Infectious Diseases In Hospitals: Do Your Homework Now

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Logo Copyright@2018, Adah F. Kennon, Ph.D.


It is often said that hindsight is 20/20. Did you know that you need to take precautions to avoid infectious diseases, especially in  hospital settings? Infectious diseases in hospitals can make you sick. Did you know that failure to do this results in consequences which can disrupt your home environment?

One of the things that I emphasized while writing my book, Patient or Profit: Where Is The Love? (amazon.com), was that caregivers always have homework to do. We must do whatever it takes to be knowledgeable about any topic related to the medical condition of those we care for. Doing so helps us with our own personal growth and development, lets us have meaningful conversations with professionals, and understand what we can do to be of assistance. This keeps us prepared to deal with any situation, expected or unexpected.

Depending upon the medical condition, there can already be a lot of information out there. The trick is to narrow the scope to get relevant information, sometimes at short notice. We have to make decisions which could have life-saving consequences. Consider what is already known,  to include existing medical conditions and treatment plans. The unknown factor is what might be encountered, for example, in a hospital ER room setting. What are the positives and the negatives?

You already know what hospital options are available. You assume that you go there to get better. But, what have you not considered about those settings? What is being left out that your gut tells you that you need to know? What homework can be done when you are not sick as preparation that will guide your decision regarding the best hospital to go to during a time of need? Doing this homework, as far in advance as possible, increases the possibility that you will make a good choice which might save your life or the life of those you care for.

This is especially important so you can take precautions to avoid infectious diseases, especially if the patient has to go to a hospital and is a senior citizen, infant, on antibiotics, or has a compromised immune system. Case in point. My husband is a senior citizen (88 years young). He has kidney disease and is on hemodialysis (compromised immune system). He has orthopedic challenges (botched knee replacement surgeries, back and neck issues). He has a history of blood clots, has an IV filter in place, and takes warfarin (coumadin). He also takes antibiotics, for example, prior to dental procedures.

We live in a community where there are two hospitals, both about the same distance from our home. We tended to pick the same hospital each time my husband had to go to an ER for treatment. (We have stopped going to hospital ER’s since finding out about Urgent Care Mobil Health Service.) 

A few weeks ago he complained of severe pain in one leg following a dialysis treatment. His leg was swollen and warm to the touch. Both of us thought that he might have another blood clot. So, I rushed him to the ER of the hospital we usually go to. Little did we know that it would be our responsibility to take precautions to avoid infectious diseases. Following that visit, he felt weak, complained about abdominal pain, and had very smelly diarrhea. He was later diagnosed with a bad case of C. Dif  (clostridium difficile).

Thinking back to that hospital ER visit, I remember that we initially sat for several hours in an area with a lot of foot traffic, surrounded by patients showing obvious distress. Even though he wore a face mask, I’m sure that he was the target of a variety of harmful germs. We were finally taken to a small room, which seemed to have previously been a supply room. The staff immediately gave my husband antibiotics and a blood thinner. Being in this small room gave us some privacy; however, staff members frequently came in and out to get supplies. No one changed their clothes prior to coming into the room.  I had to ask them to wash their hands or put gloves on. I used the few hand sanitizer wipes that I had with me to clean the bed rails as best I could, We were there over-night. At some point, my husband experienced a severe bought of diarrhea. I usually help him with his hygiene. But, the smell was so intense that I had to leave the area and ask one of the male nurses to help clean him. This was not the first time that he had diarrhea, but it had never smelled like that. In total, we were in that ER setting for about 20 hours.

We learned some hard lessons during that ER visit. There were certainly things that we couldn’t control. But, we now know what we can do to avoid future problems of this nature.  No one told us about all of the different kinds of hospital infectious diseases so that we could take precautions. Further, no one told us that it would be our responsibility to take precautions to avoid infections diseases. We took it for granted that the hospital staff would do this, just because it was the right thing to do.  No one told us about how taking too many antibiotics causes “superbugs” to grow. These superbugs become immune to drugs and then destroy your good bacteria. We knew about a bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), but not about C.diff (clostridium difficile).  And, how about VRSA, “vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus,” which is a resistant strain of bacteria associated with being in hospitals when  you are given vancomycin too many times to deal with infection. Ironically, being given a 10 day course of vancomycin was the treatment for C.diff.

Luckily, I was not infected. But, this created  a variety of disruptive home issues. We had to use preventative measures at home: thoroughly clean all surface areas he came in contact with; use “very” good hand-washing technique; designate dishes and silverware especially for him; wash his laundry separately; and use different toilets. Using gloves around all bathroom areas was a “must.” This went on for several weeks.

With more relevant information, we could have taken precautions to avoid infectious diseases. Given the fact that my husband had a history of going to ER’s for treatment, I could have rated both hospitals in advance in terms of how well staff controlled these diseases and picked the setting with the best track record in the event that he needed future treatment.  An article titled, “How Your Hospital Can Make You Sick” (Consumer Reports), provides wonderful information on why you need to take precautions to avoid infectious disease. Reading it is a good place to find out what you need to know. Remember that hospitals are dangerous settings. Do your home work in advance. Pick the one with the best track record controlling infectious diseases.