In the field of infection control, we tend to spend more time discussing the science behind infections than the lives those infections affect. We explore the problems with the altitude of statistics and the attitude of problem solvers while forgetting to talk about the emotional toll a healthcare associated infection can take on a patient.
Patients on isolation due to infections are not only faced with the fear of the unknown regarding their health, but with the concern of lost wages and time away from normal life and family members.
When a patient on isolation sees any person entering their room required to gown up, put on a face mask, and place a layer of plastic between their hands and the patient’s skin, the sense of loneliness compounds their existing emotional turmoil.
Children who visit their isolated parents can be disoriented and frightened by the experience and elderly patients who are often subjected to long periods of time with little to no visitors, are visited even less if they have C.diff.
While each isolation experience is unique, stressful anticipation of what is next can multiply the side effects of drugs like vancomycin and rocephin, can affect their sleep cycles and can make patients just feel worse.
We categorize our lives in terms of chapters that made an impact: people we loved or lost, wonderful or terrible news, time spent in beautiful or awful surroundings. Struggling with an HAI falls into the negative category of memory chapters for patients and it often stays with them for the rest of their lives. Recovery is a huge success for these individuals, a badge of honor; it is a narrative they will share for the rest of their lives. Any time someone at a party or gathering mentions the problem of infections acquired in a hospital, they will nod and say, “It was awful. I’m lucky I made it. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Should a patient not survive, the emotional ripples extend far beyond the hospital walls to their families and friends. As a former transplant specialist, I spoke to these families (often to explain why they couldn’t be a donor: severe infections can disqualify you from donating organs and tissues) and listened as they struggled with accepting why it had happened. “I don’t understand,” they would say, “he was perfectly healthy before this.” Thus began the narrative for a major chapter in their life’s memories, and the tale they would tell to many others.
We are all working towards a worthy goal as we review our statistics, tend to our hand hygiene compliance, and check rooms for appropriate cleaning practices. We are hammering away at the problem steadily and professionally, and we’re making a difference. As hospitals take strides to reduce HAIs, they can know that they’ve made an impact in far more than just a patient’s physical health. The emotional well-being of a patient and their family is also preserved in so many ways by never being at risk of “solitary confinement” in their hospital bed.
Xenex is a company on a mission to eradicate the harmful bacteria and viruses that cause the healthcare associated infections which take countless lives around the world every day. While we produce a robot that is used to disinfect hospital rooms, we also think it is critical to inform, support, and arm the general public with the tools and knowledge necessary to help them navigate the tough and often complicated worlds of infection control and health.
Rachael Sparks leads the Account Management Team at Xenex Healthcare Services and was previously a transplant specialist working with hospitals throughout Texas. When she’s not looking for a way to reduce the burden of HAIs, she’s cooking up delicious dishes with fresh produce from her garden.
Photo of child by Phillip Dean.