By KIP BURKE news editor
They say that old habits are hard to break, and that's true. I've had more luck substituting one habit for another, replacing a bad habit with a good one, or at least a better one.
It may be a sign that I'm not yet set in my ways, but I've gradually become a hand-washing fool and for the first time in my life, a slightly germophobic cleaner of nasty surfaces where other folks have carelessly slung their germs.
Now, properly motivated, anybody can change any habit. I remember when I was a Navy photojournalist, we called what we did "shooting" photos. That was the standard term - we'd do a photo shoot, we'd shoot this ceremony and shoot that exercise. We had shooting scripts and shooting schedules and shooting assignments. Then in 1989, the President of the U.S. came to our ship to meet with Soviet President Gorbachev, and I found out I had a bad habit.
Members of President G.H.W. Bush's Secret Service detail used our office just prior to the boss's arrival, and pointed out my bad habit. "Chief," one agent said, "we know what you mean, but could you please avoid using the word 'shoot' and 'the president' in the same sentence? It makes us a little twitchy."
Gulp. Well, after the blood returned to my head, I readily agreed, and changed that habit instantly. We "covered" the president's summit, we "documented," but we did not "shoot." Given enough motivation, we can all change.
In the past, when it came to washing hands, I was often hit-or-miss. Since I have a robust immune system and seemed to be largely impervious to most germs, although I preferred to wash up before eating, I didn't make a big deal of it if I couldn't. I was aware that all the money we handle and most public surfaces like doorknobs and handrails harbor a variety of germs, theoretically, but I wasn't motivated to do much about it unless it was convenient.
Until flu season. For the last few seasons, I've been getting better and better about realizing that, if a flu germ is going to enter my body, chances are it's going to come from my hand after that hand touched a surface on which someone has carelessly left their germs. Since I've always preferred to avoid the catching the flu, I've been more aware of that process, and had gradually become a sporadic flu-season hand-washer and nasty-germ avoider.
Now, with the swine flu seeming to affect every family in some way or another, and flu germs being slung willy-nilly all about us, I'm strongly motivated to start a new habit. I have become a hand-washing fool, washing my hands several times a day and using alcohol wipes whenever I couldn't wash.
More than that, I've become aware of when my hands have touched germ-laden surfaces and manage to keep my hands away from my face until they're clean. They say that things we touch repeatedly, like this keyboard I'm typing on, the mouse I use, my car's steering wheel and shifter, can harbor all the infectious nastiness required to get sick as dogs. So I use hand-sanitizing wipes on those surfaces every day I remember to.
Now, I'm not particularly concerned with the swine flu since it doesn't seem to be much worse than the seasonal flu, and I wouldn't take a vaccination even if I were in a qualifying group, so this new handwashing habit is pretty much my only line of defense against getting the flu this year.so far, it's working. If it doesn't, if somebody's dedicated swine flu germs penetrate my defense, I promise to keep the flu to myself and not share.
Y'all wash up for dinner, ok?