Monday, January 18, 2010

Hygienically Speaking

In most developed countries, hygiene is relatively matter of fact, or it should be. Frequent handwashing is the most common and one of the most effective practices to keep from spreading germs and other unmentionables.
It's out there: we're being bombarded with messages, advertisements and admonishments from all the experts. And so a large part of the population is learning. Good for us!
Training someone who's hygiene habits are more than seventy five years behind is not so easy. Nana's handwashing is relatively reasonable, particularly post-bathroom, the most important time. She still scoffs at the very mention of washing fruits and vegetables though, whether they come from the grocery store after who knows how many hands have touched them or whether they've just been plucked from the garden, soil laden and bug buzzed. When she was growing up they'd dig up carrots by the fistful, simply swishing the soil from them in the stream the neighboring farmer's barn effluent would leak into; yummy.
Grampa George's habits are a little more concerning. Handwashing was a commodity, not a responsibility when he was growing up, since water, food and many other things we consider necessities of life were often not available. Toilet paper being one of those meant you'd wipe your butt with a handful of leaves, grass, or hay or if you were really lucky some torn up newspaper hanging from a nail.
To cut to the chase, he doesn't wash his hands after using the toilet and no amount of reminding has helped change that nasty habit. Unfortunately it means that anything he touches gets 'contaminated'. Nobody's died yet in our household as a result of this, but it's gross.
Greeting anyone with a handshake means passing on whatever's on his hands. Eating something as simple as a salt-free cracker he's handled means ingesting what's there. If there's no spoon available he's been known to nonchalantly stir his lukewarm coffee with his finger. Could be worse, right? Absolutely.
Grampa George's unwashed hand ended up reaching into the pickle jar to grab a baby dill when it happened to be standing on the counter open and unsupervised. Had to toss it, half-full; sorry starving people around the world, but it was too much for me to handle.
What to do? Keep reminding him, gently. (No need to insult the man.) And put out an abundance of antibacterial hand sanitizer bottles. Drawn to them in doctors offices and hospitals whenever we go for appointments or tests, Grampa George has learned to reach out and squirt some into his hands from time to time. It's a start and better than not doing anything. Now all I have to do is try and co-ordinate the hand sanitizing with his bathroom visits. And keep all pickle jars safely secured.

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