Reevaluating Germs

Compared to many people I know, I’m laid-back about germs. I do believe in handwashing: a LOT of handwashing. I try not to touch my face when I’m in the office: no nail biting, eye rubbing or contact lens adjustment, unless I’ve washed my hands first. But, I don’t carry hand sanitizer around with me; I don’t freak out about expiration dates on food; our family drinks tap water, even the baby; and if something falls on the floor, I clean it off and into dinner it goes.

The same rather lackadaisical attitude extended to my kid, although I am rethinking this, in light of recent events. Kids are inherently dirty. Infants, especially of the ground- level- grazing sort, are especially dirty. Of course if Babyboy is about to put something really gross in his mouth, we’ll intervene. But generally, if he wants to chew on my shoelaces, taste a daisy, or gnaw on a hairbrush handle, we’ve let him. And he’s been fine.

Until this past weekend. We made the mistake of going to church, even though I had heard that there was some stomach flu outbreak in all the area schools. I heard this, but didn’t really register the information as pertaining to us. I figured we’d go to church, say hi to folks and be done. But there were a lot of other very small children at church, and many of them were also sitting in the back, and they all started naturally sharing toys. Or rather, Babyboy snatched anyone’s toys he could reach and then stuck them in his mouth. I kept apologizing and attempting to extract whatever it was: a toy car, a tiny teddy. ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ the other parents said. ‘It’s OK.’ And so Babyboy was happy.

Until about 24 hours later, when he was strangely fussy, and wouldn’t take his bedtime bottle. He did fall asleep, and I didn’t think much of it, except that when he awoke the next morning, he also didn’t take his morning bottle. I had to go to work, my husband was traveling, and my mother was going to watch Babyboy all day. I was a little worried, but in the busy clinic, I forgot about it.

Then, at lunch, I saw there was a cell phone message. My mom had called. Babyboy had vomiting and diarrhea. My heart jumped. I imagined rushing home and taking him to the emergency room and having to hold him down for an IV, for blood draws. I felt sick. I called home.

“He’s OK,”, she said, “he’s made a bunch of messes, but he’s acting fine, and he’s taken some juice.”

I could hear him in the background: “Ba ba ba ba BAAAAH!” Yup, that was my happy baby. I relaxed but still hurried home, leaving a lot of work.

And he was fine, though my poor mother had to bathe him three times for all the blowout poopy diapers; and he did make a few more messes for me, later that evening. He had five baths that day! My husband came home late that night. Babyboy continued to have some loose stools here and there, and his cheeks were a bit rosy and warm, but otherwise he was his usual happy baby self.

Unfortunately, kids are not the only ones who contract nasty gastrointestinal illnesses. The virus hit my mom first, likely as she had changed the first messes. It hit me next. It was a most unpleasant experience. As a matter of fact, four days later, I still am not quite right. I’m debating how much detail to include, but as the stomach flu is a common experience that pretty much the whole world can relate to, I will limit any description of my own suffering to: It was really awful. My husband got it next, and even my father and my grandmother. This bug was impressively infectious!

And so, I find myself reevaluating my cleanliness standards. We have disinfected all of Babyboy’s toys; I have an action plan for church which includes bringing plenty of his own toys and disinfecting wipes; I am considering not scoffing at people who carry around hand sanitizer.

But today, sitting out in the sun on a blanket with Babyboy, he crawled out to pick a daisy in the grass, and he stuck it into his mouth. I watched his face wrinkle in a “Yuck!” expression, and I laughed. Yes, this is infancy, this is normal, and we’ll all be fine.

2 thoughts on “Reevaluating Germs”

  • Oh, I’ve been there! I’ve tried both ways. Relaxed, and not-so-relaxed. I’m not convinced that the hand sanitizer did much. As far as I could tell, only hiding out for a few days and avoiding all public places when I heard something nasty was going around really helped. And even that was not a surefire way to avoid those awful stomach flus. Given how little difference it appears to make in practice (regardless of studies about germs on doorknobs), I vote for relaxed. A little fatalism can really reduce the mamma’s stress level. I also distinguish between dirt and germs. I’m not too worried about my kids eating some dirt, but I tried to discourage them from licking the slide and chewing on the front of the baby swing.

  • I also have a *very* lax attitude toward germs (we don’t do any hand sanitizers!) and sometimes I get a little self congratulatory about this because we have been so lucky with my daugther not getting sick that frequently. You know, the whole dirt-is-good-for-the-immune-system argument. But I also recognize that if my daughter was sick more often I would be a lot more uptight about it.

    On a slightly different note, it is amazing how quickly the little ones bounce back! I freaked out when my daughter had a 103 at daycare, when I picked her up she was fine!

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