The Sneeze

by Christine Anne George

Image via Pixaby

I have been fighting the good fight since late September. I remember the day well. All was bright and shiny until…I heard the first sneeze. Initially I embraced denial. Maybe someone had a quirky ringtone. Maybe someone’s shoes made a weird squeak. Maybe—but no. It happened again. I knew what had to be done. I upped my vitamins. I made plans to get the flu shot. I pulled a fresh container of anti-bacterial wipes from the supply closet. I bought the BIG container of hand sanitizer to fill the smaller containers at both my desk and the reference desk. I would not get sick. There was just too much going on in the semester.

While I fully acknowledge that there is no “safe space” during cold and flu season, being at a service point is pretty much an open invitation to fall ill. There’s no escaping it. I say that as a realist and most definitely not someone who has been sneezed upon while answering a reference question and is now a bit phobic.

So what is a law librarian to do when facing the on-coming plague at the reference desk? The Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers these tips for good health habits to stop the spread of germs:

  • Avoid close contact
  • Stay at home when you are sick
  • Clean your hands
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects

As someone who stopped typing that penultimate point to touch her eye because the suggestion was apparently enough, I have to admit that these are a bit problematic. Depending on your desk set up and frequency of patron ambushes as you move through the library, avoiding contact may not be possible. While it’s entirely possible to control staying home when you are sick, the control over other people doing the same is nonexistent. The closer we get to finals, the more likely it is that students will continue to drag themselves into the library like the walking wounded because missing class or review sessions is not an option. But disinfecting surfaces is entirely within one’s control. Regularly sanitizing the reference desk and other surfaces is something that can be done. It’s something I take to with gusto as one colleague who said I could disinfect her office when she returned from being sick can attest to. I think she’s finally recovered from the fumes.

There doesn’t seem to be a great way to avoid getting sick when everyone else is dropping like flies around you. And if you happen to be the last one standing, it’s as if you continue to move through the library on borrowed time with the Jaws theme following you until the virus finally pulls you under. Some of it comes down to self-care to avoiding getting run down and thus more susceptible, while the rest seems to be luck of the draw. Since working in sanitized bubbles and Lysoling people upon entry to the library are not options (I’ve asked), all one can do is learn to bob and weave around sneezes and bite back that suggestion that maybe, just maybe, it might be nice to sneeze into one’s elbow once and a while.

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