Handshake, Schmandshake!

§   I originally posted this essay in September, 2018.  Now, with Dr. Fauci suggesting that we may never return to the gesture of the handshake, it seems a great time to repost it.  Ha!  I was ahead of the curve!  §

I’ve never quite gotten the point of the whole “a firm handshake” deal. Judging a person in this manner has always seemed to me like two little boys playing at arm wrestling.  Who cares whether one’s touch is quote-firm-unquote?  I personally suspect that the whole firm handshake concept (which for decades was an exclusively male prerogative) was just something devised in a homophobic era by men who felt a light touch also indicated someone who was “light in the loafers”.

As a young girl in parochial school, occasionally being taught lessons in etiquette (something which, by the way, I would highly recommend be added to the curriculum of every school today), I was instructed that a man did not reach to shake a woman’s hand unless she first extended her own hand.  Unfortunately, this etiquette lesson has gone the way of the dodo, but I truly preferred it.  I dislike touching or being touched by complete strangers.  No, that’s wrong – I despise touching or being touched by complete strangers.  It feels invasive of my personal space, and it takes away my sense of control about a situation – my right to decide whether or not to be handled.  I wasn’t raised in the “good touch, bad touch” era, but not having the right to decide if I want to grasp the hand of a totally unfamiliar person has always felt “bad touch” to me.  After all, how do I know where that hand’s just been?  Is this a person who doesn’t wash after using the bathroom?  What if they have a cold or the flu? Blech.

For that reason, I’ve devised many a trick to avoid shaking hands. My favorite, when I can do it, is to sneeze.  Since allergies are my constant companions, this often isn’t difficult.  And turning completely aside to sneeze, carefully covering one’s face with both hands, is a wonderfully self-deprecating, “Ohmigosh, I can’t believe that happened, let me get a tissue,” moment.

If I’m unable to rustle up a realistic sneeze, I cough. Coughing is much easier, and it still requires turning away and covering one’s face with one’s hand, thereby making it unlikely anyone is going to immediately grasp that hand.  Both coughing and sneezing can include simple explanation and apology: “Sorry, I’m afraid I have a bit of cold; I certainly don’t want to pass it on to you!”, or, “So sorry; the ragweed is in full bloom, and I’m very allergic!”  All said, of course, with an apologetic smile, sometimes while dashing hand sanitizer over one’s palms – no one wants to shake hands with a glob of alcohol gel.

Actually, I rather enjoyed this aspect of the terrible flu season of 2009, when experts recommended that the handshake be foregone in favor of the fist bump. It’s impossible to judge the fleeting gesture of the fist bump, and the touch is so brief that it doesn’t feel invasive.  I only wish the fist bump recommendation was in place every flu season.

I might be happier, though, in a culture in which the bow was the gesture of choice for introduction. Besides being a refined and classic gesture, in those cultures in which people bow rather than shake hands, it’s possible, by the depth of one’s bow, to indicate anything from real pleasure in meeting someone to total rejection and insult.  Now there’s a custom I can appreciate!

But I am most taken with the classically graceful “Namaste” gesture (the explanation of which so befuddled the current President after his trip to India), in which the head is bowed slightly over one’s steepled hands as the word is spoken. “I bow to the Divine within you,” the word and movement say, acknowledging the totality of the person standing before one, recognizing that they are both body and spirit, whole and perfect and complete.

Handshake, schmandshake. One should be judged by one’s stance (confident and self-assured?  Slouching, unable to meet the other’s eyes?) one’s smile (genuine or nervous?) and general neatness.  All the rest – clothing, accent, makeup, hair, and touch – are just window dressing. Fluff.  In the long run, the immediate judgment we make of another is just that: a snap judgment.  Stop worrying about their handshake and take the time to know the individual.

