In a couple of days, my two children and I will travel from Osaka to Brighton, England for Christmas, which means that we will be sweating through three busy airports, including Heathrow. I might be an overprotective mother but I am really quite worried about Ebola and other bugs that we might encounter during that journey. Young children are a nightmare in terms of infection control, and my children are no exception. If anything, the fact that our daughter has Type 1 diabetes means that it is even more of a nightmare than for many other children because the frequent finger prick blood tests that she has to have for her blood sugar readings mean that the germs have as easy access to her bloodstream as the Pope has to the Vatican.
So, you can probably see why I am worried about that trip and the germs that my children might pick up along the way. For the past couple of weeks I’ve tried to figure out (a) why my kids touch every surface they possibly can when we go outside, and (b) when my kids will stop doing it, given that you don’t see many adults walking next to a metal car park fence dragging their hands across the metal bars singing Gangnam style (but my kids do this pretty much every day).
I can remember the moment of time in my childhood when I consciously made a decision not to run my hands along every outside surface I possibly could. I was 4 years old, me, my twin sister and our parents went for a day trip to a zoo in Helsinki. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. It was sunny, and we were having a good time. Me and my sister were jumping around like two ponies in a meadow, and touching everything around us. I remember our mum told us several times not to touch the animals’ cages, bannisters or in fact anything in the zoo because it was all dirty. By the peacock pen, she got really cross and in a particularly firm voice and with an evil look on her face signaled to us not to touch the birds’ cage. Regardless of this, I dragged my hand on the cage while walking next to it – until I felt something on my finger. I am sure most of you can guess what that was – Peacock shit. I remember thinking: Oops. Mum just said not to touch the cage and here I am having just done that and ended up with this brown stuff on my finger. So, I did what I had to do to save my ears from a lecture from out of this World: I put my hand in my trouser pocket and wiped the shit on the inside of the pocket. Getting rid of the evidence felt like the safest approach to the problem in hand (and on it). After all, I could not tell my mother that I had ignored her firm advice just 10 seconds earlier. I then asked to go to the toilet because I figured that that would allow me to wash my hands in a non-suspicious manner. Unfortunately, instead of taking me to the toilets my parents spotted a tree a couple of metres away, pulled my trousers down (recall I was about 4 years old) and so completely screwed by plan of getting my hands washed. But thinking back, I have to say that my approach to hiding the bird poo was not bad at all for a 4-year old. However, that incident made me learn my lesson. I stopped touching every surface possible – after all, I had to spend the rest of the afternoon at the zoo with a couple of pretty bad smelling stains on my fingers.
Let’s get back to our forthcoming trip to England. I think the best thing to prepare the kids for the journey and the germs along the way is for them to experience my experience in the zoo in Helsinki. But, I don’t think it would be useful to take them to a zoo in Osaka because the Japanese are even more obsessed with cleanliness than me with my OCD tendencies. That is, we would struggle to find any peacock shit on birdcages over here. A successful plan B might involve taking the kids outside and recreating the experience, i.e. smear a wall with some dog shit, tell the kids not to touch everything they can get their hands on, emphasize that the walls and fences are very dirty and then let them roam free in that area (no gloves allowed). However, call me ‘a princess or ‘a pussy’ but I can’t see myself (a) following some Japanese stranger and leaping towards him and his dog with an erect arm and a plastic bag as soon as the dog’s finished squatting or (b) create brown graffiti on a wall with what the dog had left on the ground. So, perhaps it’s for the best if I do not attempt to recreate the experience in Osaka which I was in 30-something years ago. I also don’t have the time to wait for the poo-on-the-finger incident to happen naturally. I mean, I think eventually my kids will get some shit on their hands judging by the rate with which they touch extremely filthy surfaces. But I only have another couple of days before we head to the airport for the 20 plus hour germ ridden journey. So, I feel I need to adopt a different approach: We will do three things that should cut down the likelihood that my child/children will pick up a bug en route to Brighton.
First, we will adopt the Japanese way to protect oneself from germs. That is, we will all wear surgeon masks for the duration of the journey. We will only remove them when we eat/drink and when we enter our car at the car park at Heathrow. The good thing is that we are flying out from Japan, and that this is flu season. At the moment, many Japanese people on public transport, at hospitals, in shops, at work and at school wear a mask (to protect themselves from germs or avoid passing on to others something that they have). No-one will flinch when our two kids and I hail a cab in Osaka or walk around the terminal at Kansai International Airport wearing surgeon masks. Even on the first leg of our journey out of Japan, all the passengers are likely to have seen people wear masks, even if those passengers were not Japanese, so on that flight we should blend in as well as gin blends into tonic. During the second leg of our flight us with masks will blend in as well as candle wax blends into tonic, but who cares. My children and I will not enter Heathrow without those masks.
The mask will not only provide some protection from airborne nasties but also the spray of mucus that we will be likely to experience during the journey – after all, this is the flu season. In addition, the mask might discourage the kids from putting their fingers in their mouth or nose every 30 seconds. I really hope the masks are as effective in real life as I hope they are.
Second, instead of testing my daughter’s blood sugars by doing a finger prick test, during the flight, and about 24 hours prior to the flight, I will draw the blood from her toes. At least that way, even if she happened to place her fingers on something with particularly dangerous germs on it the-nasty-whatever-it-is would not be able to access her body via her fingers.
Third, we will go completely OCD for the duration of the flight. We will spend more time soaking our hands in soapy water than a hard working kitchen porter does and we will use gallons of disinfectant hand gel (preferably with some chlorine in it!).
Now all I have to do is to find a hand gel with a chlorine component. Or, perhaps I should just bring a bottle of bleach with me on the flight and rub it on our hands instead of the hand gel. That should do the trick of killing everything I don’t want to end up in my children’s mouths, noses or eyes. Then again, I don’t really want the bleach to end up in those places either.
In any case, even though I am not particularly looking forward to the journey, I am really looking forward to seeing my husband, and all our friends in England, who I haven’t seen for the past 9 months. Wish me Bon voyage!