Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Way too casual with contagions

Elderly, Unintended consequences

Before I start, here is the disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor am I licensed in the field of medicine in any way.  Nutrition and natural medicine, however, have been an interest of mine for at least 30 years.

Last Monday, my 89 year old dad was checked into Elmbrook hospital with probable pneumonia. He had a bad cold over the weekend and on Monday the nurse at the group home thought he needed medical attention. She was right.

I sat with him in the emergency room, but he was very lethargic and sleepy. They started i.v. antibiotics immediately and then sent him to x-ray, but that did not show for certain he had pneumonia. I was told when a patient is dehydrated, chest x-rays are not always conclusive for a pneumonia diagnosis. As the day wore on, they admitted him to the hospital.

Did you take a sputum sample for a culture? I asked.

No, said the nurse.

Do you know if it is viral or bacterial pneumonia? 

No, was the answer again.

Is he contagious? I asked. (My dad has 2 siblings--both in their 80s. I thought this was an important thing to know if they were to visit...also important for me.)

Oh no, said the nurse.

I said how do you know that?

Well, if he was, he would be in isolation said the nurse. (Isn’t that circular reasoning?)

So they moved him upstairs and got him settled. I called his siblings and told them not to come. I just did not feel it was safe for them to visit since I didn’t think we knew enough about dad's diagnosis.

Tuesday, the pulmonary therapist came by in the afternoon. I asked her if Dad's pneumonia was bacterial or viral. She did not know. Then how do you know if he has a contagious strain or not? She then showed me a sample collection jar. They were expecting him, a weak patient and one with cognitive difficulties, to collect that sample on his own? Had I known about the jar, I could have easily collected a sample that morning. (We finally did get one later that night.) 

Dad's strength grew little by little and he was hungry--always a good sign.

Thursday, they released him to a non-acute care facility (nursing home), but they (Elmbrook) still did not know what type of pneumonia he had. He went for physical therapy and walked more than he had since Saturday. Later, he ate in the dining room.

Friday, he had physical, speech, and occupational therapy after breakfast and did pretty well--we even sat in on a music program. After we returned to his room, I received a phone call from his doctor at Elmbrook--Dad had! I said. Why are you just telling me this now? The culture takes 72 hours he said. I thought, Too bad they did not get that culture sample on Monday, they could have had the results before they released him into the public.. I breathed a silent prayer of thanks that my elderly aunt and uncle had not visited and then thought of all the chances for exposure my sister and I already had and all the people he was in contact with at Elmbrook and at this nursing home.

The doctor went on to say that Dad would have to go on yet another antibiotic (4th round since mid September) and be in isolation. That means masks, glasses, gloves, and gowns just to enter his room.

The casualness of the hospital, doctors and nursing/care giver staff concerning contagions amazes me. I was glad I took some precautions early on. I am not normally like Winthrop’s friend at home, but when it comes to hospitals, nursing homes, and public places, I am careful.

The following is a list of sensible practices that might help you stay healthier.

1.      Floors are filthy: There is no 3 second rule in a hospital. Once something falls to the floor, consider it contaminated. I got this tip years ago from a director of nursing. This means you do not put your purse, a bag, books, etc on the floor. (This rule applies to any public bathroom as well.) Nurses used to change all their clothing at work and never wore their uniforms home. That way, they were not bringing home so many germs. Some nurses will at least change their shoes before coming home, thus reducing exposing their cars and homes to germs.

2.      Wash your hands, often!  Use soap and water, lots of friction for at least 15 seconds (time by slowly singing Happy Birthday to yourself) and don’t touch the faucet or soap dispenser with your hand. Use your elbow or a piece of paper towel. Grab a separate paper towel to dry your hands and use another to open the door. Those alcohol wipes and gels are better than nothing, but running water and friction are best. Don’t forget to wash your hands after you hold a patient’s hand too and use the gloves that are in the hospital rooms for anything messy.

3.      Don’t touch any door handles or elevator buttons in public places with your bare hands if you can help it. Use an elbow, the back of your hand or a knuckle.

4.      Consider the tray table, nightstand, or any surface in the hospital/nursing home as contaminated. When I looked at the slide out tray from the hospital bed tray table, I really had to wonder, when was the last time it was disinfected? It did not look all that clean when I removed his meal tray. Plus, how do your really clean nooks and crannies? Elderly people tend to eat things that fall off their plate or meal tray right off the table. The germ population could be very high there. (Since my dad’s MRSA diagnosis, I wondered how carefully everything in his hospital room was disinfected.)

5.      Be careful not to rub your eyes, nose, lips etc with your hands when visiting the sick. This is just a good practice anyway for cold and flu season—germs enter your system through mucus membranes even through your ears! (That tip was from my dentist—he recommends a few drops of peroxide in each ear.)

6.      Don’t do ill people’s laundry with your own laundry. The nursing home admission social worker brought this to my attention. She explained you don’t want to risk bringing infection home to your family; let us do your dad’s laundry. I am really glad I followed her advice! If you are caring for someone at home, use a germicide. Shaklee has a very good one: Basic G.

As we continue to abuse antibiotics as we have as a society, super bugs or resistant strains of diseases once controlled with drugs (i.e. tuberculosis)  will become increasingly a problem. We need to be taking precautionary actions in our behaviors to limit exposure. I hope some of these tips will save you from getting sick. They are really just common sense and some are helpful for avoiding even the common cold. Since last Monday, I have been doing some nutritional things to boost my immune system, but I better save that for a later posting—this one is too long already.

If you have any experience with MRSA I would like to hear from you.

Clarification: The sub-acute care place mentioned is Care-Age of Brookfield. They had no way of knowing about my dad's condition when he was admitted. They took immediate precautions once they knew about the MRSA. Care-Age has really been trying to make my dad as comfortable as possible and thankfully, Dad seems to be getting better.

Since MRSA and other infections are cropping up all over, it is clear the medical community as a whole needs to start changing their casual attitude toward germs.

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