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imagesI live with a curse from the universe.  Though madly in love with swimming, I am also an ardent germophobe.   My education in the health field hasn’t exactly helped matters either.

The last time I ran away from all gym pools, for years, happened after my first scuba session.  With my wetsuit on, I stood poolside waiting for the instructor.  One more patron was still swimming.  About five minutes before class he decided to leave.  The whole world moved in slow motion as he emerged from the water, much like a scene from the movie Ten, with a few adjustments: first emerged a hairless head, then a thick black fur covering: short neck, sagging shoulders, large breasts, and a round belly. His soaked, baggy swim trunk provided a respite before the show ended with two thin hirsute legs.  Nothing could distract my overactive imagination about what was floating in that pool.  Why stop at him?  Think of who else might have been there: women on their periods; kids with loose diapers; lazy, full-bladdered swimmers; people with wounds.

My thoughts made me so clumsy that as I set up my tank the mask fell on the wet floor with all the drippings from previous swimmers.  Still, I went along with the lesson.  Once we finished our underwater practices, the instructor called me.  “Ok Bahar since you missed the first session you have to catch up on snorkeling.” Unfortunately the buoyant wetsuit made it difficult to reach the bottom of the pool fast.  I inhaled for air too quickly and accidentally swallowed two gulps of that…human…infested…water.  Thus vanished my scuba fantasies.

Fast-forward seven years.  Having hurt my knee during a run but wanting to stay active, I decided to check our gym’s swimming pool.

I opened to door to the pool area. The smell of Chlorine and serene sounds heralded the soft, warm water waiting to embrace me. Besides, only two people were swimming.  I ran to the locker room to change and enjoy this spacious bed of water, only by the time I returned the number of swimmers had increased dramatically.   Also, one of the lanes was occupied by a man who walked rather than swim.  He would periodically drink from a bottle of water.

Drinking Water? Oh God. Please don’t pee, please don’t pee.

I would not have thought this way if it were not for my recent conversations with fellow OCD’ers who added extra layers to my already extensive knowledge.  Personally, I don’t even pee in the ocean so I assumed others don’t either.

“It took me two yeahs of working heah before I could use the pool.” Don confessed.   “Whatyah kiddin’ me? I know how lazy guys ah.“  Great. So big men pee in the pool.  I smiled and nodded nonchalantly so he would give up more secrets.  He continued: “But they ah pretty good about it heah.  One time a kid spit in the pool and they closed it off for four hours.”  Spit? Does he mean vomit?

Another friend:  “Hmmm I don’t know if you can trust a pool that lets infants in.”

Neil, a dentist, said: “I freak out every time a strand of hair brushes against me.” Then scrunched up his face in disgust and wiped it while hitting it as if trying to get rid of the imaginary hair.  He went on: “How about urine?  Do you smell for it as you swim?  Hey, at least it’s not #2.  You don’t have to worry about E. Coli.  Unless they have Urinary Tract infection.”  Good grief. 

Of course the next time I went swimming, I attracted every strand of hair in the pool and I SWEAR I smelled urine about forty-five minutes into my one-hour session.  I started chanting to calm the thoughts down when in came two kids with their swim teacher.  The sign says all children must be potty trained before entering the pool.  Besides Don said boys are lazy.  These two are little girls.  I’m ok.  Fifteen more minutes.  By about minute twelve a man walked in with greasy hair.  My session terminated before he entered the pool.

To prove my fears…I mean…feelings were not just based on OCD, I decided to back them up with scientific evidence.  Big Mistake.  Some articles report that the effectiveness of chlorine decreases when fecal matter, from leaky diapers, enters the water.   A parasite can actually grow despite chlorine.  Also, it takes one person with diarrhea to infect the whole pool or waterpark.  Aside from the bacteria and parasites, the pools can also grow algae.   Infants are likely to have incidents in their diapers once they come in contact with water so they need leak proof diapers.

I am back on my hiatus from public pools.  Wonder how many years it will take for the softness of water to beckon me again.