Deadly Infections and the Caring, Unwashed Hands That Spread Them


Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

Have you heard about the latest threat to the lives of cancer patients?  It’s CRE, the ‘Nightmare Bacteria’.  This bacteria causes infections and can be drug-resistant.  If you’re infected with it, you may not get much, if any, help from the antibiotics we’re so accustomed to relying upon.  If you get this infection, it may just be up to you, and your immune system, to fight it off.  Due to cancer and/or chemotherapy, cancer patients’ immune systems are often not what they should be.

How is it spread?  According to the Washington Post, “The germs themselves spread from person to person, often on the hands of doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals.”  Yes, those loving hands that care for you might also kill you.  Why?

Because they’re not washed.  When I first learned of this latest Superbug on CBS This Morning, the reporter presenting the story suggested to viewers that if they’re in the hospital, they should insist all their health care providers wash their hands.

Except if you’re sleeping.   Or in a coma.  Or don’t speak English.  Or so sick or exhausted you can’t talk.  Or have tubes in your mouth.  Then, what do you do?  Leave a note on your bed?  Sign language?  Draw a picture of hands being washed?

It just blows my mind that something so incredibly basic to hygiene and cleanliness, at a time where increasingly, infections are killing patients, we, the patients, have to tell the “professionals” to wash their hands.

When I go to Starbucks, do I have to ask the barista not to spit in my coffee?  When I go to a restaurant, do I need to walk into the kitchen and ask the cooks to wash their hands?  When I get my hair cut, do I need to remind the barber not to sneeze in my face?

Why is the burden of mandating this incredibly simple, yet critical, step in preventing possibly deadly infections on those least capable of doing anything about it, the patients?

Instead of reminding people to wash their hands, if it’s possible, before being admitted, ask the hospital, does your hospital use check lists when it comes to patient care?  If they do, and care givers  make sure they’re doing what they need to do, it may save your life.  If someone isn’t washing their hands, are there any consequences?  Can they get written up?  Can they get fired, for not washing their hands, if they’re a member of the hospital staff?

If someone on the hospital’s staff didn’t clean a piece of equipment and someone died, would they be at least fired (if not charged with manslaughter)?  What if that equipment is hands?

If you work in healthcare, working directly with patients and can’t be bothered to wash your hands, do everyone a favor.  Get another job!