I got sent to The Front a couple of weeks ago. I call hospitals “The Front” because there are constant biological wars being waged there that infect over two million patients a year with hospital-acquired infections and kill over 100,000.
They’re called “nosocomial infections,” which is a fancy term that simply means, “hospital-acquired infections.” In other words, you didn’t bring it with you. You picked it up at the hospital.
What got me sent to The Front was the need for another cardiac stent. I was a little closer to the very front of the front because I have diabetes, which compromises my immune system. I’m more susceptible to infections.
At first, it looked like I might have a good chance of not catching anything, despite the fact that 97% of hospital inpatients are exposed to hospital-borne infections and 28% of them will become infected. My caregivers were all using the wall-mounted antibacterial gel dispenser before treating me and they were all wearing gloves – though I didn’t always see them gloving up.
Then, it happened. An older volunteer came in to restock the boxes of gloves everyone is supposed to use; only he wasn’t wearing any gloves. So whatever germs were on his hands were now on all the gloves in the boxes. Even worse, he was probably carrying all the germs he’d picked up from all the other rooms he stocked.
Now, if you poll a thousand doctors, I wouldn’t be surprised if 500 tell you it’s no big deal because most of the infections in hospitals come from urinary catheters and breathing tubes. But we are talking about 100,000 deaths in this country that are, for the most part, avoidable when precautions are taken.
For me, if even one glove infects one person, it’s too much. After all, it’s not like you’re in a restaurant with a fly in your soup and they take the soup off your bill. Nobody’s going to comp your angioplasty because you picked up a staph infection.
So I brought this breach of anti-germ warfare to my nurse’s attention in the hope that she would take it up the chain of command and maybe chisel away at that hundred grand death toll. Unfortunately, being on the front lines day in and day out must make some of the first respondents hesitant to respond.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said my nurse. “His touching the gloves won’t hurt anyone. Those gloves aren’t supposed to be sterile anyway,” she said.
Ka-BOOM! The birth of hospital-acquired infections!
Folks, this is the battle we’re fighting. Our front liners don’t fully understand how germs travel and proliferate. It’s 2012, we’re armed with hospital-borne infection statistics up the wazoo and apparently, we can’t seem to nail down the simplest safety protocol of gloving up.
So what can we do while nearly two million hospital-acquired infections claim roughly 100,000 lives, adding $45 billion in medical costs?
Well, the first thing we can do is watch like hawks and be squeaky wheels. When I saw that hospital worker contaminating all the gloves, and then got the ridiculous response from the nurse, I needed to go after the hospital’s chief administrator with the voracity Shirley Maclaine had in “Terms of Endearment.” (See the clip here.)
And if you’re not 100% coherent while you’re in the hospital, you need to have a close friend or family member be the kind of patient advocate who could summon up the intensity Peter Finch had in “Network.” (See the clip here.)
But, perhaps the easiest and most effective way to avoid getting sent to the front of the whole hospital infection war is to become a conscientious objector. Just don’t go. Stay out of the hospitals.
It’s doable. Because with the direction healthcare is moving these days, unless you’ve suffered a traumatic injury where you need ongoing life support, you should be able to get treated in an outpatient setting (like ours) where you’re not bombarded by so many pathogens.
And above all, no matter where you go as a patient, learn to say the equivalent of “lock and load”: Glove Up!
Tags: hospital acquired infections, Infection, wound healing, wounds