17 August 2011

An Airborne Toxic Event

            There's nothing in this world I hate more than flying.  I'm not scared of being over 30,000 feet in the air, losing an engine and crashing into the ground at 800 MPH.  I'm not scared of an air traffic controller falling asleep or a pilot dying mid-flight.  I hate flying because airplanes are cesspools for germs, illness, and diseases.
            Recycled air ÷ limited space x 15 infected passengers + multiple hours=an Airborne Toxic Event.  A toxic event to the third power: a microbiologist's wet dream, a fat paycheck for the medical industry, and days/weeks of misery for innocent victims. 
            It never fails, every time Emily and I get on an airplane, within a few days we have contracted some sort of illness.  An upper respiratory infection, a sore throat/flu combo, or my personal favorite, the violent stomach flu.  We usually try to choose seats in the two-seat row so we have minimal contact with other people, but sometimes we have to sit in the three-seat row.   When that happens, we end up sitting next to a person who coughs without covering his mouth, sneezes in our direction, or uses the Sky Mall magazine as a tissue.  Or all of the above. 
            What the hell is wrong with these people?  Have they never watched Discovery Health?  Some of the programs featured on that channel have traumatized me for life.  And I wonder, have they never been sick themselves?  Where were their mothers when they were young, telling them to always cover their mouth?  I swear serial killers have better manners and hygiene than 99% of people who travel on airplanes.
            Just last Christmas, we flew home to Wisconsin and within a few short days, Emily ended up being violently ill with the flu.  New Years Day when the Wisconsin Badgers were playing in the Rose Bowl, halfway through the game I had the chills, a fever, and ended up violently ill with the stomach flu.  It was so bad I could have been the poster girl for Pepto Bismol: Nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, and diarrhea!  To hell with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these flu symptoms are a just few of my favorite things!
            What upset me even more was that those invasive asshole germs waited to attack me the night before we had to get back on a plane and fly home to Florida!!!  So, not only did I contract germs from someone on the airplane, but now I had to drag my deathly ill self aboard a plane and hope I didn't infect anyone else with my recycled germs!  Why couldn't anyone else be as considerate as me when sick? I always cover my mouth when I cough, sneez into my armpit to avoid backsplash, and wash my hands regularly, ESPECIALLY when I am a walking petri dish!
            This might surprise you, but I haven't always been germaphobic.  Touching door handles then eating finger foods never bothered me.  Shaking people's hands then rubbing my eyes wouldn't make me bat an eyelash.  There were even times I would pee at home and not wash my hands before I resumed normal activity.  They're only my germs, how harmful could they really be?
            My knowledge of germs and airborne diseases expanded about ten years ago when I got a job working for a company called Clickity Clack, a non-profit company that provided services to the developmentally disabled population by opening group homes in my college town, as well as several nearby cities.  The house I worked in was occupied by six older gentlemen who were relatively independent.  There was no adult diaper changing or colostomy bags, just mild temper tantrums, bickering, and countless hours of watching LHOTP (Little House on the Prairie). 
            As part of the job description, all direct care providers were required to take twelve hours of continuing education a year; we were legally required to take the OSHA class every single year, while some of the other classes were subject to change.  This OSHA class focused heavily on sanitation and hygiene.  Specifically hygiene, since we worked with a population with compromised immune systems.  In this training, we would learn how to wash our hands, safely handle and cook foods, and general overall safety in the workplace.  When the instructor informed us we would be learning how to properly wash our hands, I was the only person in class who laughed out loud.  Who doesn't know how to wash their hands?  But when I realized that most people actually don't, I started to wonder.  How many germs are really out there, waiting to be transferred to every orifice of my body and attack my immune system like the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?
            Turns out, about fifty million bastard bacteria per square inch of my body, that's how many.  The instructor shared this fun fact with us as she began the hand washing demonstration.  We were instructed to wash our hands as thoroughly as we normally would, then rub this gel like substance on our hands and put it under a black light.  Afterwards, she would teach us how to correctly wash our hands, since most of us clearly didn't know the proper way.  I always thought I was a decent hand washer, but once I put my hands under the black light, my cuticles lit up brighter than the Griswold's house in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  Was I really covered in germs from head to toe?  The thought made me feel dirtier than a twenty-dollar hooker.
