It’s Always Something


A few posts back I wrote about the Ebola scare and how there are many other more dangerous bacteria and germs floating around in public that are never reported by the news.  The hospital I volunteer at now has signs about Ebola posted at all of its entrances.  The first question receptionists now ask patients is if  they visited any of the countries affected by the disease.  That’s all well and good. I know the American public has been freaked out ever since the first person died in the US, so places like my hospital are not taking any chances.

Imagine my surprise a couple of days ago when I got an email from the volunteer office at the hospital. To paraphrase:

A volunteer was hospitalized twice back in August/September. At the time staff didn’t know he/she had active tuberculosis. (Nothing was mentioned about when this person was diagnosed, but they did give the floor where this person stayed and to notify the office if, me the recipient of this email came in contact with this person).

How the hell do I know if I came in contact with this person if I don’t know their name?  Who knows how long he/she was walking around in the public before the diagnosis.

Then I find out another volunteer has tested positive for “latent” TB. I do remember this person telling me she had a weird growth on her lung and was going to have it biopsied.  That conversation was around September. She has not returned to the hospital to volunteer since then.

I looked up the treatment for TB and one of the side effects are serious damage to the liver, something I have no desire to endure… so I make sure to wear my face mask at all times when I am there. The head nurse asked me yesterday if I was wearing a mask because I was scared of Ebola. I wanted to say, “No, I’m protecting myself from TB since the administrators who run this place want to remain ‘tight-lipped’ about who has it.”  Instead, I told her I was around kids who were sneezing.

Next month I go for my annual TB test. They better pray it comes back negative.  This is the same that hospital screwed up my first chemo treatment, overdosing me with that poison, but I forgave them for that, even though staff was tight-lipped (again) about how that happened. I didn’t get an apology either, but I know the reason has to do with liability.  Saying they were sorry is an admission of guilt that could have cost them a pretty penny. I forgive but I never forget.

You may ask, why do I volunteer there, it’s simple. The patients. I feel the need to be there for them, as long as I can, until I piss someone off in administration and get kicked out. I advocate for those patients who can’t do it for themselves. I am their “squeaky wheel” when it comes to new hospital regulations that don’t make sense and may hurt the patient. Sometimes I lose the fight but management always know what I’m thinking. Paid staff may feel the same as me, but they are afraid of losing their jobs. As for me, I don’t get paid so I open my mouth.

This isn’t the first time I was in contact with someone who had a contagious disease. Before I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2010, I worked at an adult daycare for the mentally challenged.  I had no experience dealing with this type of population but I was hired because I passed their background check and I needed a job. Every week we had a new person to “coach” (supervise and play games with), in order for each of us to have a turn with the “difficult” ones (and they had plenty).  It was the worst job I ever had. Everyday someone had a tantrum; picture a grown man throwing around tables. That was a typical day for me.

One day another coach told me to be careful with the female I was watching, she had MRSA. I never heard of that, I found out it is a highly contagious disease. No one in management warned me. Not one. I found out later it’s against HPPA laws. Seriously? I am potentially exposed to a serious disease that I will never get rid of, and the law is more concerned with protecting the medical privacy of the person who has it? By the way, this person’s hobby was spitting on the cement floor and I was expected to clean it up.  After finding out that tidbit of information, I stopped.

Looking back, my immune system was already compromised. I had cancer and didn’t know it yet. Who knows what would have happened if I caught MRSA? I know I didn’t because the hospital (the same one who didn’t know the volunteer had TB) tested me for MRSA before I was admitted. Apparently this bacteria shows up a lot in hospitals. I wish I had opened my mouth to management at the daycare, but I didn’t. I needed the job so did my best to keep my distance from all of the consumers. Who knew what other illnesses they might have had.

Having survived cancer changed all that. Now I speak my mind to anyone and everyone. I’ve written a few letters too.  I can’t stand to see incompetence and lack of accountability, although those two “qualities” seem to be the new norm, whether its hospitals, adult daycare, or our government leaders.

If you are waiting for any of them to do the right thing, forget it. Be proactive. Wear a mask. Speak up, Make a scene if necessary. Tell others. The buck stops with us.

Be Well and Happy!




