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!