Flu Bugged

We are all Dr. Babooner.


Dear Dr. Babooner,

My cubicle buddy has terrible Respiratory Etiquette.

She’s always sick but she won’t stay home. Somehow she got the idea that the best way to handle a sneeze is to deflect it upwards, much in the same way raggedy militiamen in third world insurrections celebrate by firing their guns into the air.

Although she sits on the other side of a partition, I can hear her hacking and honking and moments after she coughs I’m pretty sure I can feel tiny droplets of infected mucous settling on to my bare skin.

I’ve tried talking to her about it, but engaging her in conversation feels like a scene from one of those war movies where the infantrymen have to run zig-zag and dive behind obstacles just to get across the courtyard. Of course she believes she’s indispensable and that the company wouldn’t survive if she missed a day of work. So instead, it’s her co-workers who are dropping like flies.

Not only does she sneeze clouds of snotty mist all around the office, but I often see her wiping her nose with a bare hand just before using that very same hand to open a door or greet someone who has just walked into the room.

I want to throw a Purel-soaked body sack over her and drag her to a nearby clinic but I know she’d complain to the HR department.
Of course I’ve tried to inform HR that she’s a health hazard, but there’s never anyone down there. HR staff are the only people in the company who follow the contagious disease policy.

Dr. Babooner, I’m at my wits’ end and I don’t know what to do! Should I move, quit, or force the issue by wearing a gas mask? I’ll hold my breath until you reply.

I.M. Gasping

I told I.M. we must all take our health very seriously for our own sake and for the sake of those around us. But it is difficult to tell someone who doesn’t see it that their poor hygiene is a hazard to others. I like the idea of a gas mask, although full body protection would be even better. Maybe you could start by declaring tomorrow Hazmat Friday?

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

39 thoughts on “Flu Bugged”

  1. Good morning. IMG, I would just put up with the bad behavior of your co-worker, but I sense that you don’t want to do that. You need some kind of creative solution because no one is paying attention to your complaints. What if you let it be known that you are at high risk for getting very ill if you are infected by something spread by your office mate? Tell her that your immune system is damaged and you have trouble fighting off diseases. If that doesn’t work, go for another creative solution. Maybe you could start a lot of rumors about serious diseases that your co-worker might be spreading.


  2. antibiotics used to be what the doctors gave all patients because everyone felt better if the doctor prescribed something. that was dangerous and developed super virus that withstood normal treatments. today there are probiotics available that are an immune system builder that build your body instead of suggesting that the world do it differently. i dont work in a setting where there are a hundred people in an office but i do visit that office and i do shake hands with people who work there . my kids go to school where the one thousand kids per school get germs and exposure from world wide cross breeding of stuff gone atmospheric. i was in a plane yesterday with whole bunch of people i wouldnt want to french kiss but we all touch the same hand rails and door handles on the way to and from the different places we go. sneeze schmeeze its gonna get you one way or the other. if it doesnt kill you it makes you stronger here too. human resources will always take the day off and that person across the cubicle wall will always sneeze your way. tracing bacteria and germs would be such an interesting study. maybe you should occupy your brain with trying to figure out how to do that instead of shutting down the office so you can work in a place you feel sanitized in.


  3. If you are fortunate enough to have a laptop that allows you to work away from your desk, by all means just move where you are working for the duration – go to the break room, book a meeting room (and close the door), work in the lobby if you must. Maybe you can get someone from the graphic arts team to come with you and you can put together some posters to put up around the office that riff off of WWII posters with pithy sayings like, “Lose Germs Sink Firms” or “Keep Calm and Carry Purell” or maybe even a re-done Uncle Sam (replace his face with your boss’ perhaps?) and “I Want You To Stay Home.”


    1. I think the photo-shopped Uncle Sam is very much in the spirit of Dr. Babooner.

      At my healthcare job, the nurses are wearing masks, because the last thing sick residents need is a shortage of nurses due to illness.


  4. Yesterday, the coworker I wrote about a couple of days ago, the one with whom I frequently have “issues”, spent the day drawing maximum attention from others by coughing and hacking as loudly and frequently as possible, and wearing a surgical mask when not coughing. I just don’t get it.


  5. So there I am in the men’s room, having just done what I came to do, and of course I washed my hands. Now . . . how am I supposed to get out of the men’s room? The door swings in, so I can’t push it with a knee. If I grab the handle, I’ll be shaking hands with everyone who used that room recently, including the guys who didn’t wash up. In what seems like the ultimate silly gesture, I often hook the very top of the handle with my pinky finger and pull the door open. As if that area had any guarantee of being clean.


