problem. The sneeze is well contained within the confines of my clothing and if I'm already sick, I'm not about to give it back myself via my belly button. I don't think my torso skin is any more precious than my hand skin that it should be spared the horrors.

According to Omri, my Israeli friend who is currently living in Sweden, the Swedes have sneezing etiquette down as he has observed them all sneezing into their elbows. I noted his observation sounded just that, observational, rather than something he was use to partaking in. I let the issue drop to prevent him from having to confess to hand sneezing and me needing to be disgusted by it. In any case, I too use the elbow method when my top styling does not permit. It can be tricky as in the rush to marry nose to elbow, perfect placement of the nose is hard. As the head lunges back and then violently forward, it can be hard to maintain the alignment. Still, it is relatively contained and poses no real threat of germ sharing unless you were about to participate in a jig at a local barn dance.

I would advise against this type of dancing even without the risk of elbow germs.

Sneeze down your shirt, sneeze into your elbow, sneeze over you shoulder if that's all you can muster and there's nobody standing behind you. But for the love of crumb cake, don't sneeze into your goddamned hands unless you are willing to IMMEDIATELY go and wash them. If you plan to open a door, pat me on the back or share a bowl grapes, wash your hands or keep your diseased digits as far away from me and others as is humanly possible.

Oh, and you can apply all of this to coughing as well. Thank you.

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