MRSA: Victimization and Shooting the Messenger

Yesterday’s post, where I told the stories of three (+2) victims of MRSA infections, raised ire, blame and excuses from commentators and emailers alike.

Never mind that they were stories of five people who are infected with MRSA, one of whom has basically been left to die. Never mind that the frustration levels of these patients while trying to get treatment are over the top. Never mind that these people are victims of dirty medicine — the kind where guidelines and controls exist, but are ignored in too many places. The negative comments were aimed at me — it’s easier, after all, to shoot the messenger.

From being accused of not knowing what I was talking about, to “clarifying” the two types of MRSA (which I am fully aware of, and have written about), to suggesting that these people should have known to use hygiene to begin with, to telling me I need to get my facts straight, to telling me I should be asking medical professionals about these things (which, by the way, I do several times each week) — to saying that I must be wrong because one nurse practitioner and one hospital administrator claim no one in THEIR hospitals are treated that way — and everyone of these commentators has completely missed the point.

(Oh yes, let me also acknowledge the six people I heard from who wanted to correct my spelling. In fact, I misspelled the word “staph” and corrected it within about 20 minutes of posting, but too late for it to be picked up by Fox News and Reuters. One gentleman made sure I knew I was an uneducated moron, too.)

Here’s the scoop folks — and this has what has raised MY ire:

Everyone of you who tried to put the blame for these stories on the victim’s shoulders (or mine!) are doing nothing but re-victimizing these people. As if it is THEIR fault for being victims to begin with.

For the woman who has spent almost a year in the hospital because the infection she acquired after surgery has left her on life support …. this was reported to me by one of my patient safety colleagues who visited the woman and her husband in the hospital, then observed how she was treated and reported it to the state health department. This woman was a victim of a dirty hospital that caused her to get an infection after surgery, and they have fallen down on their job of taking care of her. Don’t tell me to get my facts straight. Those are the facts. This is one way in which 100,000 people die from hospital-acquired infections each year.

For Maxine, the woman who had surgery last fall, acquired a staph infection, then went home from the surgery with the infection…. to suggest that she should have used better hygiene and then her family wouldn’t have contracted it is just unforgivable. That is not the point! Her son and husband were trying to take care of her. They didn’t understand about MRSA — they only knew their loved one had had surgery and needed caregiving. To suggest that somehow acquiring MRSA is their fault is just revictimizing these victims. Oh — and by the way — even her insurance company has told her she will have to find help out of state because healthcare is so backwards where she is.

As far as Jeff acquiring MRSA in the gym — once again — suggesting that his treatment by the unwashed, non-gloved doctor who laughed at him is somehow his fault for not using good hygiene to begin with? You aren’t serious! First of all — you are right — Jeff should probably have been more careful at the gym, although, he was infected before the recent rash (no pun intended) of news reports, so at that point he was simply uninformed. However — the important part here is that he asked the ER doctor to wash his hands and put on gloves — two things the doctor should have been doing anyway. Basic infection control. Yet — somehow this becomes Jeff’s fault because he didn’t use good hygiene at the gym? You might also be interested to see the several dozen emails I have saved over the past year from people who tell me a provider laughed at them. Simply unforgivable.

There is no room for this “blame the victim and shoot the messenger” mentality. Absolutely, those of you who work in healthcare and work to be sure infections are kept at bay in your own facilities — I’ll give you kudos. But denying that problems exist in other facilities is simply a way to cover up for your dirty colleagues.

In fact — why don’t we place the blame for infection spreading and inappropriate behaviors by those dirty healthcare workers on YOUR shoulders? It’s YOUR fault these infections are spreading because you aren’t holding your healthcare provider peers responsible for doing their jobs to control the infections.

How does that feel?

Wrong?

Bingo. Point made.

Patients — hear what I have to say: Do not assume that just because you go to a hospital to get treated for something that you will come out in better shape than when you went in. Absolutely — take the advice of these people who “know” — make sure everyone who gets near you has followed infection control procedures (as Perrin says — “hygiene, hygiene, hygiene”). Never be afraid to ask someone to wash his hands, use hand sanitizer, and wear gloves. (Those are ANDs, not ORs.) You can find a master list of procedures here.

