Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave a news correspondent a dressing down during a briefing last September when the correspondent sneezed inappropriately into his hand instead of into the crook of his elbow, which we are now all supposed to be doing.
It's called the "Phantom Sneeze," I've heard; so named because you kind of look like the Phantom of the Opera sweeping his inky black cloak up to hide his mask from the lovely Christine. Or maybe you don't. It's hard to say, when you're in the middle of a huge wet sneeze.
I can remember back when we all were supposed to sneeze into our hands, or even better, when people carried tissues or even handkerchiefs to catch their sneezes. Let me just say that I am not an advocate of blowing one's nose into a handkerchief, because how disgusting is it to put a snot-wet square of cotton back into your pocket? I also think that the only think about my great-grandma Houser that I just couldn't abide is that she kept tissues in the sleeve of her little cardigan sweaters and used and re-used them to dab at her nose from time to time. My mother used to whisper to just ignore it -- the tissues-in-the-sleeve thing was a fetish brought on by living through the Great Depression, kind of like that huge drawer full of string Grandma kept, or the way she washed out coffee cans, filled them with dirt and planted geraniums in them.
But really, I can't say this new way is better. I mean, I used to cough or sneeze into my hand and then either go wash my hands or use some hand sanitizer. It's not like I was going up to people after expelling mucus from my nose and wiping my hands dry on the shoulders of their coats or anything.
In the new way, we're supposed to be transferring our germs from our nasal passages/mouths onto our clothing. With this walking pneumonia, I am coughing constantly into my elbow; if I'm walking on a slippery sidewalk and my husband reaches out to take my arm, should I pull away and shriek, "NOOOOOOOOOOO"? Because there must be a LOT of germs living on the sleeves of my coat by now. The red fleece sweatshirt I'm wearing is probably crawling with droplet infection.
I'm wondering if this whole Phantom Sneeze idea is one that's been spread about by some group with a vested interest in keeping our clothing from being swarming hotbeds of H1N1, the pneumonia bacteria and heaven knows what else. The dry cleaning industry, perhaps? Hmmmm...
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