Surviving The Holiday Flu Season
December 10, 2012
I just saw a young man walking towards the exit of our building while having his index finger up his nose. He then used the same index finger to press the “open” button. I shudder to think of the next unsuspecting resident who touches that button.
This comes on the heels of last evening, the first of this season’s Christmas functions or as I call them–the Holiday Flu functions.
Lots of strangers crowded into a small room, much kissing cheeks and the obligatory handshaking. Here is a little secret about men: we rarely wash our hands properly after peeing, if at all. Then there is the uncooked finger food, spread out for the attendees to inspect, some coughing while examining. Then we come along and pick up the food with our fingers, the same ones with which we have shaken hands (with the guy who did not wash his hands after peeing).
I know at least one harried hostess (who shall remain nameless) who, when she ran out of plastic wine glasses, decided to reuse the discarded ones without even washing them.
Then there are the people I have observed returning food from their plates back to the buffet trays (they changed their minds after one bite).
Also the ones who use their personal cutlery to scoop out dips such as salsa and humus from the serving bowl.
Of course all of the above is exasperated by alcohol, which not only weakens the immune system but makes one distracted, less aware. It is no co-incidence that flu season and Christmas party season are one and the same.
There was a time when ladies wore gloves to soirees, children were taught to cover their coughs, men carried handkerchiefs in their breast pockets. Those hygienic niceties are now relics of the formal past. As people live in ever more dense cities, one would expect them to be more aware of social hygiene, but we find the opposite–people care less and less. Of course we have a built in immune system, but it was never designed to handle high density living or instant global travel. We saw with the SARS epidemic how quickly a virus spread from Hong Kong to the entire world.
I rarely shake hands with anyone anymore. While this may seem socially awkward, there are many polite alternatives. The Michelle Obama Fist Bump is a current and cool alternative. As are many Asian alternatives. The Japanese head bow might feel too formal, but the Namaste greeting of folded hands leaves no doubt about your friendliness. But if a handshake is socially unavoidable, I carry a pocket hand sanitizer wherever I go. (It is also great for the supermarket after having touched so many public surfaces.) But at functions you need to be discrete, as people sometimes take offense. i usually make frequent trips to the bathroom for hand washing.
And that is the trick with practicing social hygiene, juggling politeness with awareness of high-risk situations.
One can’t exist in a bubble. One has to interact with the world. I drink alcohol slowly and in small quantities because I enjoy keeping aware. I also think it is important to boost my immune capabilities with foods rich in vitamin C and anti-toxicants. Kiwis and critic fruits, for example, boost immune functions. As does ensuring a good night’s sleep and regular exercise. Although the latter can expose one to more hazards. I routinely observe people not sanitizing before or after using a machine at the gym. I carry my own towel at the gym. People assume I use it for wiping off sweat from by face, but I really use it wipe off theirs. I use it to cover machine bars and surfaces.
Part of being self-aware means you notice your hand gestures, even when not in public. I rarely rub my eyes or bite my fingers because this is one of the ways we invite bacteria and viruses into our bodies.
Which brings me under the mistletoe. This kissing under the mistletoe tradition sometimes leads to the inebriated office grope–or so I am told. There is no such thing as sanitary sex. It’s all about exchanging saliva and touching, well, everything. While sex with a co-worker may be ethically questionable, there is no question it is physically messy. Only an overdose of eggnog will convince a person otherwise–and it sometimes does. I consider myself fortunate to have reached an age where sex is a very low priority in life.
Though ironically, I am also at an age where reaching out to others leaves me vulnerable to more infections than casual sex ever could. I cut hair at the homeless shelter and some of those guys don’t bathe. I wear latex gloves but there is nothing I can do about the odors. I have to remind myself that that is natural scent of the human body. And that these people are more than the sum of their body parts. Their essence is consciousness, which has no scent. This helps me stay cheerful and calm, and that aids my immune system.
Therefore, I try to remember the same about those Holiday party guests, no matter how unsanitary their habits.