Hospital Horrors: Infections

by Frederick Jaccarino, M.D.

A hot topic in hospital based healthcare circles is the rising incidence of dangerous infections which may come your way during a visit to the hospital even if you arrived at the hospital in a completely healthy state.  There are hazards lurking in, or on, the hallowed hospital hallways.  It’s not that germs haven’t always been around.  Bacteria were here to oversee humans’ evolution arising from the sludgy sediment. But now we’ve returned the evolutionary favor by helping the bacteria and viruses learn new and more destructive qualities.  There are a few examples of multi-resistant germs who are IN-VINCe-IBLE!  So the more you know about who these guys are and how to avoid them, the less likely your “routine” knee replacement surgery ends up with a trip to the ICU, or worse.

Handwashing is the number one preventive measure. That’s why cleanser dispensers outnumber the total number of humans in most hospitals.  Handshaking has become a quaint reminder of our days of innocence.  And you really should stand up straight; leaning on a counter or wall might transfer an unwanted guest to you or your family.  The hepatitis virus could infect you two days after it got left on that wall. Doctors used to be taught to sit on the patient’s bed when trying to calm or comfort a distressed patient; now they are discouraged from even wearing a tie, due to the risk of spreading germs.

Before any planned visit to a hospital for a procedure, preparation should include getting your immune system as healthy as possible.  That includes optimal nutrition, cardiovascular conditioning, and for diabetics, careful blood sugar control.  If you are taking medications that weaken the immune system (many do, such as steroids, cancer treatments, and arthritis medications) talk with your doctor about if  they should be stopped because of the heightened risks. If you have any open wounds or sores, use antiseptics and sterile gauze to cover them before entering the hospital. Most germs get into your body through places where your skin is not, like through a sore, nose, eye, mouth, or other openings.

Speaking of openings, when the nurse or doctor puts something into you (like a tube or needle) that too crosses the skin barrier.  It wouldn’t be considered unreasonable to request a second opinion if she picks up a tube she dropped on the floor and points it at you.  I’d probably make a run for it, bad knee and all!