Alan starts each shift with a ritual of cleaning. I should be clear that I don’t use the word ritual as a literary device. Alan’s morning ambulance cleaning is as systematic and well thought out as any religious ceremony. Over the course of a few months of working together I learned the routine well.
Checking through my medical kit I’d observe him start at the back doors of the rig, spraying and wiping the outside door handles and then opening the doors and wiping the insides. Then he would climb inside wiping handles, pram rails and anything people might habitually grab for support. The overhead rails always got an extra wiping. From the captain’s chair I’d make smart ass remarks about Alan’s “germaphobe” behavior.
It truth, we could all stand to be a lot more like Alan. It’s a common and potentially deadly truth of EMS work. We don’t clean our stuff as often as we should. The kicker is that our lack of spraying and scrubbing is rarely harmful to us. Our immuno-suppressed patient’s are much more likely to suffer the consequences of our poor ambulance hygiene than ourselves. That makes the behavior harder to change.
Need proof? In 2007, researchers swabbed the nasal passages of Indian EMS workers and found MRSA bacteria in 5% of the samples. That’s about five times higher than the general population. When a research group tested the interiors of 21 urban ambulances in 2007 they found MRSA positive samples in nearly half of the vehicles tested. In 2009 a research group decided to focus only on the stethoscopes worn by EMS personnel. 32% of the 50 stethoscopes swabbed tested positive for MRSA. Many of the providers had no idea when the last time was that the device had been cleaned.
I don’t mean any of this as a beat down. Part of doing our jobs is striving to be better tomorrow. I’m as guilty as the next germ ridden EMS worker. Some stuff I do pretty well. (Like hand washing.) Some stuff I do poorly. (Like wiping down the interior of my medic unit.) Here’s a chance to do something better. Let’s do it.