As I aspire to be a deep and rational tinker, willing to call into question even the most deeply entrenched tenets of common human wisdom, I find that my thoughts are not always limited to the more traditional topics of public discussion. No, this post is not about politics nor religion nor even the psychology of rational thinking (OK, maybe it’s going to turn out to have something to do with that, after all, as most of my posts do–but let’s pretend I hadn’t brought that up so as not to derail my introduction.)
This article is about bathroom hygiene. But you knew that already from the title.
If our common wisdom is true, one does well to wash one’s hands after “using the bathroom”. Apparently, however, this does not apply to certain uses of the bathroom, such as taking a shower or blow-drying one’s hair, but rather, to those other unspeakable uses of the bathroom—the sort for which the room was given the alias “restroom”, with the emphasis apparently being on the word “rest”. (You know what I mean.)
So we’re supposed to wash our hands.
And you’ll get no argument from me on this topic. I wash my hands regularly. And the more time I have to sit and think about such things, the more I ponder whether the traditional cautions go far enough. Here’s what I mean:
At what exact point should a person’s hands be cleaned? Conventional wisdom says “after using the bathroom”, and commercial wisdom says “before returning to work”. Well, those things are are little vague, if you ask me. In my mind, the sooner the better.
This brings to mind a conversation I had with a restaurant owner a couple of years back. I said, “Dan, I have to make a confession.” Naturally, this piqued his interest, so I was sure I had his attention. I continued, “I was just there in the bathroom and I saw that sign that says ‘Employees Must Wash Hands‘, but I waited a couple of minutes and no employees ever showed up, so I washed ’em myself.”
But I digress.
The problem with “after using the restroom” is obvious. A person can walk around and touch lots of things “after using the restroom”. Now, I realize that what people really mean when they say this is “before leaving the restroom”. But even that doesn’t quite work for me, because a person can touch all manner of things between the time of “resting” and the time of leaving the restroom. Here’s a list of what all might be touched by a person of modestly-conservative touching habits before making it out the bathroom door with freshly-washed hands:
- Various items of clothing as needed to re-dress oneself after “resting”.
- The belt, belt buckle, and whatever Bat Belt items on it may need to be adjusted.
- The newspaper or other periodical you were reading.
- The pencil or pen you used for the crossword puzzle.
- The phone you were talking on texting with during the time of “rest”.
- The roll of toilet paper that was used by the last “rester” before he or she washed his or her hands—and that will next be touched by someone else after you.
- The faucet handle.
- The soap dispenser handle.
That’s a lot of stuff, right? But that’s not all, because you forgot to flush the toilet, so now you have to touch the toilet handle, knowing that you’re going to have to wash your hands again. If you’re really thinking ahead, you would get a new square of toilet paper to activate the toilet handle with, but you have to be something of an acrobat to flush the toilet and get that little piece of paper into the bowl in time for it to go down into the abyss. Otherwise, it remains there afloat, serving as sure evidence to the next inhabitant that the previous tenant wasn’t quick enough. Either that, or you’ll have to flush yet again, to the great puzzlement of anyone who’s nearby and paying enough attention to note that there have now been three flushes during your now-extended bathroom stay. These are really difficult decisions and they can cause lots of emotional stress.
Oh, and there’s your cell phone that’s laying precariously in whatever spot you found to set it down as you realized it was time to get things squared away. Better get that. Oh, wait, I just touched the toilet handle and didn’t wash my hands yet. So let’s back up and pretend I didn’t touch the cell phone because that’s just nasty and I’d rather not think about it.
OK, where were we?
I think we were washing our hands a second time. And now we dry them on a towel that we blindly hope is clean and proceed to the closed bathroom door, the handle of which we must touch with our freshly-washed hands if we want to get out. And this is fine with many of us as we have never stopped to witness what I stopped to witness at a gas station in South Dakota last week. While waiting in the large men’s room (this was a men’s room that was large, and not a room for large men, mind you) for my son to finish up, I observed a middle-aged man meticulously washing his hands after “resting”. Both hands. Plenty of soap. Front and back. Then he carefully pulled paper towels from the dispenser nozzle, being sure not to touch the black plastic nozzle that was probably touched by a thousand others this very day. He dutifully dried his hands and tossed the paper towels into the trash can. Then he walked to the door and opened it by the handle in order to exit.
Not two seconds before, however, another recently-“rested” man left by that same door without having washed his hands at all. (Email me if you want his tag number and a photo of his vehicle.)
So I’m currently wrestling with a bit of cognitive dissonance over this entire subjject. On the one hand, I think we all have a lot of thinking to do here. As a society, we have not even remotely begun to get our hands around this important public safety issue. And on the other hand, I can’t figure why we’re not all dropping dead from hepatitis.
So I’m going to sit here and keep pondering all this as long as it’s convenient to do so. I’ll let you know what I find out.
Please excuse any typos. This message was sent from a mobile device.
Afterword from the author: There’s no telling what manner of problems we could solve in this country if we would each invest just a few focused moments like this every day, pondering what goes on here. Even though I haven’t got this particular problem all figured out yet, I feel quite refreshed just having taken a few minutes to mull it over and to add my .02 cents worth to the national dialog. Life is good.
Yet another note from the author: You know how they say that some people have their most creative moments while in the shower? Well, I think I have discovered where mankind is at his philosophical best.
OK, one more: How come Lysol doesn’t have a phone app?