Do you use a traditional mouse or a trackball with your computer? Maybe you have a laptop and you use a touchpad. Of the three, the touchpad is the safest: It can’t move around or be pulled off a desk. A wire attached to a mouse is a hazard in waiting. Even a wireless mouse can be knocked on the floor. But I can attest that the trackball is by far the option most fraught with danger – for a germophobe, that is.
I have used a trackball at the office for years. There have been a few times that it has been dropped while cleaning or by a moment of clumsiness. The first time the trackball came loose from the mouse and fell on the floor, I thought I was in serious trouble. That was a few years back, and I guess I hadn’t yet come to the realization that a germophobe must be resourceful and find a way. I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to just toss it, as I would have done at home in those days. And I found a way to get it clean. On subsequent dropping incidents, I didn’t panic because I knew that the trackball could be cleaned, but it was still stressful. And when it happened this week, I had the same feeling: It was going to take a lot of work, but it could be done. But I didn’t know what awaited me.
How the trackball became dislodged is a story in itself. I was putting a small bottle of water into my overhead cabinet, when it slipped out of my hand. The bottle bounced off the desk and onto the trackball sitting on the keyboard tray. The entire mouse was knocked on the ground and the trackball went its separate way. I stared down at the bare spot where it had been, hoping in vain that I had imagined the whole thing. But it was not to be.
I stepped back to survey the damage. There under the desk was the decapitated mouse. I couldn’t immediately see the trackball, so I assumed it had rolled farther back. I had to bend down to take a closer look. I peered to the left; I peered to the right. Nothing. Was it hiding behind the wires? No. Did it roll behind the trash can? No. Perhaps it rolled behind the cabinet next to the trash can. To check that out, I would have to put on gloves and crawl under the desk. That was going to be an unpleasant task, and it seemed unlikely. Unlikely. Unlikely. I looked at the trash can once again. It couldn’t have. I used a baggie to pull out the trash can and look inside. Eureka! But without the excitement. Nestled in a corner among some napkins – that was its resting place. I wish it could have been its final resting place, but, alas, it was not mine to discard.
Then the recovery. I knew I would have to cleanse the ball with alcohol several times, but in this instance that didn’t seem like enough. I wanted to wash it with real soap and hot water first. But how? I keep vinyl gloves at the office, but they aren’t waterproof. If I could put the trackball in a container and swish it around in soapy water, that would do the trick. I remembered the plastic bowl I keep in my cabinet. Now I had a plan.
I put on gloves to retrieve the trackball from the garbage. I placed it on a napkin up on the designated dirty shelf. The gloves came off. I got the bowl out of the cabinet and pulled two baggies out of the drawer. I put the baggies on as pseudo-gloves. I grabbed the bowl with one and the trackball with the other. I tiptoed out of my cubicle, hoping that I wouldn’t run into anyone. I was relieved that there was no one in the break room, and I walked up to the sink. I used the baggies to turn on the faucet and squeeze some of the dish soap into the bowl. I swished away, letting the soapy water run over the edge of the bowl. When the suds were all gone, I poured out the water and turned off the faucet. I hurried back to my desk and put the ball back on a napkin. Then, to keep my conscience clean, I carried the plastic bowl (still held with a baggie) to the recycling container at the back of the break room. I dropped the used baggies in the garbage can on the way back to my desk. I managed to do all of this unobserved.
Back at my desk came the second portion of the cleansing process. I poured rubbing alcohol over eight napkins and spread them out over the desk. I used a baggie to place the ball on the first napkin, hoping it wouldn’t roll off. On went a clean pair of gloves. I picked up the napkin by the corners and wiped off the ball. Then I carefully rolled it out of the first napkin onto the next. I methodically went through all eight napkins. That part actually went rather quickly. But I still had the decapitated mouse to clean. I had to spray and wipe it eight times, but it dried slowly. I tried to hurry it along with extra wiping and blowing, but the hole where the trackball rests was difficult to clean. I had to fold pieces of napkins into points that I could run around the inside without touching it with my fingers, although there was a bump once which required extra finger cleaning. I need to keep cotton swabs at the desk in case this happens again.
It seemed like an eternity before I was done with the ritual, but it was likely closer to forty-five minutes. Another exhausting start to my workday. Mental strain can be just as exhausting as physical work.