Remember that there is a good chance that the patient those healthcare workers touched just before you, or the patient who stayed in the same bed as you, or the person who touched the TV remote or telephone just before you, or even the doctor’s tie, may have had an infection that’s just waiting to take over YOUR body. Protect yourself.

And if possible — protect yourself from these holier-than-though blamers who would just as soon revictimize the victims of infections than recognize that they are in a position to influence their peers to make the changes that need to be made.

(And for those of you who track these things — yes — I’ve checked my spelling.)

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Find a follow up to this post: MRSA: Patient Ignored, Left to Die — Redux

Posted in: Doctor Communication, Health /Medical Consumerism, Health Insurance, Healthcare Quality, Hospitals, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Patient Tools, Self Help, Surgery

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4 Comments

  1. Pat Stanis February 9, 2008

    Dear Ms. Torrey,

    The 20 month old grandson of a friend of mine was tested for and (unofficially) diagnosed with MRSA today. The family is no being told that they must wait until Monday for the Dx to be “official” and for the baby to be admitted to the hospital for antibiotics by IV. Do you have any suggestions as to how the family might expedite this process so that the child is taken into the hospital and Tx begun immediately?
    Thank you in advance for your response.
    Pat Stanis

  2. Geraldine April 1, 2008

    Last November I complained vigorously about an ER doctor touching a reddened wound without washing his hands or using gloves. The doctor dismissed my concerns about MRSA. So, my complaints went all the way to hospital administrators, the state, and accrediting organizations. No responses. In January, I was draped, painted with antiseptic, and cautioned by the tech not to touch the sterile area. The doctor entered, stood in front of a sink, and started to pull on gloves (after rummaging thru a box of them) and WOULD NOT WASH HIS HANDS WHEN ASKED TO. Again, I complained to the hospital administration, provided RID and CDC materials, and was assured by the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer that the doctor has been educated. Key words here: “doctor” and “educated”. Two surgeries in our family in March have convinced me that we have an enormous job to do in educating doctors, nurses, and just about all hospital health care workers to wash their hands. I put signs above their beds, politely asked, provided pump alcohol dispensers, and, in one instance, physically blocked a surgical resident from touching my husband’s incision with uncleaned hands. Overwhelming.

  3. Kathy November 21, 2008

    My 84 year old father is a victim of hospital acquired MRSA pneumonia. It is a miracle he has lived for the past 4 weeks with this infection. His prognosis is dire. He has lost 30 lbs, unable to eat, deaf from Vancomycin, isolated in a nursing home that didn’t want to take him becasue of his MRSA, unable to move himself in bed let alone get out of bed, and now starting to get bedsores. He was in the hospital for over 2 weeks and now has been in the nursing home for a little over 3 weeks. I doubt he will ever leave the nursing home, even though that is his greatest desire.
    I am an RN. He was a strapping 6 foot 200lb man just a few months ago. He fell at home on Sept 26 and was hospitalized for a fractured fibula and subsequent rehabilitation. He contracted MRSA during that stay. He was discharged home on OCT 7 and readmitted on Oct 9 with fever, pneumonia and a question of a heart attack. He wasn’t diagnosed with MRSA until all of my family were good and exposed to it…about 5 days into the admission..first in his urine and then in his sputum. All of my family had been visiting and given wrong instructions on precautions because everybody there did their own thing with precautions…from none at all to full gown, mask and gloves.
    My father did have a heart attack and nearly died one day after he was readmitted. Then all the cultures came back and he had HA MRSA. They treated him until they deemed him ‘well enough’ to be discharged to a nursing home. It seems that now he will always be ‘colonized’ in his lungs for MRSA and he is indeed being left to die. The nursing home claims they can’t force him to eat, get out of bed or anything else. It is his right to refuse.
    At this point, I dont’ believe there is much that can help my father recover. But, let me be very clear….MRSA IS THE REASON HE IS DYING. He had other health problems that were under control and just 5 weeks ago, he was at home moving about independently with a walker.
    He is a VICTIM of dirty hospital care. And as an RN, I will channel my anger to get this recognized and make hospitals accountable for these infections.

  4. Simple Meditation November 22, 2008

    Excellent content and style…keep up the good work!