Germs, germs, everywhere. Having just recovered from yet another bout of strep throat, migraine, fatigue, and fever, I’ve been thinking a lot about germs and the havoc they’ve wreaked on my body over the past eight years. For the easily queasy, you may want to proceed with caution.
Given I work with children daily, I’m literally surrounded by germs. Kids are always coughing openly without covering their mouths, walking around with runny noses, picking their noses, not washing their hands after using the restroom, etc. You get the picture. Germs are unavoidable where I work. I often cringe when I touch a door handle that is laced with what I know are dried boogers, or walk into a room where someone has just had a bathroom accident or vomited.
Because I adore my kiddos and would never let them know how grossed out I am (with the exception of vomit, in which case I show no shame in running away to safety). I have learned to deal with the germs to the best of my ability. I’m only partially kidding about the vomit, because when I’ve run away, it was as discretely as I could, and because someone else was there to help them. I am constantly helping children who are sick or injured when the nurse isn’t around, and never hesitate to roll up my sleeves and provide cleanups, bandaids, ice, toothache relief, temperature-taking, head lice checks, and most importantly, comfort and reassurance that they are going to be okay. I am always calm because I have to be for their sake, but boy am I glad they can’t read my thoughts (those would be the thoughts I have upon seeing blood and vomit).
For my own survival, I wash my hands often. So often that my already dry winter skin cracks and is forever screaming for moisturizer. I’ve heard that too much hand washing can actually make you more susceptible to illness because you are decreasing your immunity, but have never researched it’s validity.
This eCard always cracks me up, not because I think I have OCD, but it’s nice to see people having a chuckle at their own quirks. I actually think this self-diagnosis is often overused and misunderstood, but that’s a whole other story in itself.
I have replaced high fives of encouragement with gentle fist pumps. They love it and no palms helps keep as many germs from passage. When the opportunity arises, I gently reteach and redirect them to more hygienic practices (i.e., cover your mouth, wash your hands after the restroom and always before eating). It’s sad how so many of my kiddos are not taught basic manners and hygiene at home, so it has to start somewhere.
I often teach personal space to my kiddos because they think I have none. It’s not uncommon for kids to want to hang off of my leg or dive on me out of nowhere. They don’t discriminate, as a lot of teachers get the same treatment. Because of the sue-happy world we live in, I was always taught in graduate school to never allow a child to hug me. Given that many of my kiddos don’t receive affection elsewhere, while I won’t initiate a hug, I will never turn a child’s hug away (unless I’m sick myself).
These practices have helped me some, but have never saved me from getting very sick at least once each year since I’ve worked with the little ones. One of the worst bouts of illness followed my first marathon, where my immune system was already weakened. You can read more about that here. I often know immediately following contact that my health has been compromised, and it’s like a dark cloud of illness is looming overhead. Dramatic, I know. Bronchitis, head colds, flu, strep throat – you name it, I’ve attracted it. My coworkers both sympathize with and make fun of me because they know when I get sick, I get slammed. It’s incredibly frustrating, too, given I consider myself an active, healthy person.
I am all for practicing what I preach, and often challenge myself to face my own fears and specific anxieties. To prove to myself the world won’t end if I eat with dirty hands, I’ve actually forced myself to eat something without sanitizing. Picture this: while running the first seven miles of my first marathon, I was high-fiving spectators left and right, beaming with pride and appreciation over so many complete strangers out there supporting runners. Then when it came time for me to bust out my Gu Chomps, it dawned on me what I had done. All those hands of people I didn’t know were now on my own. I have to admit, I first attempted to squeeze the chomps out of the package without touching them, but eventually just said “heck with it” and did what I had to. The world didn’t end, and it was so worth the energy and support I felt from those hands. Especially the little three-year-old girl who squeezed my hand so hard I had to stop so I didn’t pull her along with me as I passed. Priceless. Since then, I’ve even gone as far as to accept grapefruit and orange slices from spectators, both because they were a welcome treat and it just felt like the right thing to do. I know…I’m evolving into such a rebel. 😉
Regardless, I love my job and my kiddos, so I chalk this up to another occupational hazard. Still, I will continue to wash my hands, run from vomit, and hope for the best. As in praying for continued good health. 🙂