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Treading Gingerly — Invincibility: A Germaphobe's Discovery

Oct. 9, 2015
We often don't take the time to worry about ourselves. Until we have to.

I usually boast about my great immune system; I rarely ever get sick.

This could be because I exercise, or because I'm still relatively young, but I attribute it to my aversion to germs.

I wash my hands after opening public doors; I use paper towels to open the refrigerator at work; I check hotel rooms for bed bugs – and refuse to take off my shoes while walking around the rooms.

By all standards, I am a germaphobe.

So, when I do inevitably catch a cold, it feels like a personal failure; I let the germs win because I wasn't vigilant enough, proactive enough.

I just got over a bug it seemed like the entire city of Cleveland caught, a bug I normally would be able to fend off. But instead, I was brought down – the same week I was moving.

The thing is, I caught that cold only three days after my doctor had cleared me to – cautiously – return to my normal life. You see, I had abdominal surgery in late August.

I had been hospitalized in May 2014 with a life-threatening illness. I was cured, but, during that time, doctors found another unlucky surprise in my body, one which caused me to have minor surgery.

It turns out, I'm not quite as invincible as I like to believe.

The truth is – the truth for all of us is – we are given one body and what we choose to do with it every day has long-lasting effects.

It's a lesson we've all heard, but sometimes – at least for me – is one that gets lost in the sea of seemingly trite clichés plastered on memes and motivational posters, the words echoed by a chiding doctor each year.

With so many pressing concerns in our daily lives – family, friends, relationships, work, home – we often don't bother to worry about ourselves. Until we have to.

After my surgery, my overly active lifestyle was brought to a screeching halt. My normally restriction-free life was suddenly full of rules and boundaries. It was – painfully – sobering.

Unlike when I have a cold and can still manage to function – even move apartments – after surgery I was physically restrained. I simply could not do my own laundry, take a shower or even pick up my cats. I couldn't walk down the stairs of my second-floor apartment without getting winded and I certainly couldn't move all of my belongings into another place.

And this was after minor surgery.

Now imagine an on-the-job injury in a factory, a warehouse or a construction site. With the machinery used and the inherent risks involved, the possibility of a serious injury is real, as any EHS professional or OSHA official will tell you.

What seems like a shortcut could really lead to a long road to recovery. Yes, during those post-surgery weeks, I was incredibly tempted to ignore the rules and do things myself; it would have been easier…short term. But for every box I wanted to help my family move, I risked weeks more of recovery – or even serious internal damage.

The same is true on the shop floor. Taking the time to do what's right always pays off in the long run. Performing lockout/tagout on a machine could save an employee from years of physical therapy – or even death.

It's the same mantra we all often repeat: work safely so that you can go home at the end of the day.

I think the nuance we sometimes fail to convey though is what exactly going home safely means. Use fall protection so that you don't break your neck, lose the function of your legs and can't play football with your son anymore.

I think it's about the details.

I knew I would be in recovery, but I never really thought through what that would mean, considered how limited I would be. Being confronted with my own vulnerability made me deal with my own misguided perceptions of invincibility.

Even germaphobes aren't invincible it seems.

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