When it comes to the panic buying of toilet paper, I plead not guilty. I haven’t bought a single extra roll. I cannot make the same claim over my germ phobia. I’m in full-on panic mode. Walking down the street, I’m like a secret service agent guarding the US President.
My eyes scan the crowd ahead, trying to identify dangers.
Is that guy coughing or just clearing his throat? Is that lady wearing a mask because she’s extra careful with her health (good) or because she’s already infected (bad)?
HAZMAT suits with toilet paper “backpacks” maybe the best solution for the germ phobic during the current COVID-19 crisis.Credit:Getty
Or, just maybe, I’m more like a rugby league player trying to spot a gap in the field. If I swing to the left, giving a wide berth to that group of chatting students, I can then sidestep once I clear them, thus putting a few metres between me and that group of suited businessmen.
Why, after all, would those men be wearing suits if they weren’t just back from a business trip to somewhere germy?
If I spot a person with the slightest cough, I take a deep breath just before I reach the point at which they’d coughed and then hold my breath until I’m well past, even if it means I feel a bit woozy by the time I’m free to breathe.
Back at the office, after my not-so-restful midday walk, I wash my hands with all the restraint of Lady Macbeth. Medical professionals recommend people sing Happy Birthday twice while they wash their hands, in order indicate the necessary 20 seconds of washing, but I prefer REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It.
It’s worse on the bus home. I have the window open and am trying to breath out of the side of my mouth. Given that it’s Parramatta Road, this is like scuba diving in an ashtray, but I’m willing to take the risk.
The rest of the passengers don’t look very healthy to me. Perhaps I could bury my chin into my chest, and then slip the edge of my T-shirt up over my mouth, thus creating a sort of medical balaclava. My stop beckons and I try to walk to the door without touching anything, balancing as best I can when the driver hits the brakes.
I’ve reduced my chance of catching coronavirus by 0.00003 per cent, but have increased my chance of breaking my leg by 3.6 million.
Somehow, I get out of there in one piece. By the time I get home I’m panting with relief, so much so that I have to wait a few moments before commencing my hour-long interrogation of Jocasta about where she’s been, who she’s seen, and any public toilets she may have used.
Didn’t I mention about the public toilets? Obviously: hell on earth.
Getting in the door of the gents is not so bad. The doors swing inwards, so you can achieve ingress using your shoulder, being sure to later incinerate your clothing. But how to achieve egress without touching the handle?
Solution one is to use the paper towel with which you’ve just dried your hands, and then cast it away without making further contact with the germy side. But what if there is no paper towel? What if there is just an electric hand-drying machine, or as they are more properly known “an electric pants-wetter”?
There’s no good response to this dilemma. You can use your little pinkie, slipping it through the very top of the D-handle in the hope that others use the middle of the D-handle. But who’s to know what part of the D-handle is the most commonly touched? Maybe everyone is slipping their pinkie around the top of the D, and thus the top of the D is the germiest place in Sydney.
Better, perhaps, to wait, lurking in the loo until someone else comes in, uses the facilities, and then pushes open the door, allowing you to make good your escape while using their slipstream.
Maybe. But is it morally acceptable to expect other citizens to take on risks that you are not willing to shoulder yourself? Besides which, what’s the chance someone will call police and report that strange bloke suspiciously lurking beside the doorway in the loo?
Oh God, Oh God. Life is so difficult for the always-anxious.
Maybe there’s a market for a new book. It will be called “The Karma Sutra for the Germ Phobic”.
Like the original Kama Sutra, it would recommend positions for love-making. In this case, both parties fully dipped in hand-sanitiser, then communicating via Skype while safely located in different cities.
But other positions could be detailed. “The Hovercraft” would protect the user whenever using a toilet seat. Like a hovercraft the aim would be to pass water, while suspended in mid-air.
I’d also like to see a new version of the handshake, involving both parties spraying each other with a welcoming mist of Glen 20. And maybe a trough of sheep-dip at the entrance to every home.
We, the anxious ones, don’t choose to live like this. We were like this before it was officially recommended. It may be the one upside of the contagion.
Just this once, we weirdos can feel thoroughly normal.
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