Hand sanitizing

A few weeks ago, I saw this NYTimes article: staff at Cedars-Sinai hospital successfully modified behavior for the greater good. Culture doctors’ hands. Wait. Photograph the bacteria. Convert to screensavers hospital-wide. Watch the rate of hand-washing go way, way up. Above 90% Happy-Hospital-Certification to damn near 100%. Hooray.

A few days ago I recalled the story. I was at the local hospital visting an elderly patient (the one listening to music on my iPod+speaker-dock). Doctor comes into room. We’ve not met, so we introduce. Shake hands. Discuss treatment, diagnosis. Stethoscope comes out for a listen (the patient has pneumonia). A little more chit-chat, then the doctor leaves. As he reaches the doorway, his hand hits the dispenser pump next to the door, and then he’s gone. The pump holds hand sanitizer. He’s A Good Doctor. I note his actions and describe the gist of the NYTimes article about the screensaver to my companion.

Today I thought of this story when I read about hand-sanitizing on the campaign trail. Yep. Also for trade shows. And after swing dance classes where partner trading is the norm: “Wait, I’m not ready to leave yet. I have to wash my hands.” Then, too, there’s washing your hands in a public restroom, immediately followed by touching the door handle that everyone else touches in order to leave the restroom.

Is there a correlation between increased fastidiousness in middlin’ years and decreased tolerance (both constitutional and attitudinal) of icky-poo colds n flus?

3 responses to “Hand sanitizing”

  1. alwin

    Re: the handwashing – if you have washed your hands properly – as has everybody else – the door handle on the way out should be clean. The one on the outside leading in, however, is technically “dirty”. Of course, there is always the risk of somebody sneezing/coughing into their hands on the way from the sink to the door. There is no perfect safety in the world.

    Trade shows are problematic, IMHO. Too many people in close proximity shedding respiratory particles in close proximity, touching demonstrators/tchatkes/information packets. Hand washing will help, but like all public gathering places you are dependent on a lot of other factors of which hand washing is just one small factor.

    I know you get this, but: Hospitals are different than square dance halls and trade shows. The bugs we grow there are tougher than those out in the public, bred to be resistant and to overcome sanitation measures. The place is packed with people infected with every sort of horrendeosis known. So hand washing makes a bigger difference there than, say, the supermarket or MacWorld.

    But to answer your final question: yeah, the older I get the less tolerant I am of exposing myself to both bacterial and viral infections. I don’t toss them off as easily anymore. So I cut my risks where I can, and try not to worry too hard the rest of the time. 🙂

  2. Rhea

    This is such a tricky subject. It’s true that actually seeing the bacteria from our dirty hands would likely scare most people into washing their hands. But the antibacterial stuff is terrible for the environment and, ultimately, for our health. We have to be exposed to germs in order to build defenses against them.

  3. Mary Lu

    Suz– As a former institutional Bug Collector… The doctor “should have” washed his hand just BEFORE touching the patient and after, if the doctor is NOT GLOVED. The reality check is today’s healthcare workers are not supposed to “touch” a patient unless using fresh (clean) gloves.

    The chemical content of today’s sanatizing gels are environmentally nasty but repeated use of it does cause many healthcare workers skin problems, including natural skin breakdown. Dr. D can’t use many of them, and he breaks out if he uses them or many of the hospital soaps. So we have to sub’ other things for him to use.

    Regarding kids and exposure– Several Epidemiologists I know actually agree with my “peck of dirt” theory by age 4. If a kid isn’t exposed to a teck of dirt by the age of four– they will have more allergies and illness than kids who get exposed and dirty.

    Now allow me to go wash my hands… I’ve gotta kold— Ahh Choo! ‘exuse meee