Are You Bothered By Shaking Hands?
It is campaign season. Time for greasing the palms and shaking hands—an ocean of sweaty, germ-ridden, open hands just waiting to “press the flesh” with a candidate.
You probably have heard by now that presidential candidate Donald Trump does not shake hands. In his 1997 autobiography, he laments that “the more successful and famous one becomes the worse this terrible custom seems to get.”
You may be surprised to learn that George Washington also shared Donald’s viewpoint. When presented with an open hand President Washington would respond, “Sir I do not take the hand” and reportedly offer a slight bow in respect.
Handshakes And Germs
Are handshakes on the way out? A few years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association called to ban handshakes from hospital environments. With rising rates of hospital-acquired infections, pressing palms together is an unnecessary risk. A study in the American Journal of Infection Control revealed a fist bump transferred only one-twentieth of the germs of a handshake. And a good old high five only transmitted half the germs.
Personally, I don’t see much fist bumping going on in healthcare. And a bunch of doctors high-fiving each other in the hospital would certainly raise eyebrows. Imagine this scenario: “Hello Mr. Smith. I’ll be your cancer surgeon today. Now give me some knuckles!”
Some leading infectious disease experts suggest health workers eliminate all but the most essential contact with patients. This means no handshakes, no hugs, and even no fist bumps. But sometimes all a lonely patient needs is a little personal contact to reconnect them to humanity.
It is probably only a matter of time until we bow to each other as in many Asian customs. Maybe we are one good pandemic away from this being the new normal? But Americans are a touchy feely bunch most of the time. This will be a tough, if not impossible, transition.
President Obama has already largely adopted the fist bump. Would a Trump presidency move us one step closer to shunning handshakes?
I once met a man in the wilderness of Colorado that insisted we shake with our left hands. “The left hand is closer to the heart,” he explained. I have always remembered that handshake and tried to make each one a warm and disarming gesture going forward. A handshake is your physical signature in a way. And although it can convey an ocean of meanings, it can also transmit an ocean of bacteria.
To shake or not to shake? That is the question. And I have no answer.