I cannot see them.
But I know they are always out there lurking, hiding on every object.
They are … just… waiting… to POUNCE. And the other day they did.
Now it is only a matter of time: I know there is nothing I can do to stop their predictable attack.
It all began a few days ago when I decided to do something I seldom do: visit a local supermarket even though I did not desperately need to. Maybe because I don’t do it often, I was fascinated by my visit. A spacious, modern store, each aisle offered new products to enhance some aspect of my life.
Supermarket Sojourn Begins Pleasantly, Ends With Germ Warfare
In the refrigerator aisle, delicious sounding new yogurt flavors called to me; I read the nutritional information and made a few selections. In the magazine area, I read recipe titles in several cooking publications. Pet food offered up new varieties to assist in the ongoing struggle to get my 20-year-old cat to eat.
At the deli counter I opted for a new pasta salad. And finally in produce I got to the real reason for my shopping expedition: the need to purchase healthy salad fixings for the first diet of 2012. Cart fuller than I had intended, I grabbed one last item: a large, healthy looking Honeycrisp apple, the dessert I would use to reward myself after eating a salad that was unlikely to bring the joy of a juicy burger and fries.
A woman on a mission, I made my way to one of several empty cash registers; it was midday and not a busy shopping time. I anticipated a quick check out and envisioned myself driving the short distance home. I was hungry and eager to dig into that salad and feel virtuous for eating something healthy.
My vision could not have been more wrong. It was there that the attack occurred. As I quickly emptied my cart onto the conveyor belt, they stood poised, ready to pounce. It was there that they got me. There was a brief moment when I could have fought back and saved myself, but I was too startled to grab the opportunity and so I stood there and allowed myself to be victimized: yes, I was victimized by an army of cold germs!
I know they are everywhere, all the time, and there isn’t much to be done but motivated by my tendency to get sicker than the average person because of allergies, I do try to avoid the little demons as much as possible. That was why I had swooped with joy towards the anti-bacterial wet wipes available for hand and shopping cart wipe down when patrons enter the store. That was why I enjoyed shopping at an “off time,” when the store was not full of ashen looking people coughing and sneezing to ensnare new victims.
But the woman checking out my order quite literally wiped out all my efforts. First I could hear it in her voice: she kept clearing her throat and her voice sounded dry and raspy. Next I noted that her face looked drained and colorless. Now fairly certain that the lady had a cold, I stood as far from the counter as possible, cringing each time she touched my groceries, and hoping that maybe I was wrong in my diagnosis. But then she launched her assault as she began to wipe her dripping nose… with …her …fingers … and… with the back of her hand.
Embarrassed for Worker and Stunned into Silence, I Allow Myself To Be Victimized
Honest: I am not making this up. No tissue to be seen, she simply used her fingers and hand instead, and then… she picked up … my groceries… and touched them and held them until she moved them in the direction of the bagger. And in my mind’s eye I could see the insidious little germs making their move from the woman’s hands to my groceries to my hands to my body.
Through a haze of anguish, I could see her wipe her nose with her fingers once again and then triumphantly lift my prize Honeycrisp apple to move it closer to the bagger. I think she commented about the wondrous taste of Honeycrisp apples, but the pounding of disbelief and frustration that had taken over my head, drowned out her praise for the apple.
In a brief flash, I considered putting my foot down, or at least making her put her hands down-- away from my groceries -- -and asking for someone else to ring up my items. I considered that I could politely say that she obviously had a cold and that I did not really want to share it with her. But somehow, feeling embarrassed for her and not wanting to embarrass her by calling attention to what she was doing, I remained silent and just stood and watched in horror as my $92 worth of groceries were infected with germs that would more than likely make me as sick as she clearly was.
As I quickly wheeled out of the store feeling disgusted at the germ warfare that victimized me and disgusted with myself for not speaking up, I realized I was holding the paper receipt she had touched, so I scooped up a handful of those sani-wipes at the entrance and once outside in the frigid winter wind, began furiously to wipe down every square inch of the receipt. Freezing as the wind howled, I seethed in frustration.
That was just the beginning. Once home, there was no long-awaited salad for me. Instead, I grabbed my plastic canister of Lysol wipes and spent close to two hours, painstakingly wiping down every item: my lettuce mix, the cat food cans, my pasta salad container, and of course, my Honeycrisp apple – the one I would never get to eat. With each swipe of a Lysol wipe, my stomach growled louder and my frustration increased. I probably looked ridiculous, but I was fighting for a worthy cause: the right not to be sick.
Finally Speaking Up Brings Some Satisfaction, Hopefully a Safer Future
Finally finished, groceries smelling heavily of disinfectant, I sat down, feeling somewhere between tears and anger, and then I did something akin to what I ought to have done in the first place: I spoke up. I called the store, asked for the manager, and told my tale. Happily, the manager was sympathetic and apologetic; she said that my complaint was not at all out of line and she promised to address my concerns.
To her credit, the manager’s sincerity was validated on my next visit to that store: every single register line sported a large canister of disinfectant wipes. The sight of those warriors against germs at every checkout was reassuring. I am hoping the store’s attentiveness to good hygiene continues and I hope other stores follow suit. With apology for the mixed metaphor, sometimes life throws us curve balls in the form of illness and there is nothing we can do, but I’d rather not be done in by a “sucker punch.”
As for me, if you are wondering, the answer is a sad and frustrated, "Absolutely." Having begun writing this a couple of weeks ago, I am just finishing it up now. I did indeed get sick and I am finally getting back into the groove. While the identity of the germs that took me down will never be known, those groceries remain my number one suspect!
[Additional reading on this topic is available at many websites, including: