I entered a hospital recently for a minor procedure. Many years had passed since I’d last been a patient. Hospitals, I knew, had been subject to a fair amount of criticism of late, targeted because they were the largest consumers by far of our health care dollars; but also because they had become, according to accounts, dangerous places. They have proven to be frightfully fertile environments for all manner of dangerous micro-organisms. It was not uncommon for people to emerge sicker than when they’d entered. Bedsores and blood clots have become a cause for concern because patients were confined to beds for extended periods, and mix-ups were occurring with troubling regularity. Patients were receiving the wrong medications and surgeons on occasion were operating on healthy limbs and organs. And far too many suffered accidents, sustaining injuries while hospitalized, usually owing to falls.
All this became perfectly obvious to me during my brief two-day stay. This facility went to remarkable lengths to address all these issues. The battle against germs (organized according to a notice on the wall by the Environment Services Department) was unrelenting. Everywhere in the hospital were free-standing dispensers supplying antiseptic foam for the hands. Cleaning personnel abounded, operating at all hours of the day and night, mopping floors, scrubbing bathrooms, emptying trash receptacles and wiping, washing and spraying down beds whose occupants had just been discharged. Nearly every employee was repeatedly putting on and then removing gloves, surely a tiresome task tempered only by the fact that this ritual seems to have become virtually automatic. Ointment to ward off germs was swabbed again and again into the noses of patients; and IV bags, attached to patients and containing antibiotics, were kept dripping.
Falls are clearly an index of hospital failure, so it went all out to minimize that danger. Anyone in a “weakened” condition had to be accompanied by a staff member when he or she needed to get somewhere. Every patient was obliged to wear treaded socks (supplied by the hospital) when leaving their beds and walking about. Rail barriers were in place along every bed to prevent falls. When one of mine remained down an aide rushed over to lift it up. Otherwise, she confided to me, “I’d get in trouble”. In bed at night automatic compression pads, which alternately inflated and deflated, were placed on both my legs to reduce the likelihood of blood clots.
And then there was the total obsession with personal identification to prevent mix-ups. This made sense since, with hospitals operating around the clock, and with multiple shift changes, I encountered a seemingly endless procession of unfamiliar medical staff. And so again and again I was asked to give my name and date of birth. Each time I supplied the correct answer, or at least one that confirmed the name listed on my wrist bracelet.
I left the hospital in good shape, thankful that it had made such an impressive effort to ensure my well-being.