Letter to the Editor by Anderson on "Nurse Safety: Have We Addressed the Risks?"

Nurse Safety: Have We Addressed the Risks?

June 17, 2005

in response to topic Nurse Safety: Have We Addressed the Risks? (Sept. 30, 2004)

Dear Editor:

This letter is in response to the topic of Nurse Safety. About eleven years ago, I took microbiology, a course all nurses take. It is personally reminiscent, oddly enough, of an animated Woody Allen movie called Antz. The opening scene of this movie was of the Manhattan skyline as it faded away from the city and deep into the grass of Central Park. Next the cameras took you down, way down, into the world of the ants. Suddenly you found yourself in a bustling ant colony as much alive as downtown New York City.

Through our microbiology labs, we nurses have gone into the world of microscopic organisms which are not visible to the naked eye, but nevertheless alive. We encountered organisms which can be harmless on the surface of our hand, but lethal or at the least painful, when entering deeper tissue. We were made to see, touch, and yes even smell culture swabs we incubated for days before examining. This was a journey to an entirely different world, a world older and more powerful then any living creature we can see on the planet. This truly was a learning experience involving our senses. Through this experience, following standard precautions became not something we simply do because we are told, but something we do because we understand it is essential for our safety and the safety of others.

Maybe it is time for all health care professionals, not merely nurses and physicians, to experience this depth of learning. Granted healthcare institutions have excellent orientations to standard precautions. But I ask whether it is enough to have lectures, pictures, reviews of policies and procedures, and practice sessions using protective devices? Is the very training itself, albeit thorough, enough to comprehend the need for the precautions and procedures we need to use today? Or are we perhaps sending workers into the mines with nothing but a canary (procedure). Because health care workers can't smell or see the germs they may think the environment is safe, just as did the miners of a by-gone era who, not knowing their olfactory senses had adapted to the environment, never understood why the bird died in its cage.

Granted, intelligent adults know certain gases can kill and getting close to one who has a cold or Tuberculosis is contagious. Is that knowledge enough to motivate health care workers to always, at all times, and in all places, to follow infections disease precautions? I argue that all of those who will be going into the pits should have first made a journey to the world they can't see. Senses need to be stimulated when teaching standard precaution; perhaps we need to let everyone grow a culture and share the wealth of understanding. Until the invisible world of infectious organisms becomes more then a picture in a text book, it may not be real enough to motivate health care workers to do what needs to be done to ensure a safe environment for all.

Calene Marie Anderson, RN, BSN
Norton Audubon Hospital
Pain Management and Patient Satisfaction Committee
Louisville, KY