I rarely shake hands and when I do I quickly find somewhere to wash my hands with soap and water. In my first year at Pearson college and through out my years at Trent University, I successfully hid this habit because I did not want to be labelled OCD. I do not have a phobia of bacteria after-all I rarely wash my hands after handling bacteria plates in the lab, I just don’t like sharing dried up bodily fluids with other people. So where did this phobia come from? As a child I rebelled against my mother’s obsession with cleanliness and Dettol and Izal. I hated that my uniform smelled like both disinfectants and was always buying groundnuts from the Alhaja who did oblations 5 times a day. But then one evening in 1986 everything changed. I remember being invited to the movies by a friend after the movies we went to the S-U-B to get chicken and chips, we sat outside under some shade, and I was enjoying my Maltina. A few minutes into the meal, homeboy said he had to use the bathroom. I watched him walk away from the table, then away from the building where the bathrooms were located towards some trees! Haba! My toaster, this UI student dressed so fine just went and piddled in the bushes?! Chei! There was no water to wash his hands, and he walked back nonchalantly sat down, and proceeded to continue eating. I lost my appetite! No more handholding… I wanted to go home right away. Homeboy had tumbled down the cool ladder and was sitting at the bottom, with his dirty hands. First and last time hanging out with this chap.
But now my eyes were opened, all of a sudden, I was more aware of the lack of hygiene and inadequate sanitation around me. Initially I made excuses for folks because we had no running water in UI, and I recognized that the bathrooms must be disgusting. I soon observed that even where there was running water folks were acting like there wasn’t any. I have lost count of the times I have observed ladies (in nightclubs, restaurants, work and school) in both Canada and the USA use the bathroom for #2 and walk out without washing their hands! Earlier this year in the ICU, when recovering from surgery, the ICU nurse got mad at me when I demanded he rewash his hands after he wiped them on the butt of his scrubs. Who refuses to practice adequate hand washing? Enough people to ensure that almost 100,000 patients die each year of nosocomial infections in the USA.
Ebola and a host of other diseases are spread through contaminated bodily fluids. People are so quick to rant about conspiracy theories and fake cures, but how many folks are willing to practice the necessary hygiene to minimize risk? How about stopping public defecation and urination? How about washing hands regularly with soap and water? How about not sharing needles, razors, and manicure/pedicure tools? Or properly disinfecting and washing hairstyling tools? It is amazing how hard it is for us to do the simplest things that could minimize our risk.
I still rarely shake hands and when I do I quickly wash my hands with soap and water. I am not a fan of sanitizer as I do not like performing microbe selection experiments on my skin. I bow my head respectfully when I greet people (a tradition learned from my Asian friends), and often many Nigerians appreciate that better than hand shakes. Perhaps they also share my aversion to shaking hands since they don’t want to share bodily fluids either. Maybe there is some hope after-all.