Wash your hands!

October 15, 2019

By Geoff Frost, UBC Physiatry Resident

Every hospital is haunted by a handwashing inspector. Like a bad 80’s spy thriller, they lurk around every corner. You are not sure who you can trust. You are not sure where to look. You just know they are there. When you leave a patient room. When you grab a chart. They are watching you. With their clipboard and imperious pen. They just cannot wait to catch you in the act of *gasp* inappropriate hand hygiene. For the high crime of exiting or entering without the appropriate bubble to hand to liquid ratio, you might face a stern talking to with an associated finger wag or side-eye. It’s all rather frightening stuff. 


1_0.pngAs a first-year resident, I found the “soap police” unbearable. My day was long enough. The last thing I needed was to be treated like a five-year-old as I rushed from patient room to patient room. I get it, hand washing is important. I usually do it. Sorry, I forgot that one time. And what do you mean there are four points of hand hygiene intervention in every patient interaction? Do you seriously expect me to wash my hands four times for every patient encounter? Are you nuts?!?!?

Whenever I get told off for doing something wrong, I go through a cycle. Get frustrated, deny the problem, continue to deny the problem, think about it, wait maybe they have a point, look into it, ooOOooo…. Darn it…. I think they might have a point. Ugh… they have a point. Should I apologize for being grouchy? Do they remember I was grouchy or can I just get away with this one? I should probably change my behaviour anyway right? Ahhh…. I definitely have to change my behaviour… and I should apologize. Ugh. 

And handwashing is no exception. I definitely went side-eye to side-eye with the soap police back in the day as a junior resident. I was busy. I didn’t have time for the soap dispenser. Plus, I have bad skin, if I washed my hands as often as they demanded I would end up with painfully dry skin. I just could not comply. man sick.png



But I am writing this as I recover from a truly epic man cold. So earth-shattering that I’ve just gone through my third sheet of paper towel – yes paper towel – this morning. The nose needs industrial-strength support when the man cold hits. And I wonder, why me? Why poor little me? I go to work, I try hard, why must I be afflicted with this horrible virus? Where did I pick up this malady? Did I wash my hands enough at work last week? I guess I might have skipped a moment or two in the hand hygiene protocols. But that wouldn’t matter. It’s an airborne illness. Hand hygiene does not help with that. 

hand washing.png



But the funny thing about that is… Hand hygiene does help reduce the spread of common viral illnesses. I jumped on the old library database to check it out. And lo and behold… there it is. Research that backs up the soap police. Some studies say there is a 10% reduction in common cold transmission, some say as high as 45%. The average is around 25%. But what’s neat is… it works. And works well. A 25% reduction in cold transmission rates? That is astronomical compared to the supplements we see peddled on TV. Gingko balboa? Move over! Bubbles and the smooth scent of cleanliness need to have a word with that common cold virus that slipped past you. 




Sometimes it is shocking how easy and effective health prevention can be. Wash soap for everyone.pngyour hands. Yes, wash your darn hands. It works! As an unbeliever that has recently been converted, I have a zealot’s passion for my new belief. Soap for everyone! Warm water and 95% or more surface area coverage on your hands! We can stop the spread of the cold virus in its tracks! No more man colds for me! No more stuffy noses and scratchy throats for you! People, we can do this! 

Now I just need to go find those hand washing inspectors and apologize…

Geoff Frost.jpegGeoff is a fourth-year Physiatry resident at UBC. He currently serves as the Director of Communications at the Resident Doctors of BC and is the host of the Pulse Podcast. Geoff is a professional engineer in Ontario, and prior to entering medicine, he worked as a biomedical engineering entrepreneur.