October is fully underway, which means that pumpkin spice season is here but more importantly, flu season is just around the corner! I always thought I had a great immune system because I rarely got sick but I learned my lesson very well on the second to last day of my pediatrics rotation. I thought I was going to come out of it unscathed but I came down with one of the worst illnesses I’ve experienced in the last ten years. What happened? Well, children have lots of germs and if you become super lax on your hand washing, that’s probably how you end up with several tissues shoved in your nostrils for days. Sometimes, I forget that we are no longer dealing with standardized patients and we have to protect our patients as well as our own health. So, how do you combat the flu season when your career is based around helping those who are sick?
- Wash your hands
- Although common sense, hand washing is always your number one protection against bacteria on your rotations. Using hand sanitizer before examining is very important to protect your patients from other patients. Also, it is very important to use hand sanitizer after every patient. After a while, you may notice a thick layer of hand sanitizer coating your hands so my tip is to wash your hands as often as you can.
- During winter, your hands may become dry from washing but many hospitals have healing or antiseptic hand lotion. Apply to help protect yourself from cracks in your skin.
- Real life example: I consistently washed my hands after every pediatric patient instead of using hand sanitizer. Towards the end of my rotation, I ended up either forgetting to wash my hands directly after seeing a patient or sparingly used hand sanitizer. I soon learned my lesson when I ended up very sick!
- Use Precautions
- If you are just beginning clinicals in the hospital, you may have noticed specific signs on doors outside of patient rooms. Some may say you need to wear “precautions,” stating that you need a gown and/or mask to enter. This can be for multiple reasons such as C. diff, pneumonia, etc. If you are unsure what to do, a nurse is your best friend because they know the patient well. Protect yourself and protect your patient.
- Real life example: one of my classmates was on an infectious disease rotation and her preceptor was very lax on precautions (masks, gowns) when entering ICU patient rooms. She experienced pneumonia from this rotation and passed on the tip to listen to precautions!
- Take Care of Yourself
- Last but not least, take care of yourself. Get adequate sleep, eat well, and exercise. I always try to remind myself that being healthy is the best thing I could do for the patients I get to see. There is something called the “Let Down Effect” coined by Marc Schoen, a psychologist who studied why people became sick after a stressful event. In summary, your body releases chemicals during stressful events and when you get a chance to relax, you’re more susceptible to getting sick.
Although the tips above are common sense, sometimes the most common tips are the ones that will combat illness. Here’s to hoping that you don’t get sick this flu season!