A New Process Flow for a Front Line Family

Re-thinking the UX of my home and family life

My wife is an RN working in one of the largest hospitals in our state. She is on a unit that is a “Yellow Zone”: some patients are COVID-positive, some are “Rule-Outs” (that is, the hospital is trying to determine if they are positive or not) and some are just regular, sick, medicine patients.

Things are tough all over right now, but for us, there’s an added layer. My wife has no choice. She never expected a global pandemic. She just wanted to help people get better. But in the words of Hercules Mulligan in Hamilton:

We in the shit now, somebody’s gotta shovel it.

So she goes off to “The Front Line” every working day and does what she has to do: wear PPE for every patient; “don” and “doff” that gear under strict supervision; wash and clean her hands and face and whatever else with extreme care.

Before the quarantine was in full-swing, she was accidentally exposed to a positive case. It was really terrifying for us. We self-isolated her in one section of the house for two weeks. We sent my daughter (who hadn’t been exposed to my wife yet) away to her grandma’s house. It was the hardest fourteen days of our lives. But we made it. And when we came through it, we decided to come up with a protocol. This is how it goes.

Arrival / Decontamination

When my wife arrives home from work, she comes in through our garage and into the laundry room. She always, always, always leaves her work-shoes in the car and puts on some slip-on shoes, but even then, she slips them off and strips down every stitch of clothing and dumps it all in the washing machine. She sanitizes her hands, then heads upstairs to shower. She and I have stopped sharing a bathroom.

We clean her keys, her glasses, and her phone (which she keeps in a ziploc bag all day anyway).
The bucket collects all the items that need to be sanitized and haven’t yet. The second hook is for a jacket or keys or anything that should stay off the floor or off of the counter space.

While my wife showers, I clean everything until I satisfy the gnawing feeling in my stomach. Once upon a time, I listened to a podcast that featured the very funny Andy Daly as L. Ron Hubbard. He shared a bit of Hubbardian wisdom: “If it isn’t true for you, it isn’t true.” That’s a line of thinking that can be dangerous if applied liberally, but I took that nugget of wisdom and turned it into my personal mantra for dealing with the Coronavirus:

If it isn’t clean for you, it isn’t clean.

For example: let’s say I just cleaned my wife’s glasses. I can know that I did, I can see that I did. I can see all the paper towels I used in dealing with the issue. Then I stop and think, “Are the glasses clean?” and if I cannot honestly say “yes,” I clean them again. Then, if I’m satisified that they are clean, I move on to the next thing. If at any point I think they might have been re-contaminated at all, I clean them again.

Yes, that can lead you down a worm hole of germ-phobia. You have to know how far to take it. It helps to really focus on your tasks. I have a mild case of ADHD that has plagued me for many a year, so I try not to let my mind wander: I pour every ounce of attention I can into cleaning. That way, my gnawing feeling is satisfied and I can go clean something else. I can declare things “clean for me”.

The Laundry

My wife’s scrubs, socks and hairbands are always, ALWAYS washed separate of the regular laundry. They get their own load, their own soap, their own drying cycle. I tend to overdo the soap just a bit, better safe than sorry.

I have read and heard various accounts of what works and what doesn’t. I’m told you can pour a cap full of Pine Sol into the wash and that will double your disinfecting power. My own research suggests that’s unnecessary, but I read up on “laundry for front line workers covid” news every chance I get. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.

The Doorknob Game

I play this little game with myself at the end of my wife’s work day, and every other day as-needed, depending on how often we’ve left home that day. I call it “The Doorknob Game” and the rules are simple.

  1. I take the bleach spray (more on that below) and a rag (washable sometimes, sometimes just paper towels if we have plenty in stock – again, see below).
  2. I go to wherever a “doorknob” is. By “doorknob,” I mean…well, yes, doorknobs. But then I go for light switches, cabinet/drawer pulls, refrigerator handles, deadbolts…anything someone uses functionally with their fingers.
  3. I assume it’s covered in germs and I clean it.

This can be a fun little scavenger hunt for you. Make it fun! That will help your dread. Clean those things very well and then throw away or wash your cleaning rag.

Weapons of Choice

At a time when Lysol, Clorox Wipes, Pine Sol, etc. are increasingly difficult to find, there are a few sprays and cleaners that have made our life substantially better.

(From L-to-R) Mrs. Meyers all-over spray, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a bottle of bleach

For day-to-day cleaning/messes, I use Mrs. Meyers. It smells nice (we go with Lemon Verbana), it’s a powerful cleaner and it’s not caustic. This isn’t for the heavy-duty cleaning; just spilled juice or coffee or flour from making my own bread (yeah I’m one of those people shut up).

For the stuff that may be contaminated but might also be porous, stain-able or child-accessible (that is, if my daughter might want to play with it in the very near future), I use a squirt bottle full of hand sanitizer (which is basically alcohol plus some glycerin and such. We got it from a local distillery who made it to keep people’s hand sanitizer coming since you can’t get Purell anywhere right now).

And then, there’s “Granny’s Perfume,” so named because my mom was a big believer in bleach. And let me tell you: nothing makes you say “this is clean” like spraying it with diluted bleach. I got once of those industrial-sized spray bottles and I mixed my own bleach spray. It’s easy, and you use a very small amount of bleach: about 2oz to 32oz of water, according to CDC Guidelines. You can even get really wild and do a gallon bucket of water and a half-cup of bleach and just…man, I dunno, just really go bucky. Consult the CDC and Clorox websites for ratios and safety tips. It’s not something you do lightly, so use it only when you need to be sure something non-porous and non-fabric is sanitized.

