Last week I wrote about the ordeal that occurred because of the carpets in my workplace undergoing a much-needed cleaning. Or rather, the calamity befell me the day before the scheduled cleaning when the janitor pulled up the mat off the floor and wedged it between my desk and cubicle wall. I said I wouldn’t write about this particular event again unless something unusual happened after the shampooing of the carpets. I can’t say that anything different happened at my desk afterwards, but something occurred elsewhere in the office that set off the OCD alarm bell.
When I arrived at my desk Monday morning, I didn’t notice anything out of place (as I had on Thursday), but I had to assume that my entire desk was in a state of dire contamination. That I expected and was prepared to deal with. That doesn’t mean that it was easy. On my walk into the office, the wind blew my ID card (which hangs in a holder on my pants waist) up, and it hit my hand. This is unacceptable to me, so I was already starting the day with a handicap. Before I could start sanitizing my desk, I had to clean my hand. But it turned out to be for naught. My mat was still standing up in the cubicle, and I had to get it back on the floor where it belonged. Past experience told me that I needed to double up my gloves for the task, and I did. With a bit of difficulty, I dragged the mat out, but it was quite heavy, so I didn’t have much time to think. I had to twist it around so that it was facing the right way and then let it fall. As it turned, I felt on my hand what I was trying to avoid: The cleats on the bottom of the mat tore at my gloves. I still had hope that the double layer had protected my hands, but alas, the gloves were no match for the mat. Two holes had been ripped in my left glove. Now I had not only my workspace to sanitize but my hand as well. For many types of contamination, spraying with alcohol and/or using wet wipes is sufficient. But I detest floor germs, and I needed to wash with soap and water. I still did the spraying and wiping routine, but afterwards I took my sliver of soap to the sink and did a thorough washing. My hands virtually glowed when I was done, like red hot coals.
Next came cubicle decontamination. I don’t need to go into too much detail, as my rituals have been documented here many times. The one thing that was out of the ordinary was the wall of the cubicle itself. Fabric is tricky to clean. When I wipe down hard surfaces, I feel confident that the germs are gone. The germs wipe right off, don’t they? But do germs really get wiped off of fabric? Because of the uncertainty inherent in this, the fabric required much more cleaning than a hard surface would. It took several days of spraying because the fabric also needed time to dry in between rounds. Two of the rounds including vigorous scrubbing, if a napkin can be used for scrubbing. And it still doesn’t seem clean. I continue to keep my tissue box and other personal items a few inches away from it.
So, what was it that stopped me in my tracks, that put me on high alert? After more than an hour of disinfecting my workspace, I decided to do some work, you know, the reason I go to the office every day. There were documents that needed to be copied, so I took them to the copy machine. Immediately, something felt wrong. And there was something wrong, but something so minor that most people wouldn’t notice it. There was an inordinate amount of dust on the copier. So what? These particles were larger and irregular, not like the everyday dust that settles on objects. I have seen this type of dust when the janitor comes around and dusts the tops of the cabinets. It will be noticeable on anything dark in the cubicle, such as the arms of my chair. The dust on the copier made me very uneasy because there is nothing around or above the machine. From where did it come? I stared at the machine, afraid to touch it. I looked at it from different angles, searching for a clue. The examination did reveal something: There was a dead insect on the copier. And it didn’t look freshly dead. It looked as if it had been in dust or webs for a long time. This was a bad sign. With no shelves or any other objects near the machine, I could come up with only one explanation: Someone had thrown a rug on top of the copier. In preparation for the shampooing, trash cans and any other object on the floors had been placed up on tables or desktops. Vile practice!
Now what? I couldn’t touch the copy machine in that state. And I couldn’t stand there with my wipes and alcohol and disinfect it with all of the people walking by or wanting to use it. But I had to do something. I went to my desk and poured alcohol on a napkin and hurried back to the machine. I wanted to clean it some before more employees used it and spread the filth. I checked for any observers; then I wiped the surface where the papers feed into the machine. Next I wiped the tray that catches the papers when they come out. Better but not enough. As that went well, I sped back to my desk for more wipes. I took three back for the next round. As I started wiping again, one of the supervisors walked up. Oh, dear. The surfaces were still wet. I said I would be just a moment, even though I had only one sheet of paper in my hand as a decoy. I waved the paper as I placed it in the feeder, trying to hasten the drying process. I also blew on it as the paper was going through. The paper did have some spots after it came out, but it was going in the trash anyway. The copier still had a few slightly damp areas as I walked away, but I didn’t hear any complaints.
I waited a minute and went back a third time. I was able to complete two more rounds without anyone walking up. After this, I decided that I would have to be satisfied with what had been done. The one thought that allowed me to let it go was that perhaps I was wrong about the rug, although it seemed to be the only plausible explanation. But there was one more thing I had to do. I took one more wipe and went over the other surfaces of the machine. Employees (including myself) place documents on them while waiting, and I needed to reduce the contamination as much as possible.
If my rug theory was true, the amount of disinfecting was nowhere close to enough. If the dust was caused by something else, there was a chance that the copier was sufficiently clean. And this is where not knowing is good. I declared it done and was saved a small amount of stress in a very tense time.