Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Chronicle of the Sacred Handwashing

In the days of our ancestors, the volunteer chaplain went forth to be trained in the hospital. And lo, the first and most important rule in the hospital -- aside from the Commandment to Obey HIPAA -- was the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing. The Sacred Ritual was to be performed before and after every patient contact: for lo, the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing was the Universal Precaution, and the best defense against the dreaded hospital-acquired infection.

The volunteer chaplain dutifully heeded the Word of the Lord: the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing was to be performed with soap and water at certain times (before eating, after using the restroom), but otherwise, the Lord permitted the use of the antibacterial hand goop. And the Lord was generous, and provided convenient wall dispensers of hand goop in every patient room.

And the Lord smiled upon His people in the hospital, and caused the wall dispensers to be stocked with particularly pleasant hand goop. The hand goop smelled good, and also had moisturizers in it, to keep the skin from cracking and hardening like unto the desert after forty years without rain.

And it was good, and the hands were happy.

But all good things must come to an end, and lo, the pleasant antibacterial hand goop went the way of the passenger pigeon and the thirty-five cent stamp. (The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.) For the hospital fell upon a time of drought and famine, and many of its people were sent wandering into the desert, and the pleasant hand goop gave way to caustic, slimy stuff that wrinkled the nose and stung the skin. And the people of the hospital were heard to whisper that the new hand goop had come from Mordor.

And lo, the hands were unhappy, and the volunteer chaplain cried unto the Lord, and the Angel of the Lord appeared in the blanket warmer and spake unto the volunteer chaplain, and said, "Don't use the wall dispensers anymore, dummy. Just use soap and water every time."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain used soap and water every time, and the hands were still unhappy, for verily, they were shriveled like unto pathetic prunes. And the volunteer chaplain cried unto the Lord, and the Angel of the Lord appeared in the linen cart, and said, "Your God is a gracious God who has fed His people in every generation, with milk and honey and manna, and also wild locusts, which are an excellent source of protein. Go look at the sink in the meds room."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain went to the sink in the meds room, and discovered there a most marvelous assortment of hand lotions in containers of all sizes: unscented lotions and, yea, verily, scented lotions also, lotions infused with the scent of honeysuckle and roses, of seaspray and cucumber, of aloe and strawberry. And every week the volunteer chaplain found new and wonderful lotions clustered around the sink in the meds room (where the yummy snacks beloved of the medical staff were also clustered), and because she was a grateful daughter of the Lord, she sometimes brought her own.

And it was good, and the hands were happy. And the volunteer chaplain received many compliments from patients who told her how smooth and soft her hands were, on account of the lovely lotions.

But lo, all good things must come to an end. For one day the Angel of the Lord appeared in the form of an administrative memo, and spake thusly: "The Lord your God is a jealous God, and quick to anger, and the Lord your God has decreed that there shall be no more yummy snacks in the meds room: no, nor shall there be lovely lotions, for the bottles of lotion do clutter the surface of the counter, which must be kept clear at all times. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Harken to the Lord your God.

"Listen well, for the Sacred Ritual of the Hand-Washing has also changed. Your ancestors believed that it was necessary to wash their hands for only as long as it took to sing the Happy Birthday Song: but lo, they were a slothful people. If you love the Lord your God, and also your patients, this is how you shall perform the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing:

"You shall wash the hands for twenty seconds. For twenty seconds you shall wash them, and the seconds of the washing shall be twenty. The water you use shall be warm, and the soap you use shall be generously applied. Between each finger will you lather, and under each nail, and around each wrist: and harken to what the Lord your God has commanded, for the nails shall extend no more than one quarter inch past the fingertips, and the nails shall not be painted, and acrylic nails will not be permitted, lest you invoke the wrath of the Lord your God.

