Since I have gotten sick from shaking hands with people and then assembling my horn in the past, you could say that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I offer up the following for your consideration.
Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, winter is not even half over. This means that cold and flu season is still in full swing. What does this have to do with saxophone players? In a word: everything!
According to public health agencies in Canada, the US, and Europe, the influenza virus is still on the uptick in many places, and responsible for the deaths and hospitalizations of people ranging the life spectrum from infants to seniors. The best way of course to protect yourself from the flu every year is with a vaccination.
Even if the flu shot is only 10 to 30% effective—as has been suggested this year’s might be—it is a fact that if you are exposed to the influenza virus, then your symptoms will not be as severe, and the course of your illness will not be as long as had you not received the vaccine. This is one of the reasons I get my shot every year almost as soon as they come out.
That said, presumably if you’re reading my website’s articles, you are an adult, and can make your own decisions about what’s best for your health. I’m not here to try to convince the anti-vaxxers in the audience of anything, since they seem to think they know stuff scientists don’t.
I am here however, to try to shed some light on stuff saxophone players (actually everyone who plays a woodwind instrument) can do to minimize their chances of getting sick from simply playing their horn. Sound nuts? Let me explain…
According to the UK’s NHS, the influenza virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours—as can certain viruses that transmit colds. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at the NHS page I linked to, you can find out about some of the other bugs you can pick up by doing something as innocuous as pushing a grocery cart; then driving your car; opening your house door; turning on your light switch; and putting your groceries into the fridge.
So how does this relate to playing saxophone?
Let me explain by giving you an example from my life that happened last weekend.
I am playing Reed 5 in Music Man. Rehearsals are in a town about 30 minutes away, so I often stop and get gas along the way. After filling up my tank I use a hand sanitizer, but I know even the health-care grade one I use is not as effective as hand washing.
Last Saturday night I got to the theatre for our first rehearsal of 2018. We had an especially small turnout because the flu is making the rounds, and half of the orchestra was sick. One of the producer’s was there, and she said that it is making the rounds of the cast members as well.
Before rehearsal started, I went into the washroom; washed my hands thoroughly for 30 seconds; dried my hands with the hot air dryer; and used a few pieces of toilet paper to open the door. When I got back to the rest of my musical colleagues, more had arrived—some of which I had never met before.
As I politely refused to shake hands with the flute player, I explained that I had just washed my hands. The producer looked at me, and I explained that I had to put my mouthpieces and reeds together, and that those then get put in my mouth. The light then came on, and she said: “Oh, of course! I had never thought of that. It makes complete sense.”
Yes, yes it does. I wasn’t trying to throw shade onto the flute player’s personal hygiene habits. He did however, have to touch the handle of the theatre door in order to come in. The simple fact is, I wasn’t willing to risk getting whatever he had on his hand, into my mouth.
Although I have a neurological condition, I am otherwise quite healthy, and have a very good immune system. (I suspect having been exposed to a great many viruses as a paramedic helped in that regard. 😉 )
That said, in order to protect myself from getting sick while playing sax, I have developed a routine that seems to work fairly well:
- Once I have loaded my gear into the car, I use Lysol disinfecting wipes to wipe down all the car surfaces that I might touch on the way to the rehearsal/show.
- Those surfaces include the: steering wheel; door handle; door lock; head light switch; hand brake; turn signals arm; windshield washer arm; radio; climate controls; GPS; mirror controls; traction control; seat heaters; interior lighting; rear-view mirror; as well as both ends of the seat belt.
- Once I arrive at the place I’m going to play, I try to use the door fitted with an automatic door opener for wheelchair users if at all possible. I push that button with my elbow.
- I try not to touch anything until I’ve put my reed on my mouthpiece at the venue. (Depending on what I may have had to touch, I will wash my hands before putting my reeds and mouthpiece together.)
- For general hygiene around the house, we also use the Lysol disinfecting wipes regularly to wipe down the handrails, fridge handles, taps, computer keyboards, remote controls, telephones, light switches, etc, etc.
- In your practice space, it would be a really good idea to wipe down the handles of your instrument cases as well regularly.
- I’ve written an article on mouthpiece cleaning in the past, so it might be worth a read if you’ve not read it before.
Am I just suffering from OCD? No, no I’m not. I am totally aware how many fungi, bacteria, and viruses inhabit the spaces in which we live and work. I am however, being cautious and trying and avoid coming down with a virus that one of us in this house will inevitably be bringing home from a shopping cart handle, gas pump, or a card terminal.
Given that the number and severity of microorganisms is ever increasing—and that some that have previously never made it out of healthcare facilities are now in the wild—I am just trying to reduce the risks that I as a saxophone player have of giving one them direct access to my bloodstream by crossing the mucus membranes.