            Ever since the discovery that every human body is literally crawling and infested with multiple species of bacteria combined with the fact that I got more illnesses in one month working in the group home than I had my entire life, I took a stand against germs.  I became the hand washing Nazi for both the residents and staff at the group home.  I was tired of the residents sharing illness and I myself would get a sinus/ear/upper respiratory infection every other week!  My nose was so red, chapped, and dry with white flaky skin that a fellow staff member had asked me if I was snorting drugs.  I wish!
            But it wasn't until I met someone who had absolutely no sense of personal hygiene whatsoever that I became a diehard germaphobe.  A former supervisor of mine, a 400 pound (NOT an exaggeration; if anything, I spared her a few pounds) woman named Terry, who bathed as often as warthogs in the wild and whose breathe smelled of sour milk.  She was easily the dirtiest person I have ever had the displeasure of meeting (and that says a lot because I see a lot of filthy bums in Florida).  Not only were here fingers stained yellow from cigarettes and yesterday's food, she smelled of a gangrenous foot that had been dipped in bacon grease and put out in the sun for three days.
            Working with her was always a challenge.  Despite her loud demeanor and complete lack of common sense, she had no regard for the health and safety of the people around her.  Often times she would use the bathroom then head into the kitchen to start dinner for the residents or distribute medication with visible feces on her hands.  Her hair was oilier than the track at Talladega Superspeedway and there was visible dirt in the many Shar Pei style folds of her arms.  Her teeth probably hadn't been brushed since the Vietnam War ended, and I swear I once saw an outline of a pork chop stuffed in her back fat.
            One time she even left a crumpled pile of skid marked underwear (underwear I actually mistook for a circus tent) and stretch pants in a corner in our office.  When I approached her and asked why she would leave excrement stained clothing at work, she said she had Taco Bell the day before, which led to an unexpected burrito supreme blowout.  Everyone has accidents; I get it. I'm no stranger to sharting but seriously? What forty-year-old woman shits her pants and leaves the evidence crumpled in a corner like a toddler fresh out of Pull-ups? 
            Even I wouldn't have done that as a kid, and certainly not as an adult.  In fact, one time when I was about eight years old, my parents had grounded me to my room for the entire day.  It was on an extremely beautiful summer day, so that punishment was harsh.  I was not to come out under any circumstances unless they beckoned me.  So, I obliged and kept myself occupied by reading books in my bedroom. 
            But a few hours later I could feel my daily afternoon poop forming.  I couldn't leave my room and I was afraid to ask to use the bathroom, for fear my parents would deny my parole hearing later that day.  So I used my common sense.  I reached under the bed, pulled out an ice cream bucket I used for LEGOS, emptied it on the floor, and pooped in that bucket.  I put the lid back on the bucket, tucked it safely under my bed so no one would see it, and resumed reading. 
            But even I wouldn't just leave that bucket in a corner for someone else to discover, like she had left her stained clothing for someone else to pick up!  When I was ungrounded that evening, I took that bucket to the bathroom when everyone was asleep and I flushed its contents down the toilet.  It's common sense to dispose of evidence!  I couldn't believe I, an eight year old, had more common sense and respect for those around me to clean up my own mess than Terry, a forty-year-old woman/supervisor/mother (yes, she is a mother; some poor unfortunate soul impregnated her).  Even when the mentally disabled residents who lived at that group home had bodily fluid accidents, they had enough common sense to throw their soiled clothes in the wash, hamper, or even in the garbage.  What was wrong with this woman?
            Not only was this woman revolting, she was completely unprofessional as well.  Shocking, I know.  As a supervisor, she believed it was perfectly acceptable to wear sweatshirts with half of yesterday's lunch stained and dribbled down the front for a meeting with the residents' social worker.  When I would catch her wearing the same, dirty and unwashed outfit multiple days in a row, I would ask her what she made for dinner the night before and according to the stains on her shirt, she was correct.  The last time I saw someone wear an inside out sweatshirt was 1996 back when that fuzzy sweatshirt look was popular.  And even then it was barely popular.  So for a fully-grown woman to turn her clothes inside out to hid the dirt and food stains was far beyond my grasp of understanding.