To Flu or Not to Flu…Shot

Although I’m of the appropriate age for the inoculation, I have not had a shingles vaccine, and I absolutely don’t intend to do so, neither the original formula shot nor the newest one. I had chickenpox as a child, so I’m well aware that the virus lives in my body, awaiting only the right concatenation of factors, to become active once more.  Several of my family members and acquaintances have suffered shingles, so I’ve seen what the disease can do.  But here is, for me, the salient point: Of the four people I’ve known who fell prey to a case of shingles, three of them had received the vaccine.  And of those three, one of them appeared to have the worst case of anyone I’d seen.

So I just don’t quite see the point of putting into my body a mixture filled with god-alone-knows what soup of ingredients not really intended for human beings, if it’s not really going to prevent the disease.

I may regret this attitude if I come down with a case of shingles. But then again, knowing how badly I react to most inoculations, I may not.

I wasn’t always this adamant about avoidable vaccines. I’ve suffered from asthma since early adulthood, so for many years I was always extremely careful about getting a yearly flu shot.  Long before most people even considered having a flu shot, and certainly long before the government got involved in public awareness campaigns to encourage/chivvy/mandate that everyone receive that vaccine, I willingly rolled up my sleeve once a year.  I also cooperatively got the newly-developed first “lifetime” pneumonia shot (which turned out not to be so lifetime a vaccine after all.)

I accepted as a matter of course that my annual flu jab would send me into a two-week bout with bronchitis, and that only after having made me feverish and aching for at least 24 hours. Having had influenza previously, I thought it was worth it.

But then I experienced my first severe reaction. Within moments of the vaccine entering my arm, I felt as if fire had been poured onto my nerves. I’d taken ibuprofen before getting the inoculation, hoping to ward off aches and fever; I downed another dose as soon as possible immediately afterward. But the pain continued and grew worse, throbbing across my shoulders and neck and down my other arm until I was in tears. It felt as if my every nerve was being rubbed raw with sandpaper.

While the worst of my reaction finally eased after two days, I experienced malaise and fever and general aching for another week. Finally, I came down with my usual bronchitis, but this was much more severe a case than usual.

Although I questioned the wisdom of continuing this regimen, I listened to the propaganda and so got a flu shot the next year, and the next, and the next… Each time my reaction was worse.  At last, four years ago, I endured pain so lasting that, a full two months after the shot, I was unable to lift my sore arm to draw back a curtain one morning.

That was the proverbial last straw. I called a halt. I have not had a flu shot since, and I never plan to have another.

I am not really a complete fool where vaccines are concerned. If I were jabbed with a rusty nail, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a tetanus inoculation – in fact, I have, and I did — despite the fact that my arm swells to twice it’s normal size and becomes immobile for days after a tetanus shot. If bitten by a rabid animal, you’d find me running at Warp 10, demanding a rabies vaccine. I had whooping cough as an adult (ha! the vaccine given me as a child “wore off”) and I don’t recommend that particular disease to anyone; I coughed for nearly three months, unable to breathe, sometimes hacking so hard that I vomited. Yet it was because of having had the illness that I refused a pertussis shot when a little relative was born with lung problems.  As a result, I wasn’t allowed near the baby until he was released from the hospital.  That saddened me, but, again, given my reaction to inoculations, I wasn’t about to allow a mix of unhealthy chemicals to be injected into my body for a disease to which I now had probable long-term immunity.

Each year one reads about those who suffer Guillain-Barré syndrome (a form of paralysis) as a result of flu shots. Others die from flu vaccine.  Yet always, following the reports of paralysis or death, those who mandate the shots step forward to pronounce that the disease is much more dangerous than the vaccine.  Uh, guys, here’s the thing: Death is death, whether it comes from a vaccine or a disease.  Yep, I’d say death is pretty dangerous.

I’ve had influenza a few times now, and survived. It was mightily unpleasant and scary – but so is my reaction to the inoculation. I believe to my soul that if I ever get another flu shot, I might die.  I am not a gambler, but I have to weigh my chances.

I choose not to drink the Kool-Aid