Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Confessions of a Germophobe

I hate to admit it, but I’m just a tad on the phobic side about germs.

It’s not completely my fault, however. When I was about six, the pediatrician scolded my mother for keeping me too clean. “Let her get dirty now and then,” he told her. “Let her build up some immunity to germs. She’s too spotless.”

So maybe if I had been a grubby little kid with a crop of potatoes growing in my ears, germs would be my friends today instead of my enemies.

People who fear germs see everyday occurrences in a totally different light. For example, when my husband and I go to a restaurant, he usually will say something like, “Oh boy, I’m in the mood for a nice, juicy cheeseburger!” while I, on the other hand, will be wondering if the cook is out back using the burger spatula to swat flies on the kitchen wall.

And when I see a couple kissing on TV, instead of thinking, “Oh, how romantic,” all I can think about is whether or not they just ate lunch and have tuna salad decaying between their teeth.

Public restrooms always have been a source of heart palpitations for me. Every time I enter a bathroom stall and look at the toilet seat, I envision the germ equivalent of Woodstock gathered on there, dancing and partying. If I could stand up on the seat and do my business, believe me, I would.

Recently, however, I went into a restroom that had this nifty little gizmo attached to the commode. It automatically dispensed a circle of paper that covered the entire seat. And then when I stood up, it sucked the paper neatly back into the machine.

I thought it was a clever invention till I told my husband about it and he laughed and said, “Yeah, the paper probably goes back into the machine so they can recycle it for the next person!”

The man is a sadist.

Because I’m a germophobe, I think the greatest invention of the past century has to be liquid hand-sanitizer. I carry little bottles of it with me everywhere I go. I also have a large bottle of it in my car and three even larger ones in my house. I swear, if I passed away, the manufacturers of hand sanitizer probably would have to file for Chapter 11.

There’s been a commercial on TV lately that tells you that if you want to avoid catching the flu during flu season, you should go hide on a deserted island till spring. I hate to say it, but I am tempted. I was in the supermarket the other day and there was so much coughing and sneezing going on in there, the place sounded like a refuge for wild geese.

Even worse, the checkout clerk looked as if he should have been picking out a headstone instead of working.

“Sick?” I almost was afraid to ask.

“Yeah, I’ve had this lousy cold for over a week now.” He sniffled for effect. “I’m beginning to wonder when the heck it’s ever going to go away.”

My first impulse was to whip out the travel-size can of Lysol from my purse and spray the entire contents on his nose, but I refrained. As I watched him scan my groceries, however, I cringed, thinking of all of the germs his sneeze-covered little paws were depositing on each item.

“I can disinfect the outside of the bottle of juice and the jar of mayonnaise,” I found myself thinking. “But the sack of flour might not be so easy.”

When Typhoid Tommy handed my change to me, I took it with only two fingers. Then the minute I got outside, I doused it (and my hands) with hand sanitizer.

Nothing on earth, however, is more torturous for me than having to sit in a doctor’s waiting room with potential bubonic plague and Ebola-virus carriers facing me. If I could do it without suffocating, I’d zip myself inside a plastic garment-bag before setting foot in the place.

I do think my germ phobia has improved slightly over the years, though. I no longer wear a Hazmat suit when I clean the bathroom. And I don’t cook meat so long, it turns into jerky. And the last time my dog licked my hand (after licking herself), I waited a full 20 seconds before I rushed to the sink to scrub myself with disinfectant soap.

Maybe things would be easier if I just took my former pediatrician’s advice and allowed myself to get good and germy now and then.

Perhaps I’ll go dive into a dumpster.