At war with germs, but which ones are the enemy?


IN OUR CULTURE’S RELENTLESS INTENT to get more things “right”—at least on paper—we’ve marched boldly into territory where angels fear to tread. Consider, if you will, our almost unanimous resolve on a topic awash in the rivers of further review: “germophobic correctness.”

Time was, we talked a lot about germs without really doing much about ‘em. Often as not, when moms issued “wash your hands” ultimatums, we were just as likely to race to the bathroom, turn on water in the lavatory for a few seconds and take a few swipes at towels, leaving damp “evidence” that hands actually had been washed.

Germs today are more nearly given their due. They used to seem bigger. Now, we’re assured they come in all sizes and are more numerous than we can dream. Some people still believe—and you know who you are–that if they squint hard enough at dollar bills–and other oft-handled items—some germs are big enough to be counted.


Don Newbury
Don Newbury

One little four-year-old guy, back home from the first-ever birthday party where he was dropped off, happily recounted the experience.

“Mom, we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ all the way through without ever washing our hands,” he reported breathlessly.

This memory will be resurrected at every birthday party where he’s a participant from here to kingdom come.


   My old daddy, a wonderful storyteller without any awareness of his rare talent, was a “do-everything,” fix-it kind of guy at school during my early years. Duties included his driving a bus route. Even at age four, I was a frequent “guest,” tagging along, unbelted in an assigned seat right behind the driver.

He always had a good word—usually encouraging, sometimes funny—for the children as they boarded. One day as a kindergartener climbed aboard, Dad noted a yellowed crust encircling his mouth. “Guess you had eggs for breakfast this morning. Right, young man?”…

“Nope, that’s what we had yesterday morning.”


   Approaching the subject of hygiene no longer is so simplistic, and hand-washing is getting “longer shrift.” We’re learning there are scads more germs than previously thought, and evidence is “fuzzying up” assessment of bacteria. We now know that many of them are “good germs,” and that lots of “bad” ones are important, too, bolstering our resistance.

In fact, the National Institute of Health’s Dr. Lisa Hebling believes an answer to stopping the spread of infection may be achieved through “cultivating better bugs instead of killing them.”

Alas, the topic is not unlike the imponderables in The Wizard of Oz—I mean, the identities of good witches and bad witches–and from which directions they came.


   Findings continue to support the importance of campaigns for personal hygiene. Public facilities seem to be pace-setting, including the introduction of new hand-drying methods. Now, comfort stations feature automated devices into which we thrust our hands—fully trusting the goings-on inside the unseen and cavernous enclosures. That is, we expect to remove them unbloodied from the gale-like whooshes by cycle’s end. (I can’t help but think of food disposals during the procedure.)

The most forceful dryers may be on cruise ships, where velocity is strong enough to turn turbines on West Texas wind farms from a mile out, as well as re-arrange vein patterns on our hands.

Hygiene concerns are popping up regularly in daily conversations. One guy said, “Life is getting tougher on folks who skip hand-washing these days. With surveillance cameras everywhere, I’m not going to take a chance on management mistaking me for a shirking employee!”


   Yes, cleanliness is tip-toeing ever closer to godliness. Hardliners say trillions of largely beneficial bacteria are being identified in our homes. (One study calls germs “roommates.”)

Bacteria—like cholesterol, politics and witches—can be good or bad. Perhaps we’d do best to simply smile and nod knowingly, thus appearing to have at least a semblance of understanding when—truth to tell—we don’t have a clue.

We should avoid throwing the baby—or its germs—out with the wash. Further, we ought to avoid “germ jokes.” You know, like asking why the germ crosses the microscope: “To get to the other slide.” End of the lines; everybody off.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury

Please click the book cover image to read more about Don Newbury’s humorous and inspirational stories in When The Porch Light’s On.


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