August 9th, 2010 | The Blog
The hazards of being a nurse can be grim. Ms. Jean Law, nurse at Baptist Medical Center South, went to her hospital’s emergency room with a fever of 104, and was given pain medication. The infection was so virulent that when the mistake was discovered several hours later, it was already too late. To stop the spread of the infection, procedures were carried out to remove tissue.
Nurses will recognize the issues, and the problem: sepsis. It is not alleged that the infection was acquired in the hospital environment; in fact there’s been no public mention of possible sources.
The problem for nurses is working in an environment where these incredibly dangerous infections are well known. The dreaded, deadly Golden Staph is the best known, but there are plenty of others, including this one, eventually diagnosed as Strep.
Matters are not improved by the fact that the standard Rapid Strep Test can be done in 10-15 minutes, which would have been appropriate in this case. Strep, like Staph, is one of the more common disease risks for anyone in a medical environment, and these tests really should be compulsory when any kind of fever is present in a health care worker.
(For those wondering, even a non-necrotic Strep infection feels like getting put through a blender or several. If you’re a health worker experiencing serious fever, start by being suspicious of the possible causes.)
All nurses will feel deep sympathy for Ms. Law’s situation. The problem is that not much seems to be being done about the presence of these murderous organisms and the ongoing risks, even when diagnosis is effective. They’re a risk to everyone in a hospital, patients and staff alike. The highly resistant strains of disease pose a constant threat.
It is unacceptable in the 21st century that this almost medieval situation should be tolerated at all. It’s like having a pack of mad dogs roaming the entire health sector. Post operative infections are hardly a new revelation, and Ms. Law’s tragic case, wherever it was sourced, is a good indicator of the risks for even healthy people.
This is an endemic environmental situation, and it’s not good enough by any standards.
Nurses spend long hours in environments where these infections are literally part of the landscape. The net amount of effective action on this subject so far amounts to precisely zip.
This situation must change:
There must be compulsory Rapid Strep screening of health workers for these deadly infections in any medical situation where fever is present.
There must be a concerted effort to permanently rid the hospitals of such incredibly dangerous organisms.
This is more than OHS; it’s life or death.