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Hand Hygiene CAN Save a Patient’s Life

Categories: Hand Hygiene, Healthcare-associated infections

Armando and Victoria Nahum

Armando and Victoria Nahum

Author – Victoria Nahum
Co-Founder and Director
Safe Care Campaign (Atlanta, Georgia)

My name is Victoria Nahum. Almost 5 years ago, my husband Armando and I learned the hardest lesson of our lives. We learned that losing our 27 year old son Joshua to a healthcare-associated infection didn’t have to happen; even worse, his untimely death may have been prevented by some simple steps we wish we would have known back then. [Read Josh’s story.]

Perhaps the bitter knowledge that he did not die of his original diagnosis (injuries from a skydiving accident), but died instead of what health experts tell us was most likely preventable (a Gram-negative infection he caught during his care) is the hardest thing we live with every day.

In 2006, when Josh was first admitted to the hospital his father and I read and obeyed the sign on the door that simply said, “All visitors must wash their hands before entering the ICU.”

Little did we know that practicing proper hand hygiene just ONCE upon entering his room was not nearly enough. In fact, best practices require that caregivers and visitors wash or sanitize their hands prior to, and after touching, patients and/or objects in the hospital room. This is because the germs that are so prevalent in American hospitals. At any given time, about 1 in every 20 patients has an infection related to their hospital care.

The CDC says that proper hand hygiene is the NUMBER ONE WAY we can all help to prevent spreading these germs to the patients. And that’s why every single person who enters a patient’s room must always practice proper hand hygiene whether they intend to touch them or not. Never be afraid to ask a caregiver – even a doctor – to wash or sanitize their hands when they enter the room.

In the end, we learned that what you don’t know CAN hurt someone you love. Hand hygiene saves lives; this I know this from experience. Be sure that you learn about, practice, and insist upon proper hand hygiene when you or a loved one is receiving medical care.

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  1. December 6, 2011 at 11:07 pm ET  -   Matt White

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. The awareness it provides will surely help to counteract the problem. I don’t understand why these infections are so prevalent in health care facilities. Is there greater susceptibility or just a much greater occurrence of the disease? Thanks again, SWL

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  2. July 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm ET  -   Patricia's Daughter

    I’m so sorry for your loss.I’m also thankful for your efforts to educate.Unfortunately my Mother died April 25th,5 years after your son.There are two reasons she died from C-Diff.Lack of health care workers washing their hands and cleaning their facilities.I saw posters in the hospitals advertising the use of hand sanitizer.Where are the posters for soap and water?Antiseptic doesn’t kill C-Diff.Neither do ammonia based cleaners.Only bleach kills the spores which can remain on surfaces for months.I never heard of C-Diff before March of this year.I’ve learned about this so called super bug and find myself having to share this basic information with the healthcare industry.How many more people have to die needlessly.The lack of basic cleanliness in the healthcare field is criminal.Hand sanitizer kills MRSA; which my Dad died from.It does not and should not be used to replace soap and water.Speak up to healthcare providers to save lives!

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  3. June 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm ET  -   Chris Romm

    My wife and I are so sorry for your loss, we too lost our 27 year old son to health-care related infections this past September. We have since made it our mission in life to promote hand washing and better sanitation conditions locally. It is so sad to know that strong young men and women die because of largely preventable infections. Losing a child is so unnatural, abhorrent to ones soul almost. God bless you and your family, we hope you will endure and rise from the ashes of losing a child as best as you are able.

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  4. June 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm ET  -   Courtney

    What a powerful testimony. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I cannot imagine what you must have gone through in hearing that your son’s death may have been preventable. I am a Madonna University nursing student, and all through school we are taught about how important hand hygiene is and the negative effects that can occur when it is lacking. And I have to honestly say that the majority of the time when it is discussed it is in reference to protecting us, the nurses, rather than our patients. As we know, hospitals can sometimes be the most dangerous place for a very sick person to be in because of the prevalence of germs. However, the spread of these germs can easily be prevented by proper hand washing. Where I have worked, our policy is you wash your hands as soon as you enter a patient’s room and right before exiting. But too often, I see healthcare providers skipping the first hand washing, and only doing it after contact with a patient. But what about everything you have touched in between patients? What is stopping a sick patient from spreading germs on the nurse’s station, you touching the nurse’s station so you are now a carrier, and then having contact with a completely different patient? This is how bacteria is spread! We need to protect our patients just as much as ourselves if not more, because our immunity is in fine working condition while there’s may be compromised. Wash your hands!

