Raising a child overseas has some odd challenges. One of them is getting them to the stage where they can independently visit a restroom. The first problem: which restroom?
This is compounded somewhat if you need to not only teach the child that restrooms come in at least two types, but also more than one language. In Japan, some restrooms used symbols, such as ▼for men’s restrooms and ▲for women’s restrooms, or ♂ for men and ♀ for women. But it also isn’t uncommon to find restrooms with signs that say, in English, “Men” or “Women.” Even a pre-literate child can figure out the symbols, or that the word “women” is longer than “men.”
Having mastered this level of independence, our child was nothing short of enraged to move to the US and find restrooms, usually in restaurants, labeled “Hombre” and “Mujer” or “Señor” and “Señorita” or “Blokes” and “Sheilas” or “Monsieur” and “Mademoiselle” or some other cutesy combo. The rage soon receded as other aspects of American life eclipsed this madness.
But then I recently came across this restroom sign, and felt utterly perplexed:
The leading cause of hospital infections is: staff not washing their hands. The leading cause of most common communicable diseases in the United States is: people not washing their hands.
We use our hands for everything, be that taking out the trash or pushing elevator buttons or pumping gasoline into our cars or typing into blogs using borrowed computers and keyboards. Our hands touch everything, including things that won’t be mentioned here, yet many people seem almost pathologically opposed to killing pathogens through proper washing.
Lawsuits over infections have caused many hospital systems to issue detailed guidance on how to wash hands. The guidance comes in the form of lectures, handouts, checklists, and illustrated reminders in restrooms. You can’t escape the guidance; it seems to be posted everywhere. Yet the infection rates in many hospitals stubbornly refuse to fall, usually because the staff stubbornly refuses to comply with the hand washing guidance.
There may be signs of hope, however. This sign was not found in a hospital, or a doctor’s clinic, or at a dental office, or any of the usual locals. No, this was in a gas station restroom in Staunton, Virginia: