Hospitals Having a (Mad) Cow in Response

By Jason Menard

The response by University Hospital to the alleged discovery that a man has presented with the human version of Mad Cow disease is almost more terrifying than the presence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the city of London itself.

Let’s see. Because brain tissue samples from the patient, who underwent brain surgery in the north-end hospital on Nov. 30, 2006, tested positive for CJD the hospital has cancelled all surgeries, turned ambulances away at the door, and put the kibosh on most medical procedures — all this because certain instruments may have been contaminated by the disease.

In total, hospital officials estimate that upwards of 1,500 people could have been exposed to the disease. Again, I stress could, because hospital officials state they are confident that they have contained the situation. At this time, they say they’re not even sure if any of the instruments are contaminated. They’re just playing it safe.

But obviously not safe enough. To be honest, the fact that this hospital has essentially been shut down by the presence of this disease makes me more frightened for the standards of quality control that exist in this environment.

When it comes to hospital equipment, the one thing that shouldn’t be scrimped on is sterilization. Unfortunately, Keystone Kop capers like this make me wonder if I should question whether that scalpel about to enter my body has received little more than a rinse and shake under running hot water. Or maybe they dipped it into that unidentifiable blue stuff that barbers use to sterilize their scissors.

Sure, I’m being flippant, but I only am because I’d hate to think that this is an issue to take seriously. Unfortunately, it is.

A few years back my father was at this very same hospital for a quadruple bypass. But if that wasn’t stressful enough, at the time we also had to be concerned about the presence of Norwalk Virus in the area. In Montreal we were regaled with stories of deadly bacteria entering the bodies of surgery patients through antiquated ventilation systems. It almost makes you wonder whether you’re safer taking your chances at home.

I’m a big believer in second chances. I’m also of the mind that everyone should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. That is, everyone except doctors and medical staff. Maybe that’s unfair of me. But the simple fact of the matter is that when I go into a hospital environment, chances are I’m entrusting my life to these people’s hands. I’d like to think that they’re capable.

A mistake made in a hospital can often result in dramatic consequences – for the patient. It’s not like a kid missing a spelling error on a test. Even someone who makes a poor business decision – no matter how dramatic or costly it may be — is only dealing with a bottom line. With the medical community, the bottom line they’re affecting is one that can rapidly go flat when something goes wrong.

Is it unfair to expect perfection from our medical staff? Is it wrong for me to expect that my hospitals should be a place of respite from the illnesses in the outside world, instead of being a place for me to catch the latest Superbug?

The fact that University Hospital is taking such drastic measures should assure the public that they are taking this threat – no matter how remote it may be – seriously. They are doing all they can to contain the disease.

But what I would have rather heard is simply this: nothing. I would rather have read an announcement from the hospital saying that a patient in the ward presented with CJD, but due to the rigid sanitation and care standards enacted by the hospital, any potential contamination was eliminated through the standard procedures.

I’m not naïve enough to think that bad things don’t exist in hospitals. There are some nasty diseases and bugs flying around there. But if I know that, my hope is that hospitals are aware of that fact and do everything they can to eliminate any threat that’s out there. Otherwise the ramifications can be huge.

After all, our doctors, nurses, and other medical staff aren’t restricted to the hospital. They don’t live their lives in hermetically sealed facilities only to serve us. They put in shifts, they go out with their families – and they have the potential to spread whatever nefarious illness that they’ve encountered during their normal rounds with the society at large.

There are two solutions: one, which really isn’t a solution, is quarantine; the other is obsessive care with a compulsive attention to detail. If it takes boiling each instrument in lava after each procedure, then that’s what it takes. No half-assed attempts, no cutting corners, and no mistakes.

It’s a lot to ask. But that kind of attention to detail would mean that instead of a health scare we’d be facing a health triumph. And we’d all feel a little bit better about going to the hospital.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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