Handwashing: Protecting Yourself and Others.

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We all know we should be doing it, and some of our staff in nursing do as much as 50 times a day, but can you remember the last time you washed your hands.. and for how long? As part of our training here at AEC Living we’re mandated to keep up a healthy and hospital clean environment at all times. Part of that means keeping alcohol sanitizers on hand, clean wipes, a vigilant environmental team and a rigorous hand-washing routine.


Obviously a good deal of us always wash our hands after going to the restroom.. save for that one guy.. we all know that one guy, -don’t be that one guy. ( – _-) So for those of us that are good and wash our hands after the restroom, we all have to make sure we wash them after we touch commonly used items like the parcel delivery driver’s stylus.. -because of that one guy  (-thanks buddy). And also, it’s that we’re always unconsciously touching our face, hair, wiping our noses..anything that can transmit bacteria and viral infections. But a little mindfulness and forethought can help us prevent the transmission of viruses, like the common cold everyone has right now, and everyone is barely surviving on medication that rhymes with Ray Quill, dollar store Tussin (tasty!), and Abuela’s favorite; vapor rub.

So what if we were successful at avoiding contact with the common cold and even some other nasties like MRSA, E Coli, and C-Diff? Well, we’d be experts at washing our hands for one and we’d make sure that before we touched something that we know someone with the sniffles has had been in contact with, that we would need to use hand sanitizer before and after going on to type on our coworker’s keyboard or tapping in at the touch screen registry. It’s helpful not to be the stoic and thinking your immune system is invincible.. And especially for the older and more frail of us, a dose of the common cold could lead to pneumonia and one of the most leading causes of death, septicemia. So don’t be that ‘hero’, be the hero that saves your life and the lives of others by using one of the seven ‘standard precautions,’ hand-washing. Ideally, we’d all be a lot less sick if we just made sure to take a minute to wash our hands.

When and where should we wash our hands? Another couple considerations would be to wash your hands after petting the neighbors dog.. admit it, that golden retriever’s smile is irresistible. But their sweet noggin could be a place where a city of germs can collect. Other animals have real health and safety concerns that we should always be aware of.  If you’re a cook or food handler, a big consideration would be to make sure your hands and forearms are surgeon clean before handling kitchen utensils or food. If you’re unsure of your pork or poultry’s origin, you should definitely wash your hands. Aside from avoiding gut parasites and salmonella, outbreaks of swine and avian influenza have been just a few things that can undermine confidence and lawfulness in the food you serve. For example, how many times have you heard the Department of Health coming down on a restaurant for unsanitary conditions? We want tasty food in a timely manner, not to have the cooks and prep cooks get a lecture and a citation from the State. If someone gets sick off of something a cook has made with love, that’d be like delivering a poison pill with dessert and it doesn’t inspire confidence in the cook’s work. Something like that could make an elder person who’s having difficulty eating or swallowing take a turn towards taking longer and longer breaks from eating, further damaging their immune system because they need the food to build new white blood cells. It’s a very sad state of affairs and something that could truly be avoided.

How one goes about washing their hands could be a different story.. some people just think turning on the tap, dabbing some soap on a couple palms and running water over their hands will do it. It’s a valiant effort but there’s a few things to consider.. so you washed your hands, and then turned off the tap with your hands. The same tap that your dirty hands touched not half a minute earlier. What’s the point? We must take into consideration a procedure for these things.. a simple method to guarantee a safe and effective way of getting those paws clean.

According to the Centers for Disease Control you must “Follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.”

Good advice all around. An even better one is to take that towel to dry your hands and turn the water off in step 4. You can use your elbow to activate the plunger for the roll, or hopefully it has an electronic eye to dispense a sensible sheet and turn off the water with the paper towel, then use that same towel to open the door. Anything to maintain a sanitary barrier between you and you freshly washed hands. Some well laid out bathrooms keep the towel trash can right next to the door so you can just toss it in on the way out. I’m sure once you use this habit it gets super easy. Just maybe sing the Happy Birthday song with your inside voice so the person in stall 3 doesn’t think you’ve skipped a few meds.

Hooray! You’ve washed your hands but somehow you’ve caught sick. This is the time to also use standard precautions. With germy back of your hand to your forehead you may say, “It may be too late for me, but.. it is not too late.. -for you!” [sniff] you should do your best to reduce your symptoms with cold relief medicine so your face is not a faucet. Any inhalers, or over the counter medicine will do. You could be like one of the cool people out there and ride with a small hand sanitizer when you are cruising the bus or the train. Or you can be on top of the growing Asian trend of wearing a surgical sick mask. You can get a nice one in black if you want to look cool, or maybe in a puppy dog face if you want to be cute and drop peace signs while taking selfies. ✌️
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One thing that’s begun to catch on for protecting the people around you, and that’s the Dracula cough. For years people would just simply cough into their hands or a nasty kerchief and just shove it back in their pocket right before shaking the hands of their prospective client. But hospitals and doctors know the best way to cough and sneeze, even if you don’t have a cold, is to cough or sneeze into the pit of your elbow. Similar to how Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi would take their cape and recoil in horror from the daylight.. -much like how you woke up sick this morning. It’s an effective strategy that can keep you looking less kawaii and more 60s jetset. It might even look polite. Just make sure to have some facial tissue around if that sneeze is a vicious one [details omitted].

The last and most helpful thing to do to protect others when you’re sick is to just stay in bed.. bed rest is wonderful and nothing helps more than staying in bed with a good cup of chicken noodle soup, some streaming shows and just pass out under the blankets… your body will use the extra energy to give your immune system a fighting chance.

Stay well out there. <3