    1. I’m not very careful about avoiding germs and I wouldn’t about getting germs by touching door knobs. There is a solution if you want to protect yourself from germs that you get this way. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer and use it after you touch things that might have germs. I tend to think that too much sanitation is not good and some exposure to germs is okay. Some have said, including tim, that we are at risk of ending up with super germs if we use too much sanitation. I don’t know where you reach the point of using too much sanitation. Maybe people like IMG’s co-worker are spreading more than enough germs to almost completely reduce the risk of developing super germs.


    2. Bathroom design really is idiotic. At work I use the paper towel I dried my hands on to also open the door (which of course opens inward). but then I have to stop by the break room to throw it away because there’s no trash can near the bathroom door. Instead, there’s a full-length mirror (very badly lit; if you wanted to check for spinach in your teeth you wouldn’t be able to see it) in that spot. Also, only one sink has a single-handle faucet that can be turned off with your elbow; the others are double-handled and have to be turned with the hands you just washed so carefully. It might not all be the architect’s fault, but I blame him/her/them anyway, because I hate architects–after working in libraries with no air flow, no sight lines, bad ergonomics, and huge windows that allowed the sun to fade and damage entire sections of books (not to mention the travesty that is the new Walker, or as we call it, The Angry Robot), I have Issues.


      1. When they remodeled the building I work in (read “old warehouse”), the person who designed the bathroom must have had their brain plugged in (as opposed to usual). Just to the left of the exit door is a BIG trash recepticle. So we all use the towel that we’ve dried our hand on, whip the door open and then toss the towel as we scoot out the door. The only downside to this is that if you are just about to enter the bathroom when somebody whips open the door from the inside, the surprise of it can stop your heart!


    3. A lot of public places have started to address this problem. I’m usually seeing trash bins next to the door if the door opens inward. Someone suggested that if there is no trash bin there, you should just open the door with a paper towel, pause on your way out, stop the door with your foot if you need to, and drop the paper towel on the floor where the trash can should be. Sooner or later a light bulb should go on.

      This assumes that the restroom has paper towels. If they have air-dry only, you could use a little TP.


  6. If nothing works and you are still worried about getting ill due to the bad behavior of your co-worked, here is another idea. Get some big guy you know to team up with you and confront your co-worker in a dark hallway. Tell the co-worker that it is way past the time for her stop spreading her germs around and tell her the name of the guy with you is Gino the Enforcer. If the coworker complains about being threatened by you, tell her she must have misunderstood you.


  7. Dear IMG,
    In short, you’re right. You should be able to have the MN Dept. of Health’s stormtroopers come in and have this person sealed in a plastic bubble and rolled off to the ‘Flu-segow.’ However, you’re right again, Human Resources or the FBI might have to put something in your permanent file on that.

    So, I guess you’ll have to fall back on the pirate code of ‘every man’s fer hisself.’ Not only would I recommend a full-face gas mask (nowadays, we call them ‘respirators,’ but I think that the old WWII style giganto-canister gas mask may get your point across better) but also the full-body Tyvek ‘bunny suit’ with hood, goggles, gloves, and booties. In fact, you can even get one of those suits with a filtered blower attached, so it’s like having your own personal environment…which is really the point, isn’t it?

    If someone doesn’t have any sick/vacation time to use when they’re actually sick, that’s one thing. But if they just refuse to not infect everyone else, well…I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t take steps to keep yourself from getting sick. Seems to me that fair is fair.

    You probably shouldn’t put up big warning signs or flares around your cube-mate. That could land you in HR for discrimination or you might set the carpet on fire (which would also probably land you in HR). But I think that your other co-workers would get the gist and catch on pretty quickly, if they haven’t already.

    In fact, you might find that your other co-workers would want to buy their own masks, gloves, and suit. You could parlay this into a short-term business! If HR pulls you in for that, tell them that they should support free enterprise.


  8. I’ve been thinking about this today as I can hear a couple of people hacking in the distance. Unfortunately it’s a toss-up. Do you risk getting their germs or do you risk having to do their work if they stay home? In my industry, the program begins whether you are sick or not!


    1. yup, yup., yup. and as the person who sometimes had to stay home with a sick child, it becomes a rather sticky business if there is no one to pick up and fill in for you.

      By the time your child can go back to daycare, you have this mound of work and anxious co-workers wondering when you are going to get it all done (and by then, you have also contracted your child’s illness), and quite possibly, no sick leave left. In this era of “paid time off” taking vacation time is no longer an option either, if you are lucky enough to have any of that.


