In the United States we are spoiled. We live in a high tech world. We demand instant access to everything from our favorite TV program to healthcare. We also expect immediate action to correct anything that goes wrong in our lives. At the same time, we are also convinced that whatever is wrong, it’s due to something someone else did, not due to anything we did or failed to do.
If we have surgery and end up with an infection, we know the Dr. or nurse who took care of us must have done something wrong, so we sue. But what if it was nobody’s fault? Maybe that organism was in our body already, just waiting for a chance to attack a weakened area. Maybe we touched our face and then touched our incision. Maybe we had day surgery and changed the dressing without being as careful as we could have been.
That person in the elevator must have sneezed in our face. We wouldn’t, couldn’t have gotten sick just because we failed to wash our hands after we wiped the baby’s nose. When Mom was in the hospital and she got pneumonia, the nurses must have given it to her because you know what the newspaper says, "hospitals make people sick." Never mind the Sunday school class of thirty women who came to visit, every one of them coughing and sneezing.
We have to do the simple things for prevention. Remember what your mother told you. "Let me see your hands. Now wash them before you eat anything." "Did you pet the cat? Wash your hands." "Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom." "Cover your mouth when you cough, then wash your hands."
It’s not high tech. But it makes sense. The Centers for Disease Control put out new hand hygiene guidelines. Do you know the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of resistant organisms? You got it. Wash your hands. When we do take precautions, we go overboard, gloves and antimicrobial cleaners for any task. Just wash your hands if visibly soiled or use alcohol hand rub.
Think about it. If we faithfully did hand hygiene before and after touching a patient, going to the bathroom, before we eat, after we cough or sneeze, we wouldn’t need contact isolation.
It’s the simple things that count, like don’t visit a patient in the hospital if you are sick. If someone’s in the hospital as a patient, they may not fight off infections easily. What could cause a simple, minor infection for you might be devastating for a cancer patient on chemotherapy.
What if you have a new baby? What’s your instinct? We want to show off that living doll. Have all of your nurse friends washed their hands, or all those people at church? Common sense makes sense. Your baby may not have a fully developed immune system yet. My year-old grandson will put anything and everything in his mouth, dirt, leaves, pet food, he doesn’t care. Kissing him could be dangerous to my health but he’s fine. I would be he now has a better immune system than I do.
It boils down to doing the right thing. Do what you know you should to protect yourself, your patients and your family. We are the only ones who can take responsibility for our actions. We can’t make the rest of the world take hand hygiene seriously. We can wash our hands appropriately and teach our families to do the same. We can take antibiotics responsibly (like finish the entire dose and don’t save any for later.) After all, we don’t want to be responsible for promoting resistant organisms.
Instead of blaming others, take control of those things you can control. The rest will take care of itself. The high tech instant answer isn’t always the answer. It could even be the problem. If you clean everything in your house, including yourself, with antimicrobial soap, are you setting yourself up for resistant organisms?
Listen to your mother. When it comes to handwashing, she always knows best.