One Hand Washes the Other

To be asked if I washed my hands makes me feel as if my professionalism is being doubted. Is it just me being defensive or is there something demeaning about being questioned like that?

With the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infections and fears of an upcoming pandemic, the issue of hand washing has been pushed to the forefront. Hospitals have hand cleaners available throughout the building to promote this among the visitors and the staff, and reminders are usually posted throughout. Many sinks even have posters demonstrating proper hand washing technique. Another method being used to promote hand washing is encouraging patients and their families to be proactive and ask anyone who approaches them if they washed up first.

Proper hand washing is one of the first things we learn as nursing students; the same applies to all medical professionals. The teachers went over the basics of how hands are washed properly and why. We all understand but we’ve also all seen other professionals — nurses included – who don’t always follow this basic hygiene practice. These are people who go from patient to patient without washing their hands in between, touching the patients or giving care. Of course, in emergency situations, it’s not always possible to wash your hands – you’re hardly going to tell a patient going into cardiac arrest that you must wash up – but this isn’t the norm.

That being said, something about being questioned if I’ve washed my hands rubs me the wrong way. I know I should wash my hands — I do wash my hands. To be asked if I washed my hands makes me feel as if my professionalism is being doubted. Is it just me being defensive or is there something demeaning about being questioned like that? To tell you the truth, I also feel that if a professional isn’t going to wash their hands, will they truthfully answer if they did or didn’t?

There was a story on the news a few months ago about a system with a sensor that you would wear on your belt. It would activate when you approached a patient’s bed, beeping to remind you to clean your hands. I remember, while the inventor raved to the reporter about how wonderful this system was, watching that story with disbelief. A beeper to tell us to wash our hands? We now need beepers to remind us to wash our hands?

I understand that our world is changing, and rapidly at that; we have electronic devices to do many things and now we can’t imagine how we ever managed without some of them. Some devices are more successful than others, some improve, some disappear never to be seen again.

I don’t have a problem with people trying to improve patient care and making it easier for nurses to provide that care. But this hand washing thing really makes me question where this is all headed. I don’t care how busy we are, if we can’t remember to wash our hands, then there’s something wrong that runs deeper than any sensor and beeper can fix.