A phobia that’s nothing to sneeze about | AspenTimes.com

A phobia that’s nothing to sneeze about

Meredith C. Carroll
Aspen, CO Colorado

Would it be wrong to go through life wrapped in a giant condom?

Unlike Client 9, I’m a strong advocate of safe sex. However, I’m not worried about catching a venereal disease (and not just because my husband and I can hardly afford for him to spend $4,300 for two hours with one of the Emperor’s Club V.I.P.’s finest). No, what worries me are good old-fashioned germs, against which it would seem a body-size prophylactic would offer exceptional protection.

I never used to be a germaphobe. In fact, there was a time I believed the line about how being exposed to some bacteria had immunity-boosting effects.

Sure, there were moments in my life when I took issue with cooties. Like the summer I came home from sleepaway camp with a plantar wart on the bottom of my foot. The doctor said I probably got it from walking around the pool barefoot, effectively ending my days of ever voluntarily entering a locker room or swimming where anyone else had previously tread. (Although the latter probably had more to do with realizing just how many people probably think of swimming pools as their toilet away from the bathroom. That, and the sharks that could creep up through the drain in the deep end. Note to all parents: Never let your kids see “Jaws” unless you’re comfortable with them wanting to swim only if brandishing machetes.)

When I lived in New York I would sooner fall to the floor than touch any surface in a subway. My whole day was ruined if ever I was bumped and even an inch of my skin touched one of the greasy metal poles. Dow Chemical petri dishes likely have fewer living organisms than a strap on an A, C or E train.

For the most part, though, I’d always inadvertently accepted kisses from dogs who had just licked themselves (oh come now ” who hasn’t?) and survived the ordeal, or changed the diapers of my nephew and nieces with some amount of glee (baby poo can be charming when handling it is ultimately someone else’s responsibility).

But not anymore. Like Spider-Man in the black suit, I’ve changed. I am germ-carefree no more.

Some of the worst offenders are grocery cart handles, ATM touch screens, credit card signing machines with the attached pens in supermarkets and department stores. I hate when the UPS guy hands over his electronic pad for my signature, especially after I see him wiping his nose with his palm (he’s had a cold for what seems like months). Or even worse, when I walk into a bathroom as someone’s walking out and I see that the sink is bone dry. Then I have to think hard. How will I exit without touching the infected doorknob?

God bless politicians. Anyone willing to shake all of those potentially parasite-heavy hands can hold any public office, as far as I’m concerned. And cashiers. Is there enough money to compensate someone for touching all those grimy bills and coins? Why the bad rap for money laundering?

Thankfully there have been some signs that conditions are slowly improving for mysophobes. Like the near-extinction of public telephones. Could there be anything more disease-laden than something touched by the hands, mouths and ears of, well, everyone? And does the phone company ever visit their remaining pay phones with baby wipes to sanitize the handsets and keypads?

Not that it would do much good. The January issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (a little light reading) published findings of a study that said alcohol-based hand gels aren’t nearly as effective as once thought.

That study, in fact, might have been the straw that broke my back, as the weight of a mini Purell bottle in my pocket used to give me a sense of security, knowing I could disinfect at any time, regardless of the proximity of soap and water. Yes, it was the study that almost certainly drove me to my current Howard Hughes-like obsessive-compulsive state (al-though I have no plans at this time to cease cutting my hair and fingernails).

Speaking of straws and fingernails, I’ve become increasingly suspicious of waiters delivering drinks. How do I know their hands are clean? Just because there’s a sign in the bathroom telling them it’s the law to wash up? How do I know their discreetly dirty digits haven’t brushed the inside rim of my drinking glass? Or the lime wedge on the glass rim didn’t make contact with the waiter’s feasibly filthy fingernails? These days I can only ever drink after personally unwrapping the straw. If the straw arrives unwrapped, I go thirsty.

Of course, all I can really do is be thankful for the rise of hands-free operated trash cans.

On the subject of progress, Client 9 may actually have been onto something by trying to duck using a condom. They do seem a little impractical. Maybe Saran Wrap comes in my size?