Modern-day doctors continue to kill patients with barbaric bedside practices

Modern-day doctors continue to kill patients with barbaric bedside practices

When I was in medical school, I was taught the science of hygiene (i.e. the technique of preventing the spreading of disease from one patient to another). Objects such as towels, clothing, and dishes; medical equipment such as stethoscopes; and especially hands were (and still are) the main sources of the spreading of diseases from one patient to another. This has been common knowledge for well over 100 years.

Back in the 1800s, before the germ theory of disease was well known, a doctor in Vienna named Ignaz Semmelweis suggested that doctors could be spreading disease from patient to patient. He knew that pregnant women were dying by the thousands when they went to the hospital to give birth. The carnage was so horrific–and so widespread–that many women refused to go to the hospital for delivery. These women didn’t know anything about medicine, but they did know that more women died during childbirth in the hospital than at home–or even on the street for that matter. Birth at home was safe and uneventful in most cases–more so if the attendant was a midwife and not a doctor. The patients saw doctors as angels of death–and they were right.

Semmelweis theorized that the doctors were to blame for the high mortality rate. Back then, it was common for doctors (including the learned professors) to go from an autopsy dissection to the delivery room without changing their clothing or washing their hands. It’s no wonder patients were dying by the thousands.

Dr. Semmelweis went to great lengths to prove that the doctors were to blame for the skyrocketing death rates–that they were killing their patients through cross infection. No one had heard the term bacteriology back then, but Semmelweis knew there were “humors” of some sort that the doctors were carrying from dead patients to live, healthy ones via their blood- and pus-stained formal black frocks and their filthy hands.

He set up a separate delivery suite and required the doctors to wear fresh, clean clothes and to wash their hands before entering. Because of these simple steps, the death from childbirth plummeted to less than 1 percent. Despite the good results, such precautionary practices were deemed insulting by the medical hierarchy, full of its typical pride and ignorance. How dare he suggest that they were dirty and–God forbid– WRONG! They were threatened by him, so it’s not surprising that they plotted to destroy him.

The Church of Medical Infallibility pummeled him unmercifully. He was driven insane and was committed to a mental hospital (that proved their case, didn’t it?), and he died at the age of 47.

OK, by now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you. After all, the germ theory of disease is now widely accepted, and the rules of sterility are practiced in surgical suites and delivery wards of all hospitals.

But here’s the catch: In other areas of the hospital, the doctors of today are little better at practicing sterilization than they were 150 years ago. True, they’re scrupulous in using sterilization techniques in the surgery room, but anywhere else in the hospital–even in situations demanding strict isolation, such as a raging strep infection or an AIDS patient with TB, hepatitis B, or both–they seem to forget everything they were taught.

Hard to believe? You bet. But here’s a story straight from the trenches that illustrates my point perfectly. I was talking with a close friend in California about the infectious disease problem in the U.S., and she told me the story of her daughter, a nurse in training. She said, “Madelyn says she can see why the doctors are responsible for spreading these infections. She said they won’t gown up when they come in to see the patients, their ties fall on the babies when they are examining them, and they insist on using their own stethoscopes on the children (instead of the one designated for each child)–and then they’re off to the next patient.”

Believe it or not, as many as 1.4 million people are infected at any given moment by doctors and nurses who don’t wash their hands between patients. Don’t be fooled into thinking this only happens in “undeveloped” countries–the statistics show it happens to 5 to 10 percent of patients in developed countries an that up to 10 percent of those who are infected die.

But doctors today are every bit as stubborn and proud as they were in the 1800s, so getting them to wash with soap and water between every single patient is like getting a teenager to make his bed or clean his room–in other words, it’s virtually impossible. There might be an alternative, though, that’s efficient for the medical staff and safe for the patient.

The World Health Organization has suggested a solution to this unfortunate problem: Instead of using soap and water, doctors should use alcohol-based wipes as a quick and easy way to stop the spread of bacteria from patient to patient. Sounds like a good idea to me. In fact, why not just use Huggies Wipes? The doctors could have a pack attached to their belts so they wouldn’t even have to miss a beat in their already-too-hasty rounds. In fact, why not keep a pack by every bed and crib throughout the hospital? I guarantee you, if everyone who walked into the room wiped his hands with the wipes, that “5 to 10 percent” infection rate statistic would drop overnight.

(Just to be clear: I don’t own any stock in Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturers of Huggies Wipes, or in Disney, which has endorsed the product.)