homepage logo


By Staff | May 14, 2010

You see them everywhere nowadays: in supermarkets and gas stations, haughtily standing guard at our schools. Yes, I’m talking about those annoying antibacterial lotion dispensers.

When did we turn into such a nation of germaphobes? What if our forefathers and foremothers had been such ninnies?

Daniel Boone: “Good news, Becky! I just shot me a b’ar!”

Becky Boone: “Well, drag him on up here and we’ll have bear steak for supper!”

Daniel: “You gotta be kidding! I ain’t touching that mangy, furry critter! Gross! You wouldn’t believe how bad he stinks!”

Becky: “Now you know how I feel, Dan’l.”

What have germs ever done to us? That is, other than cause cholera, colds, and colitis? What’s a little illness between friends?

After all, germs are our allies. Our digestive systems are chock-a-block with microorganisms; we couldn’t process food without them. These microbes live with us in a symbiotic relationship that benefits both host and parasite, an arrangement that often gives rise to some stinky situations. In other words, it’s just like the relationship between Congress and lobbyists.

I’ve never understood the fuss regarding germs and babies. When a baby is born everyone is fanatical about protecting it from germs, boiling its feeding equipment, sterilizing its environment with an electron beam gun and so forth.

And what do we do with that baby once we get it home? We put it on the floor and let it drag its lower lip across the carpet. And in the same general area where the dog drug his rump the day before.

Folks certainly weren’t nearly so uptight about germs when I was a kid, when we routinely performed such death-defying feats as drinking out of a communal garden hose.

And should someone receive a minor cut and/or scrape and/or lose an actual chunk of flesh, we somehow managed to survive without immediately immersing our entire selves in a vat of antibiotic ointment.

We had a dairy farm and our family drank raw milk straight from the bulk tank. I don’t recall being more ill more often than any other family, but then again, pretty much everybody back then had dairy cows and consumed raw milk.

Nothing challenges the immune system like growing up on a livestock farm.

Take the dairy barn for instance. Anyone who has spent time around dairy cows knows that you have to be attuned to cow coughs. It doesn’t matter if you’re standing in front of or behind her, a cow cough can be a messy affair.

And afterwards, nobody ever wiped us down with alcohol swabs.

Hardly anything is more disgusting than getting smacked in the face with a wet tail. Plus, it tastes awful. Don’t ask.

The hog barn wasn’t much better. Sorting and loading hogs often meant getting spattered from head to toe. One quickly learns to keep one’s mouth shut while sorting hogs.

Germ hazards were by no means limited to the livestock side of farming.

An example regarded baling hay. We had a neighborhood baling run wherein several neighbors baled hay together. For some reason, they always scheduled hay baling – our version of aerobicize – for the hottest time of the year.

The hard work and high heat produced rivers of sweat. A jug of ice water was always kept handy and was passed from man to man during breaks. All drank deeply; none wiped the spigot as the jug made its way through the crew.

I would have never considered kissing any of those guys on the mouth, but from a germ’s point of view that’s pretty much what happened.

Once, while chasing a cow across the cattle yard, I stepped on a nail-infested board that had been thoughtfully placed in my path. The board became pinned to my foot, causing me to run unevenly for several paces.

My tetanus status was up to date (for some reason, I received boosters fairly often), so I figured I could simply walk off the manure-and-rust puncture wound.

But, no. The wound became infected, so I went to the doctor and was issued a powerful antibiotic.

A few days later I was awakened from a sound slumber by an overwhelming discomfort in my, um, underwear area. Everything under said underwear was a startling, angry red.

I was informed that the antibiotic had exterminated the microbes that normally occupy that region, allowing wild yeast to move in. I hadn’t even been to any wild parties – especially none involving bread!

An icky ointment was prescribed for the rash. And for the next several days my wife gave me wide berth, saying that I smelled funky. There was something about my odor, she said, that reminded her of a bear.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page