A Small Thing is a Big Thing

A small thing is a big thing. I heard that on TV this morning. It might have sounded a little like crazy talk two months ago. Not so much these days when scoring toilet paper results in celebratory texts.

But really, when you think about it, a small thing is often a big thing. The things that seem too small to acknowledge when life is normal and routine often loom large in retrospect or when viewed through a different lens. A small thing can change everything.

spark

I grew up on a farm with no television set and no nearby neighbors. During summers when I wasn’t outside, I read. For several years, a bookmobile brought books to a highway a couple of miles away. Once that service stopped, my mother would drive me into town on Saturday morning and drop me off at the library to choose books for a week while she went to the grocery store.

One summer I read two books that still stick with me. One was “The Story of Emily Dickinson: I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” by Edna Barth; the other was “The Doctor Who Saved Babies: Ignaz Semmelweis” by Josephine Rich.

Most English classes introduce Emily Dickinson at some point so you’ve probably read at least one of her poems. It’s less likely that you know the name Ignaz Semmelweis, but you are familiar with the results of his work. Around 1846, this Hungarian doctor developed a cleanliness protocol that helped prevent women and children from contracting puerperal fever during and after childbirth. At the time, this infection killed up to a third of those giving birth in hospitals.

Lacking today’s specialization, the same doctor would perform an autopsy and then care for patients. After careful observation and elimination of other possibilities, Dr. Semmelweis hypothesized that doctors were spreading the infection from cadavers to mothers and babies. He further speculated that cleaning the hands in between could prevent this spread of infection. He developed a procedure for coating the hands with a chlorine solution.

The result was a drastic reduction in infection and death in the maternity wards where the procedure was followed. Unfortunately, other doctors resented the implication that they were making patients sick. They opposed implementing the procedure and eventually fired Semmelweis.

While this whole story was fascinating, the reason the book stuck with me was that in the end, Dr. Semmelweis once failed to follow his own protocol and died from the infection he tried so hard to prevent. Whether that detail is documented or fictionalized doesn’t really matter to me. The irony drove home the point that strict adherence to protocol no matter how small is a big thing when it comes to disease transmission.

Reading this book was also a small thing, but it has had a lifetime effect on my behavior. While I don’t view myself as fanatic, I am a conscientious hand washer. I’m also vigilant about handling food in the kitchen to avoid contaminating surfaces and other food with pathogens or allergens. I consistently wash all fruits and vegetables prior to preparing or eating them.

I carry with me a certain wary awareness of my environment. I think about the fact that hundreds of people have touched the tube at the bank drive-through. I wash my hands with soap and water after changing my grandchildren’s diapers. I’m not comfortable just using a diaper wipe. I’ve always turned gloves inside out to remove them. I credit Dr. Semmelweis’ story with cementing this awareness. It is clear to me that one small thing can truly have a long lasting effect.

It can also save lives. Hand washing statistics in the US healthcare system show compliance hovers around 50%. This contributes to the two million hospital contracted infections per year in a normal year. This year, hand hygiene is even more critical.

Listening to media I’m getting a message that many of us are still feeling helpless in the face of this pandemic. We can’t wave a wand and make life go backward, that is true. But that doesn’t mean we have no choices. Perhaps it will help to keep in mind that small things can be big things.

An extra hour of sleep may be all you need to feel more robust. A drive at sunset can remind you that the earth still brings beauty. A bouquet of flowers from your yard can brighten the family dinner table. A word of encouragement can make all the difference to someone who is struggling and feeling unseen and unheard. A $5 donation can provide 5 meals from a food bank. Washing hands, brushing teeth, wearing a mask, and carefully handling food make a significant contribution to good health.

Most of us can do a small thing each day to take care of ourselves, our families, or our community. Those things count. A small spark can ignite a large fire. A small thing can be a big thing!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1277509.I_m_Nobody_Who_Are_You_The_Story_Of_Emily_Dickinson

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19332864

https://ihpi.umich.edu/news/hand-washing-stops-infections-so-why-do-health-care-workers-skip-it

https://www.mdlinx.com/article/more-than-half-of-doctors-make-this-simple-dangerous-mistake/lfc-4171

Alternative Songs for Hand Washing

This week, I’ve been exploring alternative songs for handwashing. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really tired of singing Happy Birthday every time I wash my hands. I want to make sure I’m washing for the optimum time, but I want to jam to another tune.

handwashing

If you have kids, here are some songs that meet the 20-second requirement according to the timer on my iPhone and the normal speed I’d sing them with my grandchildren:
One round of The Itsy Bitsy Spider
Two Verses of The Wheels on the Bus
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Two Verses of Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes
Two body parts in If You’re Happy and You Know It (Wash Your Hands!)
I’m a Little Teapot
Three Verses of Baby Shark
Two Verses of This Old Man
Two body parts in The Hokey Pokey
Two rounds of Pop Goes the Weasel

I used my timer to preview some other categories for you:

When the emerging situation leaves you leaning more on faith, try one verse of Amazing Grace, one verse (or one chorus) of To God Be the Glory, or We Shall Overcome.

When you want to remind your kids of the good ole days, you can sing two verses of She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, one chorus of This Land is Your Land, or Home on the Range.

If you’re missing sports, you can honor them with Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a chorus of Eye of the Tiger, or your school’s fight song (most will be at least 20 seconds, but set your timer and sing a test to make sure).

Remember how Ally McBeal’s therapist suggested everyone should have a theme song? This could be a good time to grab one for yourself. I tend to like It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp. I cannot explain why. It just seems appropriate when something is difficult.

Not to mention, it highly annoys my son when my grandson starts singing that song in public. (He’s three. Don’t worry, he’s never heard the full song and he doesn’t know what a pimp is. He just knows, “It’s hard out here for a pimp. Trying to get the money for the rent. After which he adds: cha, cha, cha, cha.”) You cannot see this and not laugh. The reprimands I receive from my son are worth it.

Laughter is a good thing right now. Our lives have shifted drastically this past week. Finding humor wherever you can find it will ease some of the discomfort swift change brings.

The current situation offers a great opportunity to focus on good health habits. Choosing a handwashing song can add an element of frivolity to one of these habits. I like the association of fun and lightheartedness with health habits. Fun makes a good habit feel more palatable and appealing.

I wish you and your family safety, comfort, and wellness as we work through uncertainty and complications. And I hope we all manage to find some fun among the chaos!

https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html

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