Good habits restored — Thank you Covid

Habits I have changed, thanks to COVID-19:

  • I stopped touching my face, especially rubbing my eyes
  • I wash my hands regularly
  • I am careful how I sneeze and cough
  • I breath through my nose as often as I can
  • I turn my head slightly to the side when I speak to someone, even while wearing a mask
  • I watch how close I get to someone’s face (except my wife!)

About 25 years ago I attended a rally for a local politician’s re-election. I mostly wanted to thank him for ushering through a certain issue that was important to me. At the event, I shook his hand, as well as a lot of others’. Of course, as a mammal, I also rubbed my eyes a lot.

A couple of days later my eyes were hurting like crazy, my vision was blurry and sunlight was unbearable.

The doctor confirmed pinkeye, most likely from picking up some nasties from all those shook hands. And the best way to get them into my own self was through my eyeballs.

After that unfortunate episode, I took up the habit of never touching my face after I shook hands until I had washed those paws thoroughly. And I became more attentive about washing after touching anything that was a little questionable.

Lesson learned. Those other habits we are now admonished to practice took me until Covid to really sink in. I have always had a strong immune system, thanks to Mom throwing my brother and me outside everyday to “go play in the creek”. Walking barefoot, swimming in natural lakes, getting bit by dogs, putting who knows what into my mouth — a living, breathing petri dish. My body learned to fight off most germs I might come across. So I could be lazy with my hygiene.

What I did not learn was how to handle myself when I came across something my body could not combat. I had to learn the methods to keep those bad boys away at the start, especially as I get older and my immune system diminishes.

These techniques we now need to practice go against our human social grain, but are necessary for now. And, to be honest about it, they are techniques that, in some form or another, are just good habits anytime.

Unfortunately, most health professionals approach advising us in a negative way that makes most of us feel inadequate. It would be easy to convince people to keep to the basics — see above — if those advisors would just abstain from the admonishments on the detail:

  • “Wash your hands — great. But for how long? Not good enough!”
  • “Keeping a social distance? That doesn’t look like six feet to me!”
  • “Nice mask. How many layers is it?”

Notice how negative such advice is. Everyone hates to be criticized. We rebel at being told DON’T; better to say what is a good idea.

We all know that habits develop in stages, and the simpler the instructions, the easier it is to develop the habit. Condemning people for not going the full Monty on day one just creates defensiveness, or even refusal. (Yes, making it a political issue is really bad form. I am here simply referring to education.) The important thing to remember is every step, no matter how basic or complex, reduces risk and is a good thing.

It is never an all-or-nothing proposition. Any habit toward hygiene is a good one. If you wash your hands but forget to sing Happy Birthday twice, still great! If you wear a mask in public, but breath the fresh air when you are outdoors and near no one else, you are doing fine!

But for heaven sake, keep those hands away from your face.

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