When I was a child in elementary school during the 1950s, my parents bought their first home. It was in Trenton, NJ, only a few miles from the state Capitol. It was a big house and they converted part of it as my dad’s first private medical office. He practiced out of his home, as had physicians for thousands of years before him, and his was the last generation to do so as a matter of course. Only a dozen or so years later, medical clinics became more common.
My dad’s office consisted of a waiting room, two examining rooms, one of which he leaded in so he could take his own x-rays, and a consultation office. Every night he placed all his medical instruments in an autoclave and sterilized everything he’d used that day, ensuring they were safe for use the next morning.
A sink was in each examining room, one operated by knees, the other by elbows. I watched my dad wash his hands. Actually, he washed his hands, his wrists, and his forearms up to his elbows. He lathered and scrubbed with a little brush for what seemed like ten minutes.
During those years, grades 1 through 6 for me, I caught every illness in my school – colds, flu, measles, bronchial coughs, sore throats, my first episode of pneumonia, and terribly painful boils when an epidemic hit the city. Close contact with all the sick kids in school guaranteed I would get sick too. I’d had mumps, chicken pox, even a bout of mononucleosis, when younger. Fortunately, I never caught polio.
The flu and finally the polio vaccines became common during the 50s, and my dad was the physician who inoculated the grateful community.
My dad somehow never got sick. Even as a little kid, I worried about him catching the illnesses his patients had, but he didn’t. I wondered if he simply had a really strong body that didn’t catch those bad germs.
In fact, my dad had a secret weapon, and I already told you what it was. He washed his hands. He scrubbed for a long time. He did this before and after examining and treating every single patient. I know because if it was a family member, I sometimes watched.
I wasn’t all that clean as a kid. I learned cleanliness as I grew, adopting an increasingly vigilant regimen of teeth brushing, hair and face and body washing, and especially hand scrubbing.
During this Covid 19 pandemic, washing your hands vigilantly and often is, for now, the best protection we have, and it can work. Wash, keep your distance from others when you must be out, wear protective gear if you can, cough or sneeze into your elbow, and otherwise stay home.
Every time I wash my hands, every time you wash yours, we protect each other from transfer of the virus. We protect our children, our parents, our neighbors, our grandparents. Until we have an effective vaccine, washing our hands is an excellent shield.
Please wash your hands. If not for yourself, for all the other people near you who may get very sick from Covid 19. Who may even die. Stay safe, stay healthy. Somebody you love is counting on you.
Hand washing image courtesy Pikrepo