If you saw the movie Contagion, I can only assume that you drew the same moral from the story that I did: if there's a super-virus, we're all totally f***ed, because the world we live in is a dirty, nasty, germ-infected slum. Virtually half the footage in that movie was zooming in to the microscopic to show us something that looked like single-celled serial killers. Okay, more like multi-cellular mass murderers. Fine, I'm not a medical expert: the point is that they're really small and look disgusting, so they're probably just moments away from causing you a horrible, horrible death.
In fact, the lesson to be taken away from the movie was less about how screwed we are if the super-virus hits than about how disgusting our everyday world is on the microscopic level. So we're probably f***ed anyway, no super-virus necessary.
The calendar would tell me, even if direct observation failed to, that germs, viruses, and bacteria have launched one of their annual offensives. At the boarding school where I work, the key times are right after breaks and when the weather changes, which often seem to coincide. Such as now, when the kids had a week for Thanksgiving break. A week that they spent trading germs with everyone back home, so that they could bring a wide assortment of nasty invisible critters back to campus for the mother of all sickness swap meets. "What, you haven't seen this strain of flu yet? But it's so popular back home in Seattle. Let me give you some!" "Why yes, my immune system is totally unfamiliar with the latest bronchitis craze in Mexico--thank you!" Sick kids are the norm; healthy kids are outliers, who presumably don't leave their rooms (note to self: check attendance).
In a book recently (Tim Ferriss's The 4-Hour Chef, if you must know), he tells a story of a CEO interviewing a guy for a job (I couldn't find it to quote verbatim, so you'll have to trust my half-assed memory). He asks the guy "When you go to the bathroom, do you wash your hands before or after?" The guy says "after" and the CEO tells him that, no, he's got it wrong. That's an illogical approach. I'll admit it, I had to have my wife explain this one to me, which is only fair since she has one more year of medical school on her resume than I do. When you wash your hands afterward, you're basically doing everyone else a favor: from this point on, I will not spread germs. But when you wash afterward, well, at that point you've already transferred the germs that were all over your hands before you got there onto your naughty bits--and since germs love warm, dark, moist places, you've basically just turned your holiest of Holies into a sanctuary for germs to breed. Nice job.
So when you add this bit of knowledge to what we've learned in Contagion, the solution seems pretty clear: you must wash your hands before, during, and after using the restroom. And, for that matter, any time you are doing anything with your hands. For instance, I am currently washing my hands as I type on my laptop. It only makes sense: it has so much contact with my hands in a day that it's bound to be a vector for disease. There might be some causal influence there on the need I've had to switch laptops three times since I started writing this blog entry. But really, this is one of those cases where I don't think of it so much as a bug as it's a design feature: the more often saturating my keyboard with soap and water causes me to change computers, the more often I am setting aside a disgusting haven for the nasties in favor of a clean, temporarily germ-free keyboard.
The above, of course, is hyperbole. Not the parts about how disgusting the invisible world is and how it's likely to kill you (even if, in the short term, we're just speaking metaphorically). Those are just scientific facts. I meant my reaction, which is actually more like wash my hands whenever I remember, which is pretty much never. It's not that I don't want to live a long and, more to the point, healthy life. It's just that I'm a parent and I work at a boarding school, so what's the point? I live around the two most disgusting and illness-prone demographics. There's not enough soap and hand sanitizer in the whole state of Indiana to keep me safe, and not just because Indiana is a backward place with a severe soap and sanitizer deficiency. I'm screwed by circumstances, so I might as well just go with the [nasal] flow. If I'm "lucky" I might even get some time off work from the deal. Never mind that a vacation spent curled up in the fetal position, alternately blowing my nose, puking my guts out, sitting on the toilet, and weeping softly to myself so that I don't wake up one of the equally sick but more-drugged-up children does stretch the definition of vacation.