Thursday, November 19, 2009

Listen to Dr. Atul Gawande and Wash Your Hands!

The most powerful and unsettling idea in Atul Gawande’s essay “On Washing Hands” is “…when I stood there looking at the sign on his door, it occurred to me that I might have given him that infection” (212), because this sentence prove the whole essays theme and issue that doctors and hospitals, even though they are meant to be a clean and sanitary environment, do not follow the rules of keeping themselves always sanitary before coming in contact with patients. This essay describe the problem that medical physicians, nurses, even doctors fail to accommodate the rule that is to wash their hands. Even the author of the essay, Gawande, informs the reader that he has been careless himself as a doctor and forgotten to clean his hands while dealing with patients. “…and I completely forget to about getting a squirt of that gel into my palms, no matter how many laminated reminder signs have been hung on the walls” (211).
This is incredibly hard to think about since I volunteer at a hospital every Friday. I know that I am just a volunteer, but I cannot even count the number of times I put my hands under a gel dispenser, not only for the patient’s sake, but also mine! A hospital is meant to be a safe place to get well, but this essay informs the public otherwise explaining how infections due to unsanitary objects, tools, and hands are in contact with these patients. Some infected that are spread are most likely Staphylococcus, Enterococcus, MRSA, and VRE. There are many other bacterial infections that can be spread but these are rather serious do the fact that they are resistant to any type of treatment making it harder to get rid of the devastating effects.
Another scary thing to think about, are the numbers of deaths caused by these infections back when doctors did not even realize that cleanliness mattered. “Out of 3,000 mothers who delivered babies…600 or more died…” (207). this happened back in 1847 when Childbed Fever was a huge cause of birth fatalities. Even though the obstetrician Ignac Semmelweis seemed slightly crazy, without his theory about keeping clean while dealing with patients, the number of deaths in hospitals never would have decreased. Unsanitary business would still continue today. Although doctors and those who work in hospitals today do keep much cleaner than 100 years ago, they still forget that simple rule that is so incredibly important yet so easy to forget: washing hands.
Another important thing to remember is that doctors are just human. It is not easy to believe that they would put their patients in harm’s way, or that the one place where a person can actually get well after surviving surgery or an illness, is actually at risk for getting an infection. But it is easy to remember that they try, and they now actually do keep clean, and that sometimes, people are just unlucky.
Dr. Atul Gawande finished his essay with a very important sentence to inform those to remember it is necessary to wash our hands especially in a hospital—it is their job. “…when I stood there looking at the sign on his door, it occurred to me that I might have given him that infection” (212).

Dr. Atul Gawande


  1. If a hospital is supposed to be one of the cleanest places there is but still infection is spread by lack of enforcement of hand washing, imagine how much is spread among normal people in day to day activities. What can we do to make people more aware of the gravity of the situation?

  2. I found it shocking that so many more mothers died in child birth just because doctors refused to change their methods despite all the evidence that had been brought against them, it is truly a pity.

  3. Another thing to think about is that in everyday life...humans are exposed to billions of germs and bacteria which in fact is good for our immunity. but to imagine a hospital spreading the harshest of diseases and infections makes one think about how sanitation should not be taken too lightly.

  4. This is harrowing. The place we feel most secure and the place where we instill all of our hope and faith is actually turning a cold shoulder to us.