            Every time I worked with her, I was afraid to get too close for fear I would catch influenza, malaria, or typhoid fever. At times, she made me wish I had Trichotillomania just so her body lice wouldn't be tempted to abandon ship and make their home on my head.  I worked with her every single day and I'm still amazed I made it out alive and relatively healthy.  What was even more disgusting than her body odor and poor hygiene was the fact that she was my supervisor, yet I had to enforce OSHA hygiene standards while at work? 
            To keep the residents, the staff, and myself safe, I knew I had to be vigilant about germs, especially with Terry working there on a daily basis.  The rest of the staff always kept the house clean, the residents were clean, and we all strictly followed OSHA rules.  But not Terry. Since everyone was afraid to confront her about her body odor and hygiene, the task of keeping her toxins away from everyone else often fell on me.  Being an extremely offensive and blunt person, I carried the burden of dealing with the elephant in the room (pun intended).  
            "Terry, what's that smeared on your hand?  Please tell me that's chocolate and not poop?"
            Terry does a sniff check of her fat sausage fingers, crinkles her nose, and wipes her hands on her stained sweatshirt.  I proceed to hold back bile that coming up my throat.
            "Terry, please tell me you washed your hands after spending forty minutes in the restroom and flushing the toilet three times!"
            "Of course I did," Terry replies.
            "I didn't hear any water," I say and she rolls her eyes.  I proceed to kick her out of the kitchen and tell her that I will be preparing dinner for the residents.
            "Terry, are you going to wash your hands after assisting that resident with his bowel movement?"
            "Why? It's not like I touched his butt or anything," she says, thinking nothing of coming into contact with someone else's BM.  I proceed to file a complaint with her direct supervisor. 
            I had had enough.  It was now time for a serious empty threat.
            "Terry, OSHA called and they demand you to wear gloves while you make food, distribute meds, do personal cares, chores, and if at all possible, to just wear a Hazmat suit every single day to work for precautionary purposes."
            "HAHAHAHAHA," she laughs, thinking I'm actually joking.  If OSHA knew how many violations Terry had actually committed in her three-year tenure as supervisor of a group home, she probably would have been arrested for terrorism by use of deadly germs. 
            I was often tempted to contact the CDC or the nearest BioChem lab and invite them to come take a sample of her skin, hair, and stool because I was that convinced they would have discovered a couple new species of deadly bacteria.  Scientists around the world would have thanked me for introducing them to hundreds of new species and I probably could have won a Nobel Peace Prize. 
            Instead, what I gained from working with Terry was more rewarding than any prize.  I had acquired germaphobia.  Thanks to her, I hate airplanes because there are far too many people, too many germs, and not enough ways to protect my mucous membranes from an invasion.  Thanks to her, I cringe when I see someone use the toilet and not wash his hands.  I start to sweat when I see people sneeze into their hands before they touch the keys on the ATM.  And when I see the UPS man hand me his pen and pad and ask for my signature, I immediately douse my hands in hand sanitizer after I sign for my package.  And don't even get me started on eating fruit that hasn't been washed.
          Luckily, Terry got fired (three years too late and surprisingly, not for lack of hygiene but for sharing nudie pictures of her "boyfriend" with several staff members; who in their right and sound mind would agree to be intimate with this ogre, I have no idea, but Godspeed dude).  Clickity Clack ignored my pleas for action and countless complaints and grievances against that she be terminated because OSHA was practically ready to quarantine her.  But because a new staff member was "offended" at seeing these pictures, they had no qualms with firing her immediately? What sense did that make?  
        Either way, she was gone for good but the memories are etched in my brain forever.  I'm convinced most of my illnesses came from the germs on her extra large body, which to this day still haunts me.  Not because she was shaped like an upside down bowling pin, but because she smelled of rancid belly button and rotten meat, and thought that hygiene was the name of a combo plate at a Chinese restaurant.  Because the words soap, shampoo, and detergent were not in her vocabulary.  And because she was a woman who belonged in a zoo or a research lab, not as a supervisor in a group home and certainly not as a member of society. 
