Dorrie, how tall are you? Because the lever is at hand height between 32-42 inches off the ground. I don't understand how your face can be that close to the toilet when flushing it.
The type of toilet with the tubular metal side-handle (highlighted in green above) was always referred to as a "flushomatic" toilet when I lived in NYC. And many apartment buildings used them in private apts.
My mother was extremely adamant when I was growing up that those type toilets were meant to be flushed ONLY with the foot. Now I think back, she did look a sight in her heels and old-fashioned girdle, hiking up her skirt and balancing to flush. She and I are both very tall, and yes I would have to bend my head over the bowl to flush with my hand.
I also think it's icky to flush sitting down and get my bum splashed. I have to say, the idea "you're going to wash your hands in ten seconds" goes both ways. If you don't care about touching the handle because you're going to wash the germs off, why does it matter whether they're toilet germs or shoe germs?
For the sake of this thread, though I will try today using TP to hold the handle, and see how it goes.