Life can be a balancing act with OCD. But I’m not here to speak in generalities. There are times when keeping our literal balance can be the difference between dodging a bullet or being catapulted into a crisis. Let me give away the ending to this story: I didn’t dodge the bullet.
People with OCD are peculiar. Or to put it a better way, we seem peculiar to everyone else. By definition, we have unorthodox habits. But there is another class of people that shares some of our habits. They might be called hyper-clean. Even though they may not meet the standards of a germophobe, they go beyond what the average person does to stay clean. A place where this naturally occurs is a public restroom. As far back as my teens, I can recall friends and acquaintances of the family discussing the lengths to which they would go to avoid restroom contamination. Some of these measures included using the elbow to open the door (not germophobe-approved, unless desperate), squatting (no explanation necessary!), and using the shoe to push the lever to flush. It’s this last one that is pivotal to this account.
From hearsay and sensory input, I know that the foot flush is fairly common. (In case anyone is wondering, the foot flush tends to make a loud clunking sound.) I dare say that most of my fellow germophobes are familiar with the technique. For this reason alone, I feel comfortable relating what took place. And this is how it went.
Though not strictly a public restroom, the workplace restroom is one of sorts. There are dozens of people using it that I know nothing of other than the brief nods and greetings that we exchange. Contrary to what management would have us believe, we are not one big family. And so I take precautions. Being no novice to the foot flush, I take it for granted that the procedure will go smoothly. But on this particular day, it was not to be. With my foot in the air, heading for the handle, I lost my balance. Most of the time, I can correct my errors in balance with ease, but not that day. My reflexes went into action, and to keep from falling, I extended my hand to the wall: the wall directly behind the commode. I suppose it was better than falling, which in such tight quarters would have meant that my upper body would have hit the door or another wall. True, that would have been worse than a hand. A hand is easier to clean. But, oh, what a dreadful spot to touch, the spot that gets the powerful spray from every flush.
I felt that I had all manner of filth on my hand. I knew I would need to wash with soap and water, not simply wipe with alcohol. I needed to do that at the sink in the break room, which has a regular faucet with a handle. The automatic faucets in the restroom are impossible to use. But here was the challenge: This happened only minutes before noon, and the break room was about to be overrun with people. When I got back to my desk, I had three minutes to take care of it. But I first needed to disinfect my hand with alcohol. I’ve had so much practice, I can do this quickly. So I sprayed and wiped and sprayed and wiped, racing against the clock. If I could get in there even right at noon, I likely would be able to wash up before it got too busy. And if I was lucky, it would be one of the quieter days when most of the employees go out to eat. But it was not to be. I wasn’t able to make the deadline, and the place was immediately teeming with people.
My desk is close enough to the break room that I can hear people coming and going, and sometimes I can determine where certain individuals are located in the room. Unfortunately for me, the counter next to the sink was a popular spot that day. I needed to do a thorough washing, and I didn’t want any observers. So I waited. My hand was ice cold by that time from being sprayed many times. But I had to wait for a lull in the activity. Just when I thought it was clear to go in, I would hear another voice at the counter. I paced back and forth in my cubicle, unable to do anything else with my contaminated hand.
It seemed like an eternity; it was one of the busiest days in recent weeks. Then finally it was quiet. I peeked in, and the counter was clear. There were three or four co-workers left at the tables, but my back would be to them. I made a beeline for the sink, clean napkins tucked into my collar and a cup with dish soap inside in my hands. I used the cup as a pretense to wash my hands, as it would draw less attention from the remaining people in the room. The sweet relief of soap and warm water enveloped my hands. And how long did it take for me to get to that point? Thirty-one minutes!
Being a germophobe requires the patience of a saint. I still have a lot to work on.