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Thursday, February 19, 2009


A few years ago I innocently walked into a public restroom, something I had done countless times before. This time was different in that I noticed something. Another guy had come in, did his business at the urinal, walked to the sink and did a token finger rinse that lasted maybe 3 seconds. He then retrieved a length of paper towel, dried his barely moist hands, and exited.

I realized that in a single trip this guy had managed to infect the urinal handle when he flushed, the faucet knob when he turned on and then off the water, the paper towel dispenser lever, and finally the door handle of the restroom upon exiting with his germs. Not just his germs, but his germs from nether-regions that I do not even want to discuss.

At that moment, in my early 20s, I became a germaphobe. And not just a mild germaphobe, but a germaphobe on the level of Howard Hughes. I feel like I should stand up, raise my right hand, and say: "My name is Lonewolfarcher, and I am a germaphobe."

The next thing I knew I was thinking about germs and where they might exist. A person's keyboard and mouse, the shopping cart handle at the grocery store, the belt buckle of every male on the planet (after all you buckle your belt after going to the bathroom prior to washing your hands), the pen you borrow to sign your credit card receipt, etc, etc, etc.

I also started devising unique and creative ways to avoid germs. Shaking people's hands is difficult. I try to be aware of when I have done that, and not touch my face or anything else I don't want to contaminate until I have washed my hands. Hand sanitizer comes in handy for this purpose.

Public restrooms are another conundrum. What I came up with was this step-by-step process for using a public restroom:

1) Enter restroom.
2) If you have to touch a stall door try to get a paper towel first.
3) Do what you came in to do.
4) VERY IMPORTANT!! If the paper towel dispenser requires you to use a lever, use it now to get some paper towel available so you can just rip it off the dispenser.
5) Wash your hands, thoroughly, with soap. If hot water is available make it as hot as you can stand. Sing "Happy Birthday" silently so that you make sure you wash sufficiently.
6) Leave water running for now (sorry environmentalists!) and rip off the paper towel you exposed in step 4.
7) Turn off water using the paper towel.
8) Use the paper towel to dispense fresh paper towel.
9) Discard original paper towel and use fresh paper towel to dry your hands.
10) IF you have to touch a door handle to exit the restroom, use the paper towel you just dried with to dispense more paper towel.
11) Discard paper towel you dried with and remove fresh paper towel.
12) Use fresh paper towel to open door.
13) Crumble paper towel once out of the restroom and discard as soon as you can.
14) OPTIONAL: Use hand sanitizer. (I like to do this anyway just to be sure!)

Now, you might say this is obsessive-compulsive. To that I say: "so what?" A little OCD never hurt anyone. But germs have killed!

And you can spare me the comments about how germs are a good thing, can't be avoided entirely, and that I need to build up my immunity by coming into contact with them. If people not washing their hands after using the restroom and then me contacting their germs is how I boost my immune system, then I will pass, thank you very much!

One last thing, always try to have hand sanitizer handy in case the restroom is out of towel, soap, and/or has no running water. Nothing beats rubbing your hands vigorously with soap and rinsing with hot water, but if those things aren't available the hand sanitizer will do in a pinch.

If this helps one person avoid another person's germs, then I have accomplished my goal! Happy OCD!

P.S. A little poem to help reinforce the necessity of washing hands:

Wash your hands,
wash them well.
Use soap and water,
wash them well.

Wash after the washroom,
wash before eating.
Wash with hot water,
30 seconds,no cheating.


4simpsons said...

I can so relate to this! I literally take a paper towel when I leave the bathroom at work and use it to open the doors on the way back to my office. Otherwise I'd be picking up the germs of dozens of people several times a day. Gotta love Purell, too!

4simpsons said...

P.S. Open doors with elbows instead of hands as much as possible.

My family's theme is "OCD: It isn't just a disorder, it's a lifestyle."