Clean Side, Dirty Side

From L-to-R: Clean Side, Dirty Side

When something foreign enters the house (the mail, some groceries, etc.), we put it on the “Dirty Side” of the kitchen Island. We then open it or clean it or process it however we can, and quickly. The “Clean Side” is where we keep our latex gloves (which we use sparingly), our cleaning sprays…anything that we have determined is “clean for us” and is in frequent use. Every day, I clean the “dirty side” with bleach spray. I clean the “Clean Side” every three or four days and I’m insistent about what we set on that side.

The Secret Weapon

There is one thing that has been incredibly valuable to us in all this. It has made the entirety of quarantine much easier. It is something we never really thought about until after self-isolation and our new lifestyle of viral vigilance. Now, I think about it all the time.

It’s our old friend, privilege.

My wife and I live in a two-story house. When she had to self-isolate, we were able to move me into a new bedroom. Privilege.

When we needed to start using separate bathrooms, I just used the guest bathroom. Privilege.

When we needed to do her laundry separate of the household laundry, we had our own washer/dryer combo and plenty of extra soap and water. Privilege.

When we need to get out of the house for a while, we go to our backyard, or for a walk in our quiet neighborhood. Privilege.

When we need food and cleaning supplies, we go to a wide variety of grocery and big-box stores to suit our needs. Privilege.

My heart aches because I can’t help but think of the people who have to take their laundry out, or who live in a “Food Desert” with no groceries, or who have to work long hours with no additional support. Hell, my job allows me to work from home without any real discontinuity of business on my part. Even though I have to work in my home office, I have a home office. That’s privilege.

I have worked really hard on staying humble and being thankful. It can be tough because our bodies and our minds aren’t in a very good place at the moment. But every step I take to keep my family healthy is one I can take because of privilege. I try to keep that top-of-mind as often as I can. When the notion makes me feel especially guilty, I donate some money to an organization that feeds hungry families or helps sick people or helps the homeless…I try to let my guilt be a conduit for other people doing a little better. Sometimes that still doesn’t help.

Decent Tips I’m Willing to Share

Beyond what I’ve already described above, I have a few items that have made life a little more livable here in our “New Normal”. I share them with you in hopes they’ll make your life more livable, too.

  • The unsung hero of the moment? Tissues. I put a box near every door so that I can quickly pick up possibly-contaminated items and move them elsewhere, or open a door that I’m not sure has been cleaned recently. They’re also good for cleaning up small spills and messes, which you might not want to waste precious paper towels on. And if you are REALLY hard up for toilet paper? Well, that’s between you and the good people at Kleenex.
  • For a while we were short on paper towels. I started using a “clean hands only” towel for when I wanted to really wash and clean my hands. Say, for example, I have to get groceries. I save the paper towels for cleaning vegetables and fruits and anything our mouths might have to make contact with, then when I’m done, I wash my hands very thoroughly and clean them with my “clean hands only” towel. That towel is only for clean hands, nothing else – not dishes, not wiping off a piece of fruit I washed, not cleaning up a spill – nothing else. It tends to save us paper towels in the long run because when I’m done washing my hands, I use two or three sheets of paper towels on average (which is wasteful, I know, but I have big hands).
  • Get a good pair of reusable rubber gloves, like dish-cleaning gloves. Those have been easier to find than latex gloves and are fairly affordable. You can put them on and go to work cleaning all manner of items, which will keep your hands from getting too raw from washing and re-washing. Just bear in mind that you can still re-contaminate things when you touch them with gloved hands just the way you do when you touch them with bare hands. But that’s okay: wash your gloved hands like you’re washing your regular hands and they’ll be clean and ready for more work. If you have a hard time slipping on rubber gloves? Rub your hands with a sprinkling of corn starch (which is basically just all-natural baby powder) and they’ll slide right in and feel more comfortable.
  • See if a distillery near you is selling or giving away hand sanitizer. Reservoir here in Richmond sells huge jugs (which we bought…again, privilege) but they also let you re-fill a 10oz container with their solution. It smells like moonshine because, well, it effectively is…but with extra chemicals added to make it suitable for hand-use. They prepared it in accordance with WHO guidelines, and man does it make your hands feel clean.
  • At a glance, bar soap seems easier to find than liquid soap. If you’re hard up for hand soap, pop open a bar of Irish Spring or what have you. According to this article, bar soap is effective as long as you wash your hands for the recommended amount of time, as with liquid soap.
  • If you or a loved one have to deal with Coronavirus and public exposure regularly, be sure to wear a mask in public. Frankly, everyone should be wearing masks. It will lessen the impact once things start to re-open.
    • The news would have you believe that getting people to wear masks is impossible. That’s not true. In a recent study, more than 79% of respondents say they’re in favor of public mask wearing.
    • Covering your face with a mask will help stop the spread of the virus FROM YOU TO OTHERS. That’s one of the most important points in all of this: you can slow the spread if you don’t know you’re infected already. So wear the DAMN MASK ALREADY, the 21% of people who don’t think it’s a good idea!

I have some truths I tell myself every so often. “The risks will continue. The chances to be exposed will continue. The work of keeping the house clean and the family healthy will continue. And that’s okay.”

It feels bad and grim and sad at the moment, and it’s okay to be sad about it sometimes. Just don’t let it dominate your every waking thought. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Many therapists are offering help to people using tele-health setups, but you can even just unload on a friend if you have to. You can’t be strong all the time and you shouldn’t try. Take care of yourself and be honest about when you aren’t okay. I can tell you from personal experience that having a good breakdown every now and again can be cathartic. When it passes, dust yourself off, wash your hands, and eat a cookie. It’s the best thing for you.