I’m sure we are all aware of the predictions for this winter’s cold & flu season. And we all know someone (or may be that someone) who helps friends, family, and co-workers realize the “true seriousness” of the situation and what they should do to prepare themselves. And if you are not running to the store to buy the latest supplements Dr. Oz is recommending to keep you and your family healthy this winter, you are at least pleading with the “forces that be” that you and your family get lucky enough to stay healthy this winter.
Instead of panicking, let’s try some faith. Yes, confessing that your family is healthy and remains healthy this winter is a great thing. Now, I want to share some practical steps with you to put that faith into action and to have that confession come to pass. Let’s try a little exercise I like to call “What’s the next step”…
If you want to keep you and your family well this winter, what’s the first step you should take? Take vitamins, get plenty of rest, or stay away from sick people. Taking vitamins and getting enough rest are great ways to support your immune system – and usually require you to put yourself under a little bit of law until the action becomes a habit. But what about staying away from sick people? Is that really practical? Almost all of us come in contact with the public at all times – it’s our job and our kids go to school.
So, if avoiding sick people isn’t an option, then what’s another option? Don’t get too close to people and keep yourself clean – great answers! Not getting too close to people requires us to be aware of personal space (which is much harder for some than others). If I can feel your breath on me, you are too close! Now, to keep yourself clean, what do I mean by that? Yes, please bathe and teach your children to bathe – but it’s more specific than that. If you are unavoidably around sick people, what is the next step in keeping yourself clean? Wash your hands, don’t touch the things sick people touched without cleaning it first, covering your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze.
Let’s start with the last one first – covering your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze. Do you know how to do this appropriately? Most people might say they cough or sneeze into their hands, but what does that do? Now your hands are germy. If that is you, it’s best to retrain yourself (and your children) to cough or sneeze into the bend of their elbow (think of Batman covering his face with a cape). This keeps your hands free of germs (and body fluids) so that you can continue what you were doing. In a public setting, you’d be surprised and how closely customers pay attention to what you do with your hands. Your next step for this – practice, make it a game with the family to keep each other accountable for using the right technique!
Next, not touching things right after someone who is sick touched it. Chlorox is your friend, isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol is your friend, soapy water is your friend. Please do not hesitate to clean the counter, the credit card machine, the phone, the door handle, the chair, the pens, or any other “public use” equipment that is used in your place of employment. Also, please do not insult the wipes at the grocery store to wipe off the buggy handles – do you know who’s sick kid just had their mouth on that handle minutes before you touched it? Didn’t think so, use a wipe! So what’s your next step? Probably for most of us it’s acquiring some type of disinfecting wipe or spray and paper towels for the areas that you think are questionable – add it to the shopping list!
Lastly, washing your hands, simple right? Are you sure? Here is the “best practices” I was taught when learning to wash my hands.
1 ) Turn on the warm water
2 ) wet hands
3 ) use soap
4 ) scrub all surfaces of hands and fingers (wrists, palms, back of hands, the webs of fingers, all sides of fingers, around cuticles, and under finger nails – friction is your friend) while singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice at the appropriate speed (some people use “Happy Birthday”) to equal 20 – 30 seconds
5 ) rinse under warm water starting at your fingertips and letting the soap and water run off the back of your hands or the bottom of your wrists (this keeps the suds that collected all the dirt and germs from running to the part of the hand that you use the most, thus want to be the cleanest – your fingers)
6 ) retrieve paper towels (if the paper towel dispenser requires you to push or wind a handle to retrieve it, it would be best to roll out the amount you would need before you wet your hands in #2)
7 ) turn off water using paper towel as a barrier (may also use it to push or wind the handle on the paper towel dispenser again)
8 ) dry hands
9 ) use your drying paper towel to open the door 10) throw paper towel away in the trash can.
Hand sanitizing gel is great when sinks and soap are not available. Just remember, the alcohol in them doesn’t kill every germ (and I don’t recommend the use of bleech on your skin) so soap and water still have their place. So, what’s the next step? Practice – maybe find or make a kid-friendly poster with all the steps in your bathrooms, kitchen, and classroom (for all our educators out there), and put hand sanitizer gel (both pump and personal sizes) on the shopping list.
Please don’t take this as me telling you to become a germaphobe (or turn your kids into one – getting dirty has its place), but I am saying be conscious of your surroundings. Staying healthy isn’t about staying germ-free all the time, it’s about killing the germs before they can infect you and your family. Here’s a few bonus tips – for those of us working in the public arena, do a good washing right before you go home. It leaves the “work germs” at work so you don’t bring them home to your family. Also, get rid of the bad habit of putting things in your mouth (fingers, pens, tools, etc). Here’s my personal testimony – when I was working at different pharmacies during school, I had a bad habit of biting my fingernails. Not too long after I started these rotations, I was getting a stomach virus about every 25 days or so. And this went on for about 8 months until Mrs. Marie suggested that because I was working in health care, the germs I was encountering were living under my fingernails. So when I was putting my fingers in my mouth, I was infecting and reinfecting myself with those germs. After accepting that bit of wisdom, I started using hand sanitizer many times during the day – partly to kill the germs on my hands and mostly as a deterrent for putting my hands in my mouth (because isopropyl alcohol is officially yucky). And I stayed well! I haven’t had a stomach virus in 15 months!! Rather than trying to use my faith once a month to stop puking, I put my faith to work to stay healthy.
So, let’s be faithful (full of faith) and keep ourselves and our families healthy this winter!
(Next time: a story of what NOT to do!)