"For twenty seconds shall you lather your hands and wrists. Then shall you rinse them, pointed downwards -- downwards shall they be pointed, and not upwards! -- until the soap is all gone. You shall take one towel, and dry the hands for ten seconds. Then you shall take a second towel, and dry the hands for another ten seconds. Then you shall take a third towel with which to turn off the faucets, lest your hands again become unclean through contact with the metal. These three towels you shall properly dispose of in the waste receptacle. And lo, my angels shall be traveling among you and observing how you perform the Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing, to ensure that you follow the commandments of the Lord your God. And also you shall be reminded by Handwashing Signage dispensed liberally around the hospital, including in the elevators."

And lo, the volunteer chaplain commenced to obey the Lord her God, and to follow the instructions in the Holy Memo. And the hands were unhappy. For verily, without the lovely lotion, they were shriveled like unto pathetic prunes once again, especially since they were being scrubbed even longer, with even more soap, and dried with even more towels. And lo, the towels were rough.

And it was not good.

And the volunteer chaplain made moan to the charge nurse, who explained that the Angel of the Lord would indeed dispense lotion once more, but that it would be new, approved lotion: for the old kinds of lotion had contained petroleum products which would have interfered with the antibacterial properties of the new hand goop the Lord God would also be providing.

And yea, verily, the volunteer chaplain went into the meds room one day and discovered a new bottle of approved lotion. And the new lotion was unscented, which was better for patients with allergies: but lo, it was also thin and unsatisfying. And the hands were somewhat happier, but still far less happy than they had been in the days of the lovely lotions, which had smelled so nicely of milk and honey (but never of locusts).

And lo, the volunteer chaplain has still not had the courage to sample the new hand goop in the wall dispensers, lest it be like unto the old Astringent of Mordor. And yea, verily, her hands are now once again rough and unlovely, although of course they do not look like the picture at the top of this post, because she is not allowed to paint her nails.


  1. And lo a friend of the volunteer chaplain came to her and encouraged her to use organic soaps and organic moisturizers for they followed the intent of the Word of the Lord that no products containing petroleum shall be used. The volunteer chaplain professed concern about the difference between meeting intent and strict adherence of the Word of the Lord. Then the friend of the volunteer chaplain further counseled her to use moisturizing gloves to counteract the effects of the constant but efficacious Sacred Ritual of the Handwashing. (g)

    I learned the glove thing in the 70s when I owned a very nice pair of military white cotton dress gloves. Slather moisturizer on the hands, put the gloves on, go to sleep, and in the morning you have much nicer hands. The same thing done with socks works for feet. Wild Oats in Reno will have a nice line of petroleum free organic soaps and moisturizers by Pangea.


  2. Are supplicants allowed to carry travel-sized (not 40-years-in-the-desert travel-sized, but merely 40-mile-desert travel-sized) lotions sans petroleum products in the pockets of their slammin' funky scrub tops? Or sneak out to their cars mid shift (when the Lord is busy elsewhere) and apply same?

  3. Paul A.6:41 AM

    I was giggling all the way through that, but the final subclause finished me off.

    (There was a guy on the radio yesterday talking about how humour is an important tool in coping with traumatic situations. You would agree, I take it.)

  4. Anonymous7:20 AM

    please, please, the next time you have a short story collection, please publish this!

    and, in the meantime, do thou go out, and find thee a prophet, and speak thee to the authorities, and say unto them that the Lord God the Almighty is indeed a jealous and a mighty God, a God who commands that they should care for the sick and the stranger, that they should provide for the widow and the orphan, that they should fill the hungry with good things - and that they should fill the hands with soft soap and lovely hand lotion.

    Best of luck,


  5. Anonymous4:30 PM



  6. What book is that from-- Lavatoricus?

  7. We just got the new hand goo, and the approved lotion, although our lotion really smells bad! We would dream for unscented!

  8. I didn't know they had seaspray and cucumber in the desert. And please don't combine the soap AND the goop, or you'll be prayin' to the lord, amen.

    Bag Balm works well. Seriously.


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