Tis the Season to be Miserable

Around this time of year, it seems like I always take the elevator with at least one miserable person suffering from a cold.  This week was no exception.

On my way to the seventeenth floor, this lady gets in and immediately starts sneezing and hacking like a cat with a massive fur ball. With my back against the elevator wall, I’m hoping she’s just having an allergy attack. Although she was considerate enough to apologize for her cold, I’m also wondering why the heck she is coming to work and exposing so many other people to the same misery?

I understand many of us, me included, have been in situations where it’s next to impossible to miss a day of work. Somehow we drag ourselves in, because of deadlines, co-workers counting on us and most of all, we can’t afford not to be at work. According to the CDC, the flu virus can spread up to six feet with a sneeze or cough. So, when I was riding that elevator with the sick lady, most likely me, the walls, the floor buttons all came into contact with her germs. It’s been shown harmful germs can remain on surfaces like this for days. The common cold virus can survive for a week which makes anyone touching the elevator buttons, exposed for several more days. The only good thing is after twenty-four hours, the virus potency starts to fade.

SickOur economy loses 576 billion a year due to worker illness whether it’s absenteeism or coming to work unable to perform their normal workload, according to a study done by Integrated Benefits Institute. Companies that invest in keeping their employees healthy are more than compassionate, it’s also good for business.

So how can we avoid getting sick?

If you work in an environment where office equipment is shared such as telephones, keyboards, and copiers, it’s crucial to wipe down all of these hard surfaces with antibacterial products before you use it. One of my clients was a call center with several shifts using the same computer stations. It was a company policy that each person had to wipe down their station before and after their shift. With this small change, their absenteeism dropped by twenty-five percent.

Even if you don’t share a work station, there are plenty of other surfaces germs can hide. Remotes, microwaves, light switches, door handles, facets, and coffee pots are just a few examples of surfaces touched by many people all day long. But those places are minor compared to something all of us touch every day, if not several times a day, that is covered in all sorts of filth. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed money, you are correct. No wonder we call it the root of all evil. Our currency is a haven for germs. The New York Health Commission discovered 135000 – 126000 bacteria living on one single bill. It’s also feared our currency can easily become a source for spreading a contagion across state lines. When you go into a pharmacy or grocery store how many times have you seen someone standing in line, sick as dog, buying cold remedies, chicken soup, and tissues? That person is handing the cashier the dollar bills that could end up in your wallet. If they pay by card, you have to touch the same keypad they did. Either way, you’re screwed. Other studies have shown keypads, cell phones, or keyboards can contain more bacteria than a toilet. It’s enough to make me consider wearing my gardening gloves all day long.

Or, I can make sure I don’t touch anywhere on my face especially around my mouth, nose, or eyes until I sanitize my hands. If you are able to keep your contaminated fingers away from these areas, the less chance for infection. While that seems simple enough to remember, I find myself subconsciously rubbing my nose when it itches or my eyes when I’m tired. I’ve got the whole “washing my hands before I eat anything” down, but touching my face part, I’m having trouble with. So, I told my co-workers if they catch me doing this, I will put a quarter in March of Dimes box. I think so far I’ve donated over five dollars.

Another trick I do is hit the elevator buttons with my elbow. It sounds weird but it doesn’t look strange when I have my hands full and that’s my only alternative. Or I ask someone else to hit the button for me…just don’t tell anybody I’m really saving myself from contamination. It’s the same thing with doors. If they don’t automatically open, I’ll use my shoulder to push it open or pull my sleeve partway over my hand when I have to use the handle. If you work long hours like me, avoiding public restrooms may not be possible. The best place to pick up viruses are the facet nobs and toilet handles. What I do is put a piece of paper towel between my hand and the facet and use my foot or a paper barrier when flushing the toilet. The best restrooms are the ones with the hands free fixtures. This kind of fixture helps tremendously to prevent the spread of disease.

This time of year can be stressful and chaotic. The last thing we need is to add headaches, fever, nausea, runny nose, or congested nose topped off with a sore throat.

So the next time the cashier hands you the change, just remember she or he is also giving you thousands of tiny bacteria all in the palm of your hand.


Sick photo by Laura Taylor via https://www.flickr.com/photos/bookgrl/2169203610/

Featured image by SimonQ via https://www.flickr.com/photos/qiaomeng/4524532475/

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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