“There’s so much to worry about…..”
— Worried Walrus from the Sweet Pickles Classic
Microbiology is a wonderful thing. Literally, it is full of wonder. If we could see, in glorious detail, the quadrillions of microscopic organisms that exist EVERYWHERE and in EVERYTHING — we could be lost marveling for days at the galaxies of germs that could fit on the tip of a needle. If we could always see them, life would be very… different — as demonstrated by the alternative and discarded titles of this little piece:
—When Toilets Sneeze—
—Whose Crap is This?—
“You humans. When are you gonna learn that size doesn’t matter? Just because something is [very, very small doesn’t mean it’s not very important].”
— Frank The Alien Dog, in the movie “Men in Black”
If we carefully consider all the little microbes inside us, around us, on us, and between us, we will quickly learn that there are more of “them” than there are of “us.”
Each person has about 30 trillion “human” cells, yet there are more than 400 trillion bacteria and viruses and yeast and other microbes that share our most intimate spaces and whose existence is vital to life, both our own individual lives and the multitude of interdependent communities of life that we all share!
Our “microbiome” is the ocean of germs we are individually swimming in. These microbes are doing many things… I wonder if they are simply out to kill us?
“Curiosity may have killed the cat….but it also revealed eternal truths to the monkey.”
— Curious George, loosely interpreted
I was curious, so I went looking for something disgusting and potentially deadly.
When you flush a toilet, it coughs — or sneezes, whichever spews aerosols of germs further; and these aerosols can live on surfaces or fabric, such as clothing and masks. See these articles:
These are a small portion of the multiple studies that confirm viruses and bacteria, including infectious and potentially deadly organisms such as Tuberculosis, C. Difficile, Rotavirus, and Coronavirus can persist on surfaces like toilets; they spew into the air when we flush the toilet, and can be recovered at distances far away from the toilet many hours after the flush. These can also remain infectious on clothing and masks.
Take note, dear reader, that the number of potentially infectious, life-threatening crapper aerosols is highest just above and around the toilet, and they persist for hours in the AIR of the bathroom and at a distance that grows larger with time from the flush. At 6 hours, the little buggers can be recovered alive from quite a distance and depending on the microbe, for MANY DAYS. Sometimes MONTHS later! This includes many viruses and perhaps would include the current little guy that everyone is running away from.
I wonder what happens when we put porous, moist fabric over our faces and lean over the bowl to flush as these aerosols are spewing? We keep these coverings on our faces for days, or weeks, or even months, taking some deep breaths as we go about our merry way…. Perhaps taking a stroll through a few airport bathrooms, touching our faces and eyes – and other parts which shall not be named — all the while breathing comfortably as long as we wear this “protective covering,” and rest easy because others are wearing similar filthy face-coverings knowing these things are keeping us safe… right?
I feel safe, don’t you?… and really clean.
They are everywhere… maybe we should all be very worried?
Should we stay out of the bathrooms and mask the toilets?
Maybe we should BAN FLUSHING, or ban all the indoor toilets because latrines sound safer than this!?
We could sterilize the bathrooms with UV light or some sort of chemical fog every time someone flushes, or install UV light and chemical spray units underneath the toilet seat to shine and spray our bums every time we sit?
We could try using a new, sterile, disposable mask every 30 minutes (because it takes LESS TIME THAN THAT for the masks to be contaminated, even without the toilet sneeze!) — but then, what will we do when our actual oceans are filled with dirty masks?
We could swab everyone—where the sun don’t shine —so we know who is infected and certainly keep them from flushing, perhaps prevent them from even going, because many of them are unsuspectingly carrying undesirable Li’l critters?
Perhaps we should prohibit people infected with one bug or another from using public restrooms, perhaps all restrooms, for at least 14 days until a clean anal swab is acquired? At which point a toilet-use license is issued… we could call it TOIL-ID (We’re working hard, America — Toward Optimally non-Infectious Loins).
…They’re still working out the catchy name…
Before we set up random anal swab stations at shopping malls and revisit pooping outside in a hole, perhaps we should think together about all of this, out loud, and carefully consider the complexities, the risks, and the benefits of our potential actions. These discussions don’t fit nicely in twitter soundbites, but they must be had because first, we must do no harm!
It makes me wonder…
… whether it could be harmful to breathe for weeks through a filthy mask that has been sprayed with the aerosols spewed from multiple toilets and man-handled for many days?
…whether quarantining healthy people could be harmful?…..perhaps in ways that could go unnoticed for years?
…whether randomly swabbing healthy people—in the nose, or the rear—could be harmful to individuals or society? and if it’s wiser to spend some time addressing the causes of illness in our population?
Could it be harmful to teach our children to fear our friends and family and schoolmates in close proximity? or to block facial expressions, a vital part of communication for thousands of years?
Remember 2 things, as we consider these 2 important questions:
- Why do some people not get sick when exposed to the germs from a toilet or from anywhere else?
- Could I make myself one of these people?
- The fix is in us… it is not the germ, but it is our “terrain” that is important — we have an immune system that is infinitely more capable than we realize if we will only supply this system with everything it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
- Cast away fear— for perhaps fear is the unseen killer consuming many of us, and not the flushing of a toilet, nor the nearness of someone with a smiling face.
“….fear. It is life’s only true opponent….[it] can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary,… It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease…[and it ALWAYS] begins in your mind….”
— Yann Martel, Life of Pi