Being on Guard

Hospitals are a place of healing, so why do some people end up sicker for having gone?

It’s hard to believe, but hospitals have become a place where you can pick up an infection. While hospitals are generally very safe, and the best place to go when sick or injured, it’s important to know that there is some risk of getting a hospital-acquired infection (HAI) while you’re receiving care and treatment.

The medical community takes HAIs seriously, and is doing everything possible to prevent them. As the patient, it’s important that you take steps to protect yourself, as well.

However, despite everyone’s best efforts, infections can happen. Some of the most common ones include:

Central line infections. A central line is a catheter placed in a large vein. It’s used to give medicines or fluids or to collect blood for medical tests. Unlike a regular IV, central lines stay in place longer — sometimes for weeks or months — which means there are more opportunities for bacteria or other germs to enter the bloodstream and cause an infection.

Urinary tract infections from catheters. Catheters are used to drain urine in many hospital patients.

Surgical-site infections. These can occur near the part of the body where surgery was done.

How does your health care team keep you safe?

  • Handwashing is key, and one of the most important things your caretakers will do to keep you safe.
  • Special soap that kills germs will be used to clean the skin at the surgical site. Also, everyone in a surgical room scrubs their hands and arms up to the elbows with an antiseptic just before surgery.
  • Gloves and other sterile medical equipment is used when inserting central lines and urinary catheters.
  • Central lines and urinary catheters are removed from your body as soon as they’re no longer needed.
  • Antibiotics are given before surgery, when indicated.

What can you do?

  • Ask your provider how you should prepare for surgery. He or she will explain to you what the surgical team will do, and how you can help. For instance, you should not shave the surgical area yourself.
  • Remind everyone who visits you to wash their hands before and after leaving the room. And if you don’t see your providers wash their hands, don’t hesitate to remind them! It’s up to you to be diligent about the expectations of your caretakers.
  • Refrain from allowing your visitors to touch the area around your central line or bandage. Tell the doctor or nurse if the area gets sore or red, or if you feel feverish. The sooner you do this, the better for your health.

The best thing you can do is be your own advocate in a hospital. Speak up any time you have concerns about your care. You’re an important part of your health care team – the doctors, nurses and you need to work together to get you healthy and back in the game of life again.



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Mashi Nyssen