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  5. May 24, 2011 at 10:54 pm ET  -   Brad

    fantastic site

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  6. May 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm ET  -   nurse with a cause

    I must say I am so sorry for you lost. It is a great tradegy to lose anyone, and even greter when the individual is young. Please except my sympathy for your loved one and the members that must continue on.

    Hand hygeine is an important item in any healthcare setting. ANOTHER important item is to follow signs posted upon doors. I have seen many times family, staff(including doctors) not follow isolation policies. Family members will state “Oh, he has had that and I am exposed”. There is a problem with such a thought.

    Once you leave your loved ones room, germs and all, you head for the elevator. The visitor did not clean their hands, had no isolation gown or gloves on. They touch the elevator button for up or down. Then they enter the elevator touch the handrails, buttons and walls. after leaving they will touch many other items, which someone else will touch. As you can see this individual has touched many items, but why does this matter?

    The next person to come along is a nurse who cares for patients. She or he should clean hands before entering room. Ideally where gloves when touching patient. Remove the gloves and then wash hands with soap and water. This also includes lab, doctors, and any other healthcare member that is in a patients room.

    So for the sake of the ill hospitialized patient follow directions posted on the door. If you don’t understand than ask a nurse or someone else. You DO have to wear the gown, and the gloves. It is for everyone not just your family member. Also keep the room clean and clutter free. Use the closet for personal items, keeping purses, bags, and suitcases off the floor. Lastly…..always wash!

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  7. May 17, 2011 at 9:09 am ET  -   Danny

    Good Hand Hygiene is our primary goal. It’s very good to know that some hospitals are taking additional precautions to assist in good hand hygiene and to help prevent the spread of HAI’s. Handwash Reminder is the best way to enforce hand washing.

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  8. May 16, 2011 at 2:25 am ET  -   sunnylovey

    Yes i believe hand hygiene can save our’s life, because some one said details decide everything, bacteria are accumulating bit by bit through our incorrect life habit, so we should pay more attention to the details of our life
    details of our life!

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  9. May 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm ET  -   Andrew E.

    This is indeed a powerful testimony, and no doubt a tragedy that could have been avoided. I am a nursing student in Michigan that will be graduating with my BSN in July this year. Hand hygeine was the first skill we learned in lab and its importance has been stressed in every clinical experience we have had. It has become second nature to perform hand hygeine while caring for my patients, like putting on my seat belt every time I get in the car. While performing sterile techniques as well, if I had the slightest doubt I contaminated my gloves/field, I would discard the “contaminated” items and start over…my patients deserve nothing less than competent, evidence-based care. This task is certainly not difficult and takes little time to accomplish and no matter how hectic a shift may be, adhering to the most basic of nursing standards just may save a life.

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  10. May 10, 2011 at 10:29 am ET  -   M L

    Well done to Connie for speaking up. Shame on such attitudes from caregivers, who if anything should be grateful to know of such things.

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  11. May 10, 2011 at 10:13 am ET  -   Steve RN

    Just want to put something out there. For centuries Healthcare workers have been putting their lives on the line because they are attempting to (and most of the time succeed in) do the right thing for the patient. I have been in the Healthcare field for over 30 years and have NEVER once met anyone who purposely came to work saying “I’m going to infect a patient today.” Those of us in Healthcare are here because we CARE about others and want to help not hurt. I have spent many sleepless nights reliving the day to make sure I did the “right thing” for my patients. Currently the focus is on preventable healthcare acquired infections…and rightfully so. It is a tragedy that people die from something needless but it does happen everyday. We are all so quick to blame yet not to compliment. Think about carelessness the next time you drive on the highway and drive aggressively or blow your nose, sneeze or cough in your hands then touch produce at the grocery store! ALL actions have concequences! There is SO much more I could say about this but I have to get back to caring for my patients!

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  12. May 10, 2011 at 8:45 am ET  -   Bonnie

    Good for you, Connie! The only way the healthcare system is going to be successful in preventing healthcare associated infections is for the WHOLE system to work together. This includes health care providers, patients, families and payors. Creating a culture where it is OK to “speak up” and hold everyone accountable and will be key!

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  13. May 10, 2011 at 7:36 am ET  -   Connie

    I have noticed healthcare workers, in particular my dental hygenist put on gloves, then touch other objects in the room, open drawers, get equipment out, etc. then want to put her hand in my son’s mouth, and I said something about it and also said something to the dentist. She didn’t like it, but I didn’t care. I made sense to me. She was only protecting herself, not the patient.

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