Germaphobe or Just Smart?

One of the things that you learn along the way as a caregiver for someone with COPD is that a common cold can become a major problem. I had a very real fear of getting my mom sick, even in the early stages. In my mind, if something was going to happen to her, it would not be because I had been careless.

I had never been a germaphobe, but I guess I became one. Sometimes it kept me away from mom simply because I thought might have something. If I had a cough or a sore throat, I would not even come close to her. Even though I knew that I had seasonal allergies, there was always that chance that I might have something contagious.

I became known for carrying antibacterial wipes with me. Before I would begin work, I would wipe down my entire work station. There was no way to know if the person before me was sick or not. I was also careful not to touch my eyes or mouth throughout the day, as this can transfer germs into your body.

It was more than just me. If someone was around my mom, I expected them to be as careful as I was. This included relatives, friends and yes, even strangers. I know, I know… It’s not realistic, but in my mind, if you can see that someone is on oxygen, you should know to be considerate of them.

Well, then I had children. If you are waiting for me to say that I lightened up, you are going to have to keep waiting. My need to stay as germ free as possible crossed over into my children. No matter where we went, I would wipe down every table and highchair. As my son got older, in restaurants I would even wipe down most of a booth and the wall. I would wipe down grocery carts, or if my husband was with me, we would just use our stroller for the kids, keeping them contained. When my daughter was born, we just wiped down a larger area.

I cannot tell you how many times we felt the eyes of strangers on us. There were families watching us going through our rituals with gentle, understanding smiles, and there were others that gave us the glare that says, “can’t you just hurry up!” There were waiters that would stand over us as if that would help us hurry along, and there were others that would wait in the wings, without pressuring, giving us the much needed time to get settled.

Now before the debate begins about letting your children get sick to build up their immune systems, remember that their grandmother was actively a part of their lives until the end. She would come and stay with us for several days at a time, usually once a week, so we could not, in good conscience, be careless of germs.

You are probably wondering if it worked. Well, we were rarely sick. We still caught the occasional stomach flu or cold, but not like others that we knew. Of course I have no way to prove it, but I believe that by being incredibly careful about germs in general, helped us keep mom as protected from the common cold and flu as much as is humanly possible. In this small way, I knew that I had done all that I could do.

After mom went to heaven, we were at a restaurant, and I did not have anymore antibacterial wipes. For the first time in years, I was not scared of what we might pick up from the table. It was okay. It was a moment of relief, but at the same time, I wanted it back.

I still wipe down tables in restaurants sometimes, but it is not a heavy burden to me. It is just smart.

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