It’s Okay to Ask: Did They Wash Their Hands?

I’d like to think that I’m usually pretty on top of things. Any time I go to the doctor and they need to do a physical exam or test—I rear back and politely ask that before they touch me that they wash their hands and put on gloves.

Doctors tend to go from room to room, to patient to patient, carrying files that have been passed from secretary, to nurse, to intern. They touch doorknobs, and cabinet knobs, the lids of jars that hold their cotton swabs, the height controls on the exam table…

A long story short, they’re a very handsy sort of people.

And for patients with sensitive immune systems, this general forgetfulness or delusions of invincibility can be an excellent way of spreading disease.

Maybe as a kid you didn’t notice, but now that you’re in you’re an adult—it’s time to take charge of these risk factors. When it comes to hand washing: It’s okay to ask.

I’ve done it. Often. And usually the response I get is, “Of course, I was going to wash my hands, I just hadn’t gotten there yet.”

Okay, fine. Whatever. I just thought I’d ask.

Washing your hands has to be one of the first things they re-teach you in medical school, right? I know it’s on the kindergarten curriculum. I’m sure doctor’s in training get some sort of hand-washing refresher lesson.

Right?

Sometimes I have my doubts. For instance, two weeks ago I was back in my regular bed at the local emergency room for a nightmare spiral of migraines that had left me, well, let’s call it under the weather.

“My head is exploding. Am I the only one seeing this lights show?” I asked my mother, but before she could answer a nurse walked in. He was trailing his vitals cart behind him and looked like someone had just spit in his cereal. He quickly glanced at my chart before grabbing the blood pressure cuff and walking over to me.

“Wait—“ my mom said, because I was now holding my hands against my head so my brain wouldn’t fall out. “Can you wash your hands before you touch her? She has an immune deficiency.”

He gave her an exasperated look before bumping the cart towards my mother.

He handed me the thermometer but after three stabs of trying to get the plastic cover to snap on to the top I gave up. (I couldn’t even see straight)

“Out,” my mom said, “We’re done. We want another nurse.”

“Whatever,” he responded and walked out, sending another nurse into the room a few minutes later.

Moral of the story?

  1. Always bring an advocate to the ER with you so that they can help you stand up for your patient right’s when you can’t.
  2. The worst thing that can happen when a nurse or doctor refuses to wash their hands? They can say no, and you can ask for a different treating physician or nurse.

Sanitation is not an unreasonable request. Not in the hospital. Not in the doctor’s office.

Having trouble with a doctor or nurse at your local hospital? Feel free to make a call to the administration and reminding them that the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one of every 20 patients in a U.S hospital gets a hospital-acquired infection each year. Hand washing reduces the number of people who get sick by 31% in those with healthy immune systems. Hand washing reduced illness by 58% in those with weakened immune systems.



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