  9. I don’t understand all the concern about germs on door knobs. I think I follow basic practices for cleanliness. I didn’t know that touching door knobs on the inside of bathrooms is something that should be avoided. I guess I am not being as careful as I should be. Do you think that we are becoming excessively concerned about avoid germs or is it good to become more careful about spreading germs. My mother was trained as a home economics teacher and was careful about spreading germs. She didn’t warn me about touching bathroom door handles. Where did the idea that you shouldn’t touch bathroom door knobs come from?


    1. Bathroom door knobs/handles probably aren’t any worse than anything else, but over the years I’ve seen surveys about how many people admit to not washing their hands after they’re finished; for me, it’s just an “eeewww” factor.


  10. Get your office mates together (the well office mates), and somehow acquire a huge sheet of plastic in which to encase this co-worker’s office. Set up quarantine signs outside her cube, and then let her stew in her own juices. Someone else can bring lunch to her and slip it through the doorflap (or whatever you’ve cooked up). For the rest of you, this can be a sort of bonding exercise.


  11. Working from home presents a different kind of problem. Without the infection risk, how do you decide what is sick enough to keep away from the computer?
    Also, I was sick with this flu-like thing and lingering cough for almost 3 weeks. One can’t reasonably take off 3 weeks so what constitutes “better enough” I figure I probably haven’t been contagious for quite some time and my feeling decent waxes and wanes.
    I haven’t taken a sick day in years because I really haven’t been sick so there’s a pride thing going on as well as a can’t-let-down-the-co-workers thing.


    1. It is hard to know when you should take some time to rest if you are not feeling good and when you should keep working even if you are not completely well. If you are working alone at home you don’t need to worry about passing on your illness. If you have work that really needs to be done, you might want to make an effort to do it even if you are somewhat sick. Other wise, why not take some time off until you are feeling better?

      My Dad was one who thought you should not give in to illness and keep going if you can. I certainly think it is good to not get too carried away with focusing on minor health problems. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong taking it easy if you not feeling well. Sometimes it seems that illness is a signal from your body telling you that it is time to take a break and get some rest.


  12. I am probably tempting fate, but I haven’t had a flu shot or the flu for several years. I attribute it to my work with lots of young coughing and drippy children who have exposed me to countless germs over the years and have helped me develop a pretty good immunity. Perhaps IMG should, instead of keeping away from the germs, find opportunities for exposure that may, over time, provide for greater immunity.


  13. Evening–
    I never use public pens at the store; I always use mine. Just my little phobia.
    And with my bad knees I have to use hand rails going up and down stairs but I’m a little afraid of the germs that might be lurking on them. At the college especially. But there are hand sanitizer stations all over so it’s easy to re-sanitize.

    We always have a candy bowl in the scene shop… but after the first year with kids hacking and coughing and then reaching into the box of crackers or pretzels, I switched to individually wrapped treats.
    (And no chocolate; chocolate lasts about 2 minutes. I tell them the contents will only be whatever Fleet Farm has on sale. And it will be stuff that nobody likes because the treats last longer that way. …..Nobody laughs at my jokes…
    Tomorrow is ‘safety lecture’ day so time for the Fork Lift Driver Klaus video again!)
    Remember, it’s kinda graphic… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjJDecBEmr8&feature=related


  14. Greetings! When it comes to germs and bacteria; I am fearless, reckless and cavalier. I have a strong immune system fortified with lots of Vitamin D, probiotics as Tim suggested and exposure to who knows what virus or pathogen. If chocolate or some other favorite morsel falls on the floor, I immediately claim the10-second rule, brush it off and eat it. I’m not overly careful about cleaning cutting boards after cutting raw chicken. When I clean at the dojo, I don’t even use gloves when I clean the bathroom, pick gum out of the trash bags that are re-used or worry about any number of germy surfaces I come in contact with. Of course, I wash my hands often and use higher standards when cooking for others or when I’m in public.

    Generally, I don’t get sick and I don’t get the flu. Germs don’t scare me, but flu shots and any vaccination shots are full of toxins that scare me, and I would never allow such poisons to be injected directly into my bloodstream. There are NO safety or effectiveness studies done on flu shots. Good, objective, third party studies done on vaccinations can be found at http://www.nvic.org.


    1. I wonder if people really do have different “constitutions”, where some are more susceptible to germs than others. I’m not very susceptible, and tend more toward Joanne’s attitude.


      1. Huhn – posted before I was finished. … That said, I do find myself washing my hands more during flu season.


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