I know you can’t get AIDS from a soda can.
I know it. Right?
And yet I worry.
I’m a complete and total germaphobe—a realization to which I only recently came. I haven’t always been this way. It seems to have started, however, when my first daughter arrived, and suddenly the world looked like a massive infection-delivery system.
Every passerby’s cough was of the whooping variety, every mosquito bite was laced with West Nile, and every feather on the ground—the sorts of feathers I used to collect on walks when I was young—was lousy with bird flu. This is not something I’m happy about, nor do I think it’s a healthy—ha!—way to live, and I can keep it in check when I try. Most of the time.
I need to remind myself that I’m a guy who, in junior high, found a dog skull in a remote corner of a park, picked it up, and brought it home, uncleaned. There was no meat sticking to it or anything, but it was still pretty dirty. I have it to this day. I used to display it in my home, until it fell off a shelf and cracked.
A couple of years back, my family was at a pumpkin patch with some friends, and my then-4-year-old daughter took a few steps away from where we had all stopped to sit and eat lunch. I looked away, and when I looked back, she was drinking from an abandoned can of soda she’d picked up.
I broke out in a cold sweat, mentally cataloging the diseases she’d likely—pretty much obviously—just contracted. Anything that can be transmitted by human saliva. And mucous. And blood, because what if the person who was drinking this before had a cut in his or her mouth? What if there had been blood on the rim? What if somebody had peed in it? What if the can had been left there on purpose to make my child an unwitting Patient Zero is some horrible outbreak?
I’d like to say that I’m exaggerating and that I didn’t fire up the computer once I was back at home to Google possible transmission media for AIDS, meningitis, and a host of other diseases, infections, syndromes, bacteria, parasites, and the like. I’d really like to say that I’m smarter than that.
This is the sort of stuff they teach you about in high school biology and health class—most of it, anyway—so you don’t go around perpetuating misconceptions about some serious medical issues.
But I don’t do well with stuff I can’t see. If my daughter were to have fallen and scraped her knees, I’d have been fine. I know how to identify, assess, and treat skin abrasions.
But if she gets a fever or a rash—how am I supposed to know what’s going on? Especially if I try to get to her to point to exactly where it hurts or describe to me what her throat feels like inside, and all she does is cry at me, sort of angrily? Like even she gets that I’m overreacting.
I have a fear of flying, too, and I think it stems from the same place. I’d be OK, I figure, if I could sit in the cockpit and see and hear what the pilots are talking about and not freaking out about. Back in the cabin, every little jostle and bump makes me think: “Was that it? Was that knock the sound of my imminent death? If it was, they certainly wouldn’t tell us back here.”
If I could just see for myself that the people in charge aren’t worried, that nobody’s silently mouthing “uh-oh” as they watch a little sonar outline of an engine dropping 30,000 feet (I really don’t know how planes work), I would be fine. Better, anyway.
So it’s rough, because in my family, when one of my kids handles dirt that I’m pretty sure had cat poop in it (toxoplasma gondii!) or pops some little yellow pellets into her mouth—pellets she randomly found under a rock while camping, as actually happened this past summer—I’m the one in the cockpit. The kids are looking to me to see whether they should be worried. And I’m often looking to my wife, who assures me (and thereby the kids, who just hurt me blurt, “What if that was rat poison!”) that the stuff wasn’t rat poison.
(It wasn’t. In an act of sacrifice and scientific research, I popped a few into my own mouth. They were lemon-flavored Nerds. But even then, I worried a little that maybe rat poison manufacturers make their products extra sweet in order to attract more vermin.) (I really did.)
Look, knowledge is key here. The unknown is scary, and parenting already has unknowns enough without my throwing in unreasonable hypotheticals.
Honestly, I don’t have much of a “lesson learned” for the end of this post. Instead, I’m declaring Wednesdays to be Worry Wednesdays, so I can maybe excise a few of these ridiculous recurring nightmares I have about outlandish concerns. And you can laugh at me. Or shake your head. Or, in the case of my wife, do both, punctuated by a pitying-and-yet-loving, “Oh, Honey.”
As a bit of penance (and to show that, yes, I do actually know how AIDS is transmitted) and to try to throw some support to a worthy cause, check out the AIDS Support Network, which offers services to people living with HIV disease and AIDS in my neck of California. The group “works diligently to stabilize clients’ health—financially, emotionally and physically, at no cost to the client.” There’s a fundraising Walk for Life set for Nov. 2. Sign up, support someone else who did, or look for something similar in your own community.
And if you do join the walk, don’t drink from any random cans you find lying around. There could be bees in them, and you don’t want one to sting your tongue.