It’s been a while since Germ Cop has reported for duty here. But she comes with yet another cautionary tale.
If you are unfamiliar, allow me to introduce you to my antiseptic alter ego. Beneath this mild-mannered exterior is an invisibly caped, agitated superhero. Germ Cop. Worshipper of the Purell bottle. Elbower-outer of all public restrooms. Triple washer of triple-washed salad. I keep an eye on things and am blessed/cursed with an extra sensory perception of where evil pathogens lurk.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, just before my son’s 18th birthday, I tagged along on his wrapup pediatrician visit. He needed some kind of pre-college shot. Meningococoapuffs or whatever. You think I would know each vaccine’s scientific label by heart, but the names of these shots repel me. Just one of those things.
So I went along for the ride and to fill out insurance info, or perhaps even toss out some co-pay cash. I had no plan to wander past the colorful toddler-blocking Dutch doors that lead to the bowels of the office. This was a threshold I had crossed so many times in the past. But obviously, the kid’s way too old for that. The plan was to sit in the waiting room the entire time.
My son was called to the exam rooms rather quickly. I think maybe I was a little taken aback seeing my hairy-legged 6’3” baby stride past the tiny choo-choo tables and fish tanks and permanently looped video of Aladdin.
I sat there kind of stunned. I looked at my surroundings and got all “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“This is it,” I thought. “I’ll never sit in this room again. I don’t remember growing older, when did Percy the Train become a relic?”
As I waited, other parents and little ones filtered into the room. Some were shell-shocked new moms limping in with infants, trying to juggle their handbags, fatigue and unwieldy car seats. Others were sets of weary parents with adorable and/or Tasmanian devil preschoolers. I felt like I was looking at my past in 3-D. I might have wiped away a tear or two. The kicker? In the swirl of this emotional, time-bending moment, I forgot one important fact:
I was sitting in a festering Petri dish.
What could be worse than spending 45 minutes in the mucus-slimed, snow globe of particulate sneeze matter that is the pediatric waiting room? Worse, I was breathing in too deeply, due to my melancholy sighs. I was a distracted mess, touching things without thinking. Clipboards, reception counters, community pens, chair arms. Any other time, I would have sat in a corner with my hands up like a neurosurgeon freshly prepped for the operating room. I would have managed to breathe through just one filtered nostril, or not at all. I would have left a trail of Germ-X wipes in my wake. But I simply succumbed to this current state of imminent empty nest shock.
How did I connect the dots about how I let my guard down? Eighteen hours after the waiting room scene, I started feeling not so great. This is an understatement. I’m not one of those oversharing TMI types, so let’s just say I suffered through a worst-case-scenario projectile situation. The Ultimate Germ Cop nightmare.
At first, I thought it was something I ate. But every person in my household ingested the same exact meals for days. The only outlier situation was that waiting room, where apparently I stewed like an innocent culture under Alexander Fleming’s microscope.
It’s ironic that through the years I survived countless pediatric frontline missions with never once picking up even a sniffle. Yet my parental swan song at that place wound up smacking me down with the most memorable parting gift ever.
No more ear-wormy Aladdin loops for me, and frankly, I’m fine with that. A whole new world awaits. But first, I think I’ll swab it.
Freelancer Denise Snodell writes every other week.