How to use a restroom without catching a disease.
I need to go..
Have you ever been away from home, and suddenly the urge strikes you? Nature is not only calling, but it is shouting at the top of it's lungs. There are probably an infinite number of techniques to using a public restroom, this is a common variation of the one I use and advocate (and teased about). For the sake of brevity, I will not enter into the fine details of choosing the prime location of a restroom (store, gas station, office, restaurant), since this is generally dependent on the activity in which you are currently engaged. Now that you have decided that you have to visit a restroom facility, you are probably wishing to do so with the least amount of exposure to germs as possible.
As you approach the restroom (verify that it is for the correct gender) there are a number of factors that you will need to be aware of. After making some observations you will have to choose your course of action accordingly.
Has anyone else recently departed from or entered into the restroom in question? Be aware of body language, clothing, mobility and any other clues that the other “customer” may project.
Is there an odor? If so, what kind of odor? If the odor is that of cleaning products, this may bring about a small feeling of reassurance, if you detect any other odors as well as the absence of odor, you will have to make the assessment of it's origins and the effects that it may have.
How does the door open? Does the door open inward or outward? Is there a handle to pull, push plate, or door knob? These factors will determine how you gain entry to the facility. Once this assessment is made, you will have a number of possible choices to make. You may have to push the door open at the top, or do the “pinky pull” if it has a handle and opens outward. Worst case scenario is the dreaded door knob, there is not a safe way to approach the door knob unless you are willing to use a shirt sleeve, or the shirt tale. This will probably be a split second decision based on your personal values as well as social setting.
If there is any doubt as to the quality of the restroom, it's occupants, or your desire to enter, turn and walk away. Most people will not notice that you “chickened out,” as they are too concerned with themselves and what they are doing.
Entering into the new environment.
After gaining entry into the restroom via your chosen technique, there will be a few things that you will want to immediately size up.
Once again, assess the odor of the restroom. A persons sense of smell is one of their most under utilized assets. If it doesn't smell right, follow your gut, and do what you know to be right!
Is their any suspicious persons present? Although this may not fall under the category of “disease,” being assaulted in any situation is dangerous and may have health implications much worse then the common cold, influenza, or even some forms of hepatitis. This isn't even taking in to account the potential embarrasment of the effects of stress while you have a full bladder or bowls. You get the idea.
Paper towl dispenser, hand dryer, or one of those disgusting rotating towel dispensers (you'll know it when you see it). Making this assessment immediately can allow you to predetermine if your going to wash your hands prior to exiting.
Location of the trash can. Is it full? Within easy reach of the door? Does it have a push flap? These are all scenarios that you will have to take into account while crafting your exit plan.
Making these observations, assesing your risk, as well as your determination will decide your course of action. You will want to have an exit strategy planned once you have made the decision to commit your self. If you have any misgivings about the situation, please, do not place yourself at risk. Leave quietly and nonchalantly, not giving an explanation, and do so with confidence.
Taking the intiative, the choice is yours.
Choose your stall wisely. I recommend choosing a stall over a urinal for a number of reasons. Stalls offer more privacy, security, and allows for you to linger if necessary (tucking in your shirt, blowing your nose). When choosing a stall, you will want to make sure that it is vacant, clean (preferably flushed), has toilet paper, and even consider your proximity to any “neighbors” in the restroom community.
The next step is crucial: entering the stall. This is the point of no return. Once you enter the stall, you are more or less committed, unless you want to say the 23rd Psalm to yourself, and then leave without doing anything. Up until entering, you can depart, leave, run without looking back. Now that you have entered the stall, a few points to consider.
Pull or push the door open by using the top of the stall door. This maneuver only works if the door has not become latched, in which case you may need to use a sleeve, shirt tale, or perhaps the two fingered approach as described above. Note: If you have already had to utilize a “bare hand” on a door, try and use the same hand for all skin to restroom surface contacts. This will give you peace of mind if the sink does not work out, since you will still have one potentially “clean” hand to work with.
If it is necessary to raise the toilet seat, do so with the toe of your shoe. DO NOT touch the toilet seat with a bare hand!!! An alternative to this (in the case of sandals) would be a generous amount of toilet tissue to be used as a buffer between your hand and the toilet seat.
When utilizing the toilet seat in the down position, use seat covers if provided, or “do it yourself” with toilet paper. Caution: DO NOT touch the toilet seat with a bare hand!!!
Now that all of the details have been addressed, you can execute your primary objective, which is to use the restroom. Once you have conducted your “business,” you will need to take all of the proper steps in order to exit the restroom as gracefully as you have entered it.
Leaving the scene.
Now that you have completed your “transaction,” it is time to depart and continue on with your life.
Exiting the stall is the same concept as entry, with one additional step, flushing the toilet. I recommend that you flush with your foot/shoe. If the toilet seat is in the way, nudge it with your foot, and it should come down (beware, it may be loud). DO NOT touch the flusher handle with your bare skin!
Assesing the Sink, to wash or not to wash?
Below are some of the deciding factors that may determine if you should skipping washing your hands.
Is there soap available? No reason to contaiminate yourself if there is no soap. Just leave, try to use the pinky pull, top push, or shirt tale/sleeve method on the door.
A way to dry your hands? Does it appear that the paper towel dispenser is empty, or otherwise rendered out of order?
A line at the sink, and your embarrassed to wait, or in a hurry.
Creepy cyclic blue cloth towel dispenser (gross).
If it appears that washing your hands is a viable option , wash them with hot soapy water! Once you have finished washing your hands, try to turn off the faucet with a paper towel if possible. Exit the restroom while trying not to touch any surfaces with your bare, and freshly disinfected hands. Using a paper towel is the best when it comes to handeling the door, but if not feasable attempt to use the shirt tale, coat sleeve, the pinky pull or the top push method/s to exit.
I find the concept of using a public restroom daunting at best, but these procedures have helped give me some peace of mind. A few tips that might be helpful:
Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times, or at least try and convince your wife to keep some in her purse.
Pray. Constant prayer is the best way to get through life, but it is especially reassuring when you are feeling vulnerable.
Don't wait until it is to late. “Holding it” for to long can cloud your decision making, and you will take unnecessary risks. It's not worth it, so don't fight the “urge.”
If your someplace especially creepy, like a convenience store in the inner city at 1 a.m., don't allow pride to put you at risk. Ask someone to stand “over watch” so as not to be assaulted while using the restroom.