Thursday, January 04, 2007

Do NOT Go In There

There are certain things that are so simple that it boggles my mind that our society can't implement them. I know it's an old cliche to say "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't do______." The blank usually involving something really important like inventing squeezable peanut butter or eliminating check-out lines.

However, I really don't understand why we continue to build millions of public bathrooms in this country that have doors that swing in, instead of out. What's the point of washing your hands if you're just going to have to touch the same surface as the guy straight from the stall?

The bathroom at my work is a perfect example. It has two doors, with a short hallway in between (for privacy); however, the first door swings in and the second swings out. After washing my hands, I can nudge the first door open with my foot, but the second door traps me. There is no wastebasket in the small hall, so I can't even use a paper towel to open the second door. This wouldn't be so disconcerting if I hadn't had to follow the same guy out of the bathroom two days in a row now.

Beardy McBearderson, as I'll refer to him, belongs to that school of hand-washers known as the Splashers. In today's corporate environment, few people will simply walk out the door unwashed in front of witnesses (also known as the Poppie School of Hand-Washing). When a Splasher spies you standing there, they'll walk over to the faucet and turn it on and off so fast that only a few molecules of water actually touch their hands. Having made this sacrifice to communal norms, they'll then dry themselves and act like this spritz of moisture had some sort of antiseptic effect. It is almost certain that Splashers wouldn't bother with the pretense of turning on the water if you weren't there. Like an electron, the simple act of observation changes their behaviour. Once, I caught a co-worker leaving the bathroom while the urinal was still flushing, making it mathematically impossible that he washed his hands. You can never look a person the same after.

I don't think we need a surgical scrub station in the bathroom, but it would be nice if we could escape without having to resort to pinkie fingers, wadded up paper towels, and elbows. I mean, after all, we did put a man on the moon.


Michael said...

There are actually more germs on your office desktop than there are on the common toilet seat. (This is from a scientific study reported in the WSJ last year). When was the last time you disenfected the top of your desk?

You seem a little paranoid about bathroom germs. I was a custodian at BYU and had to clean them all the time. This involved thousands and thousands of contacts. I never once got sick from them.

annegb said...

Michael, how do you know?

I'm sort of bigot about this, as well. I have a friend who has a biology degree and she never washes her hands. She was the Relief Society president and I used to say a silent prayer over the food and dishes when we'd have a dinner and she'd help.

Hellmut said...

One of my childhood friend almost died from an infection contracted in a public bathroom. He lost lots of weight and a semester in school. The good part was that he got a lot of model airplanes and ships from his parents.

Michael is right about the toilet seats. They are not the problem. Typically, the door handles harbor the deadly stuff.

wendyp said...

I, too, am a germaphobe. It takes so much physical and mental energy. I'm 36 years old, but my hands look like I'm 66, from so much handwashing.

Our mall has a nearly touchless system going on. No door entering into the bathroom area (instead, a rounded corner) and touchless sinks and towel dispensers. Wheeee!

Michael said...

Dear annegb,

You asked me how I know. I am kind of disappointed. I put the reference to my statement in parentheses right after I made the comment. But just to reiterate - (This is from a scientific study reported in the WSJ last year). In case you are not familiar with the acronym WSJ - it stands for Wall Street Journal.

Clark Goble said...

"When was the last time you disenfected the top of your desk?"

Every other week.

That includes keyboard.

All washed with lots of ammonia.

cew-smoke said...

Bring on the star trek automatic wooshing doors I say!

I saw a movie once where (in the future) whenever someone used a bathroom it would lock the door for a few seconds when they left as it disinefected every square inch of it in a deluge of cleaner sprayed anywhere and everywhere. It was AWESOME! I want one of those installed everywhere. LOL

Susan M said...

Just think about public payphones.

NFlanders said...

I can see I have a lot of company in my germaphobia. I took a survey course in microbiology during college which I found fascinating. The human body is completely dependent on bacteria for survival, and most harmful bacteria is overcome easily by our immune system. However, that doesn't mean I want to ingest the E. Coli from a co-worker's intestinal tract.

There is an interesting article in Slate about the effectiveness of hand-washing here.

Another tidbit that I picked up in class for my fellow germ-haters: metal coins are mostly germ-free due to the poisoness effect of metal on bacteria. I'm still not going to handle loose change before eating a hamburger, but it's nice to know.

Michael-- It's difficult to determine people's tone on the internet, especially if you don't know them. However, let me inform you that AnneGB is one of the nicest people I know. I don't know you either so maybe we've all misread each other's tone. Mandatory group hug on three.

AnneGB-- Hilarious. My dad used to make us sit in specific areas at church because there was a priest who picked his nose before he broke the bread for the sacrament. My dad would watch the deacons like a hawk to make sure we didn't get an "infected" tray. I don't think even he had enough faith to eat snotty sacrament.

(continued below)

NFlanders said...

Hellmut-- How did they know it was from a public bathroom? I think it's amazing that kids don't get sick more often. My microbiology professor, by the way, was for exposing kids to a wide variety of bacteria, though I'm not quite sure how you'd do that intentionally.

WendyP-- My hands crack and bleed all the time in the winter. It must be the secret sign of the germaphobe. I love airport bathrooms because they have no doors, just like your mall.

Clark-- For some reason, I don't even bother sanitizing my keyboard. I think it's just a lost cause and try not to eat anything at my desk or touch my nose or mouth. I hate dredging up all that dust from between the keys up into air.

Cew-smoke-- That sounds like my kind of future. I remember there being a lot of fanfare about new pay toilets that sanitize themselves between each use, but those never seen to have caught on.

Susan M-- Those still give me nightmares, especially New York City phones. I can still remember the first sentence of an article I read about the proliferation of cell phones. The article read:

"The day I first picked up a pay phone smeared with human excrement is the day I purchased my first cell phone."

That's a memorable opening.

Capt. Obsidian said...

"I remember there being a lot of fanfare about new pay toilets that sanitize themselves between each use, but those never seen to have caught on."

I seem to recall these self-sanitizing pay toilets being quite common in Portugal in the early-mid 90s.

lchan said...

There are actually more germs on your office desktop than there are on the common toilet seat.

I don't see how this makes a toilet seat that someone just put their bare behind on less gross. It might make me reconsider my office desktop, but not the toilet.

Ned, it's nice to see you posting again.

NFlanders said...

Capt. Obsidian-- You've convinced me; I'm planning my trip to Portugal immediately. I'll be the first Septo-Tourist.

Lchan-- Good point. On the other hand, you never know what's happened to your keyboard, which reminds me of my favorite Seinfeld quote of all time:

Elaine: She thinks I made her sick because I coughed on her doorknob, rubbed her stapler in my armpit, and put her keyboard on my butt. Yeah, she's a wacko.

Anyway, it's good to see you too, Laura. I check your blog all the time-- I think we can do double comeback.

annegb said...

No, Michael, I meant how do you know you never got sick from cleaning the bathrooms. I mean, how could we tell if that's how we got sick? Like how did you know your friend got that germ in that specific bathroom, Hellmut?

My desk is so messy and crowded it's probably harboring new populations of germs and could be in a WSJ study.

One time my friend insisted on coming in and helpiing me set the table after a funeral and she sneezed all over the tray of silverware she was carrying. I about died. And I prayed and hoped nobody got sick. This is an educated woman.

Sue said...

My brother is a microbiologist. He says that unless you spend about four minutes washing your hands in extremely hot water you are having almost zero effect on germs when you wash your hands.

I won't touch doors or surfaces in bathrooms. I pull my sleeves over my hands and use the fabric to touch whatever I have to touch. Oooogs me right out.