I've been a closeted germaphobe for years, but thanks to the fashionistas, my closet door just swung wide open. In "Illness Walks the Runway" (New York Times, 1/31/13), Tim Murphy writes, "A top fashion designer quarantines a sneezing underling, forcing her to work in a closet. An industry P.R. executive makes colleagues douse their hands with Purell. Germ-phobic magazine editors are power-blasting offices with antiseptic wipes and Lysol..."
I'm sure most people probably panicked when they read that article. But not me. I smiled. Because for the first time in my life, I could wave my overly-sanitized freak flag proudly.
My germ-phobia started at age 10 when my father contracted hepatitis from some tainted water in my hometown. Because it was a highly communicable disease, my mother had my brother and me on high germ alert. We washed our hands so much, we put Lady Macbeth to shame.
My father recovered and went on to lead a normal, germy life.
I did not.
I did, however, learn to hide my germ-phobia pretty well. And like to think I still do. I don't accept bites of food from others' plates ("I'm full!") or sip from others' drinks ("Not thirsty!") even if I'm starving or parched. At cocktail party introductions, I make sure to have a drink in one hand and an hors d'oeuvre in the other (preferably a cocktail wiener), so that I just can't manage to shake hands. I carry Purell with me always, and sometimes sneak it under the table at a dinner party if some hand-shaker manages to paw me after I've already scarfed down my cocktail wiener.
Thanks to my newfound fashionista friends, I feel free to share some of my other tips to avoid the flu... or hopefully any other illness:
Lie: If you're not at a cocktail party and thus cannot use the aforementioned drink/hors d'oeuvre trick, there's always a way to avoid that requisite germy handshake. Lie. Say something like: "I don't want to touch you because I think I'm coming down with something," and then make sure to nod and smile vigorously while exclaiming loudly just how happy you are to meet the person.
Perfect your basketball shot: Bathrooms are notoriously germ-filled, and while it's great to wash your hands after you've done your business, you still need to touch that germy door handle -- the one that's been touched by others who may not have bothered to wash their hands. So use that paper towel to grip the door handle, and then crumple it up and shoot it into the trash receptacle.
Air kiss: Why people other than your spouse try to greet you with a kiss on the mouth is beyond me, but even a cheek kiss these days is not the most sanitary. So put on your diva self and throw kisses into the air.
Sing Happy Birthday to Your First Pet: Her name was Lassie. She was a collie. OK, maybe not the most original name, but hey, I was 4. It was the 1960's. We all know about the importance of washing your hands with soap and water, but a quick rinse won't suffice. You're supposed to wash for 20 seconds. That's the equivalent of singing "Happy Birthday to Your First Pet" (Binky? Spotsy? Bruno?) two times.
Bring your own damn pen: All of those check-out counter and bank pens that are attached to those highly theft-proof metal beaded chains are breeding grounds for germs. So, bring your own damn pen.
So here's to hoping you stay healthy. And on the off chance you do get some kind of illness, do what the fashionistas do. Wrap your favorite designer scarf around your neck. Even if you don't feel good, at least you'll look good!
Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are the key steps to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you're seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician for the first time.
Make sure the doctor you're seeing has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other test or lab results, including reports from other doctors that you've seen. In most cases, you'll need to do the legwork yourself, which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor's administrative staff, asking for it to be sent, or you may need to go pick it up and bring it to the new office yourself.
Make a list of all the medications you're taking (prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements) along with the dosages, and take it with you to your appointment. Or, just gather up all your pill bottles in a bag and bring them with you.
Your doctor also needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as any current or past medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time. Genetics matter too, so having your family's health history can be helpful. The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free web-based tool called "My Family Health Portrait" that can help you put one together.
Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Since most appointments last between 10 and 15 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you're in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.
The best advice when you meet with your doctor is to speak up. Don't wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and as specific as possible when recounting your symptoms or expressing your concerns. Many patients are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor's job a lot harder to do. It's also a good idea to bring along a family member or friend to your appointment. They can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you and give you support.