All across the country, the beauty of fall weather brings one ugly concern to the forefront: the flu.
For Nietzie Toothaker, a retired microbiologist, avoiding germs is far more than a seasonal recommendation for her everyday health.
“I am immune deficient,” Toothaker said. “My immune system is lower, so I am really susceptible to infections. I absolutely have to get my vaccinations. I have never had the flu, which is amazing, as I have had everything else.”
For safety’s sake, Toothaker goes above and beyond to make sure that her home and the world around her are both as clean as possible.
“I am not a germaphobe, but I am close,” she said with a laugh. “If silverware comes out of the drawer and gets placed on the table, even if nobody touched it or used it, it has to be washed before it is put back.
“I never know what is on it. If you’re familiar with Monk, I am not a Monk. I just like things to be clean. I don’t want to cook with a dirty kitchen, but I am not a germaphobe. I just think you need to take precaution where precaution is necessary.”
Her proper precautions for cleanliness stem from Toothaker’s 35 years as a microbiologist with Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma. What began as a job requirement has now become a part of Toothaker’s daily life as a retiree.
“The main thing that I stressed all the time was washing of hands,” she said. “We used the term ‘wash in, wash out’ all the time at the hospital. That means that you wash your hands when you go in, and you wash your hands when you go out.
“That mainly dealt with patient contact, but it was also that way in the micro lab. What I worry about more than anything is people touching things and then someone else catching what they have stirred up.”
Toothaker’s husband, Dr. Larry Toothaker, considers his wife a valuable asset to him and others, who she has served in the past and continues to serve today.
“She’s good on medical questions,” Larry Toothaker said. “If I have something that is wrong, I can ask her about it and probably get just as good an answer as asking an M.D. She’s that good.
“There have been a number of times when I believe she has been used of God to intervene and help somebody. I think of a time in which her gut instinct led her to believe that a girl being treated for the flu actually had something else. It turns out that the young girl had severe diabetes, and Nietzie speaking up about her instinct ultimately saved the young girl’s life.”
Even in the midst of a professional environment, Nietzie Toothaker said she routinely interacted with those who failed to sanitize properly.
“One main thing that people often overlooked was the correct way to take off your gloves,” she said. “We had to wear gloves for specific things, especially if we were doing virology. There’s a correct way to take gloves off, which is not starting at the fingertips and pulling them off that way. You have to start at the wrist, pull that glove down, and then pull the next glove into the other. Removing gloves the right way is really important if you are in a situation that requires gloves, like I was.”
Outside of a professional environment, Toothaker recommends adding a few proactive behaviors to one’s everyday life, in order to minimize the risk of falling ill.
“When I get a cart at Walmart, I wipe it down with wipes,” she said. “As a mother, I would make sure to do that if I had my child with me. I would wipe down the whole buggy, because who knows what the kid has touched or could touch. When you go into a bathroom, wash your hands, even before you use the toilet. Then, wash your hands, but use a paper towel to turn the faucet on. You do not know who touched that faucet and did not have clean hands.”
Toothaker continues to stress the importance of preventative action, as her experience has yet to show much that can be done once one has contracted the flu virus.
“If you really do have the flu, you will know it,” she said. “They’re not going to treat you with much. There are some antiviral things, but I don’t know if doctors use them that much because one of them is only good for Flu A and not for Flu B.
“Unless you have a secondary infection, you just have to fight off the symptoms once you get the flu. They always say, ‘Vitamin C helps with the common cold,’ but I have never heard of any other ways to prevent the flu other than to stay proactively healthy. Most healthy people can fight off the flu and prevent any secondary infections that may come from it.”