The Ebola Scare


Who has not heard about Ebola these days? I’m guessing almost everyone, since it’s on all the local and cable news channels. I’ve read that the media is scaring Americans into thinking there is pandemic just around the corner and others complain that media is not doing enough to keep us informed. The latest news story is about the nurse in Texas who caught Ebola from her dying patient, even though she was wearing protective gear.

Catching diseases and dying from bacterial infections from a hospital environment is nothing new. Every time I was admitted to the hospital during my cancer treatment, I thought about germs (I admit I became a germaphobe and still am). Doctors are aware that the longer a patient stays in the hospital his/her chances of catching something unrelated to their illness goes up. Why? Because humans work there. Humans make mistakes all the time and that includes hospital staff. Another reason is, hospitals are full of sick people. In my opinion that’s what it boils down to.

Ebola is on everyone’s radar but there are plenty of diseases/bacteria/germs floating around, that have been around for years, not only in hospitals, but ALL public places. For example, let’s take restaurants. I worked in them for twenty years. How many of you wash your hands before you sit down to eat? Be honest, because when I was waiting tables, I rarely saw anyone. A customer might have gone to visit the bathroom, but since I didn’t follow them to see if they washed their hands; they might have just used the toilet and walked out. How many of you have been in a public bathroom and watched people leave the stall and walk out without washing their hands? I’ve seen plenty. It’s the same with employees. Just because there are signs posted for them to wash their hands, doesn’t mean they do.

Have you ever thought about how many people sat on the same chair you sit on while dining in your favorite restaurant? Do you think it’s sanitary? How about the ketchup bottle you’re using? The salt and pepper shakers? Salad tongs? Get the picture? Restaurant workers (at least in the places I worked) are instructed to clean these after each customer but many don’t, and if they do, they use the same rag all day long. Many restaurants do not have busboys and that means the food server who is taking your order probably just bussed a table and did not wash his/her hands before bringing you your food.  I know because I have been guilty of it. Don’t get me started about how many germs are on the money we handle.

Let’s go back to hospitals. I volunteer in one. I have a soft spot for this place because the hospital staff saved my life, but they are not perfect. They are human. They are understaffed and overworked. It’s a miracle there aren’t more problems. It isn’t just the hospital I volunteer and am a patient at. It’s all of them. I visited patients in other hospitals over the years and have seen some really scary stuff… as far as cleanliness goes. I’ve witnessed staff in all areas of the hospital from nurses to doctors to receptionists cough and sneeze in their hands and continuing working.  They ARE following the rules. They ARE covering their mouths. The problem is, they are using the same hands they just sneezed in to touch computer keyboards, or the handle on the drawer where the supplies are kept and even the patient. That’s how germs spread. No one is going to stop what they are doing to wash their hands every time they sneeze or cough, and frankly, I don’t even think they realize what they are doing. Time is limited. There are too many patients and not enough staff and “it ain’t changing anytime soon.”

It’s impossible to guarantee a 100% germ free environment when you are out in public.  Your home even has germs. Visitors bring in colds and flu, even though signs are posted in the hospital lobby for them to stay away. Nothing can be done when people choose to ignore the rules. Kids are walking germs. They pick their noses, sneeze and cough. They can’t help it. Their kids. And kids come with their parents to doctor appointments and to visit other patients.

So, the best thing you can do to protect yourself, as best you can, is to be proactive. If you see someone, especially in a hospital doing something unsanitary, call ’em on it. If you’re the patient ask the hospital staff to wash their hands in front of you or use the disinfectant gel. If they say they did, ask them to do it again. You can joke about it and say you’re a germ freak. If they refuse, ask for a supervisor. It’s YOUR health at risk, especially if your are immune compromised and many sick people in a hospital are. Wash your hands often. Bring along a small bottle of sanitizer. Don’t touch your face or mouth. Wear a mask. I wear one when I volunteer during the winter months because I don’t get a flu shot. I don’t want to bring anything to my patients or carry something home to my family. As a matter of fact, I decided while I am writing this, I will wear one everyday from now on.

Diseases will always be around. They cannot be stopped. The best defense against them is to take the offense.

To recap:  Wash your hands often. Use sanitizer. Wear a mask in public if you are immune compromised. And if you’re sick STAY HOME!

Be Well and Happy!