Public bathrooms. We have all used them. We frequently loath using them, but they are unavoidable, unless you have access to a stump or an empty bottle. They tend to be gravity wells for poor spelling, inadvisable advertising, and fatal errors (like not checking the toilet paper supply before commencing Operation Yellow Flow). And they are harbingers of germs. This has led to a growing number of automated devices to the restroom. There are toilets that flush themselves either while you are sitting on them or after you’ve started to panic that it might be broken. There are sinks that turn on a lukewarm splash of water for 3 seconds and then refuse to turn back on for five minutes while you make an ass of yourself wagging soapy digits before the finicky sensor. There are hand dryers that lackadaisically breath warmly on your hands while you stare longingly at the empty paper towel dispenser. There are even automatic soap dispensers, which doesn’t make any freaking sense if you think about it. All this is in the pursuit of a germ-free potty experience.
Many times, there will be a mash-up of automatic and manual devices in the bathroom, like auto soap and manual faucets, because that makes a lot of sense. Sometimes you get a fully automatic experience but end up drying your hands on twelve paper towels that subsequently have to be crammed into a trashcan overflowing with a million other used towels. But when it come down to it, it just doesn’t matter. At the end of the chore, you still have to open the door. And anybody who knows anything knows that door handles have more germs than your average toilet seat. Mythbusters proved it, so it must be true (actually, they didn’t test a door handle that episode, but the toilet seat was waaaay less germy than a bunch of other common household items, so I’m counting it). All the hands-free sanitary efforts are made moot by one snag in the system.
Until now. I was out to dinner with my husband and excused myself to use the facilities. The toilet was automatic. The soap and faucet were automatic. And they had a Dyson hand dryer (the only one that actually works, though it is way too noisy). As I contemplated the futility of all this germ-avoidance, I noticed a sticker at eye-level above the dryer. “We care about your hygienic experience. Please use the Toepener on your way out.” There was a diagram of a person using their foot to open the door by way of a bracket at the bottom. I would have taken a picture, but I believe bathrooms are dirty enough without bringing cell phone germs into the mix. It was a little awkward to use with my flip-flops, but I managed to open the door with my foot instead of my newly sanitized hands. It was genius.
However, it got me thinking about all the things we do to prevent the spread of germs and other microscopic things. I’m not a germaphobe by any means (Basic training does wonders for that impulse). That said, I like things to be clean. I wash my hands frequently in the kitchen and every time I use the restroom. I have hand sanitizer in my purse for emergencies (hold-over habit from deployment, where soap was not a guarantee). But I also believe that we may be going somewhat overboard on these preventatives. Exposure to germs is supposed to help strengthen our immune systems, especially when we’re young.
I am not in any way saying that hand washing is bad, nor am I a part of the stupid anti-vaccination movement. Vaccines are a safer way to expose ourselves to deadly diseases so that our body can build immunities against those diseases. What I’m saying is that if we wrap ourselves in anti-germ bubbles, our systems will suffer for it.
It’s like War of the Worlds. The alien invaders are defeated by the common cold. What if we become so effective in germ extermination that all it takes is a cold to wipe us out? The Toepener could mean the extinction of the human race.
This post was a lot funnier in my head.