Keeping germs off your hair, hands and face
We all want to look good at work, but we want to stay healthy as well. Dr. Brady and Nurse Rebekah have talked about white lab coats as carriers of germs. Now, they tackle your hair, hands and face.
Nurse Rebekah: Let’s talk about a nurse’s hair. I have a decent amount of hair, it’s long and if I’m motivated enough, I can make it look real puuuurrrrty. But not at work—tie it back, ladies! This goes for physicians, too. I’ve seen both sexes guilty of hair sins: long, beautiful hair flowing down over their shoulders and right into a sterile field, foley catheter or a seeping-oozing-disgusting wound.
I’m just waiting for a mutant MRSA strain that makes your hair fall out in giant abscesses. People tie their hair back when patients have lice. Why? Because you can see lice. You can’t see the smarmy microbes, but they are there, right? We learned that in microbiology. Remember the door handle swabs?
Dr. Brady: Personally, I’m more interested in the touching-your-face issue. Most communicable diseases are transferred by touching your eyes, mouth or nose with unclean hands and fingers. I’m paranoid about touching my face unless I’ve just washed my hands. I consider my hands to be a disease-ridden zone, except for immediately after sanitization. The last place I want those hands to be is anywhere near my face or my food. Yet I see people all day long rubbing their eyes, picking their nose and touching their lips. I want to yell, “Don’t! Do you know where those hands have been?”
Fortunately, there is a balancing force: the secretaries who wipe down everything in a 10-foot radius with sanitizing surface wipes as soon as they get to work. I love to watch that. Fortunately, my ED is pretty clean. I even see the cleaning crew regularly spray the curtains with disinfectant. I don’t think they do that everywhere, but they should. Can you imagine what would grow if we plated those on bacterial culture?
Dr. Brady and Nurse Rebekah have previously discussed the ways our clothing enhances—or undermines—our professional image. We’d love to hear your advice about avoiding germs at work. Do you wear a ponytail? Cover yourself in a coating of Purell? Wash your hands both before and after using the restroom?
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Brady Pregerson, MD, a returned Peace Corps volunteer and winner of the 1995 Wise Preventive Medicine Scholarship, completed his medical school at the University of California, San Diego, and his residency at Los Angeles County General Hospital. He has authored three medical pocket books for nurses and doctors, as well as the educational web sites erpocketbooks.com and gotsafety.org.
Dr. Pregerson currently works as an emergency physician in Southern California. He writes, "Although the ED environment may be quite different from working on the hospital floor or in an office setting, I am hopeful that you can take these tips and apply them to your own specific work situation." You can buy his books on lessons from the ER, including Don't Try This At Home: Lessons from the Emergency Department and Think Twice: More Lessons from the ER, at amazon.com.
By Brady Pregerson, MD