            It's been years since I've seen Terry and quit my group home job, so my germaphobia has calmed down a bit.  I still wash my hands religiously after using the restroom and before and after I eat.  I still carry hand sanitizer for the times I am out in public and am forced to touch door handles, pens, shake hands with people, or touch anything in a public restroom, including the soap dispenser.  Even after I wash my hands in a public restroom, I keep my paper towel handy so I can open the door without exposing myself to more germs.
            It might sound psycho to you, but I simply do not want other people's germs and bacteria anywhere near me, especially when uninvited.  And that's precisely what happens every time I'm on an airplane.  The person behind me could sneeze and send a snot rocket straight into the back of my head, or cough so hard a phlegm wad would shoot towards me at the speed of a bullet in The Matrix.  If only I could slow down time and deject the snot bullets like Neo, I would never get sick again! 
            Every time I step onto an airplane, I feel fine and healthy.  But no sooner do I make it past the cockpit that I hear the symphony of open mouthed coughers up front, hands-free sneezers and slack jawed heavy breathing sleepers in the middle, followed up by chronic nose blowers and lepers towards the back.  Mozart couldn't have written a more beautiful masterpiece himself.  Short of wearing a bird flu mask, I do my best to not let any germs invade my privacy or my orifices. 
            Although I know I have it under control and I'm just exercising caution to avoid airborne illness, Emily still thinks my germaphobia is out of hand and that I use hand sanitizer far too often.  She thinks I'm crazy that I spread it like lotion all over my hands, wrists, and halfway up to my elbows, almost like I'm sanitizing myself to go elbows deep and assist a cow giving birth. Maybe she's right, maybe I do use it too often and there's a high chance my hands might actually be addicted to it.  But I can't help it. It's not my fault that money, doorknobs, community writing utensils, and humans are so filthy.
            It may seem like I have minor OCD tendencies, but my germaphobia is just a simple fear of/general disgust for getting someone else's poop particles, phlegm chunks, and dirty saliva spittle in my body and then getting an illness because of it, especially an airplane illness.  Sorry, I hate being sick, and I'm sure you do too.  Sore throat, swollen sinuses, and sneezing for days straight is not my idea of fun.  And to think, it could have all been avoided had you sickos and lepers just covered your mouth or washed your hands once in a while?  Or at least had the decency to put your germs in a carry on and stow it accordingly?
            Believe it or not, I'm really not one of those psycho germaphobes who obsessively cleans her house and scrubs her skin raw for hours in a scalding hot shower.  I'm actually an extremely touchy feely person.  I love to hug and kiss and punch and kick as much as the next person, but at least I know when I share my skin or appendages with someone else, the chance they will get infected from germs on my body is extremely low. 
            So what I don't want to keep the toothbrush holder on the left side of the sink, coincidentally the side of the sink that's closest to the toilet?  You know when you flush, millions of bacteria fly out of the bowl and land wherever the hell they want?  I'd rather not brush my teeth with a poop stick.  So what I'd rather wave or hug you than shake your hand?  I don't know on whom or what that hand has been, and I'm afraid if I find out, my body would spontaneously combust just to spare me from getting infected. 
            All this time I've been diligently working at keeping myself germ and illness free, and people have teased me relentlessly.  Well, it wasn't so funny when you had a minor case of the swine flu now was it? Now airborne illness has your attention?  Now you're worried about germs?  Now you wash your hands and watch where you sneeze?  Puh-lease.
            Here's a little germ for thought: next time you get use a public restroom and don't wash your hands, just remember you might as well have used your own human waste as finger paint and decorated the entire bathroom.  Next time you sneeze directly into your hand and shake hands with someone moments later, you might as well have sneezed directly into their mouth.  
            And next time you're on an airplane and cough without covering your mouth, you might as well have reached over and given your neighbor a sloppy, germful kiss.  With tongue. 
            But please refrain, because that neighbor will probably be me.
           
           
           

3 comments:

Brannon said...

Hilarious. Disgusting...but hilarious.

CelticLady said...

I will never look at an ice cream bucket in the same way again!!!

Tiffani Dhooge said...

I have never actually dry heaved while reading a blog post - I guess there is a first for EVERY THING. thanks for that.

 
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