Every now and then, you need to leave your bubble and let reality hit you in the face. After many years of working on education campaigns to increase hand hygiene compliance in both the health care setting and in the community at large, I started to believe that everyone was aware of the hazards of poor hand hygiene compliance and was growing tired of being constantly reminded of how and when to wash and sanitize their hands. They were growing indifferent to the hand washing signs posted in most washrooms, by the presence of hand sanitizer dispensers in most buildings entranceways, and seeing hand sanitizer bottles dangle for gym bags and purses .
Then it happened. The incident. It’s the wakeup call that reminded me that there is still much work to be done.
I was having breakfast at a well-known restaurant that caters specifically to the breakfast crowd. I needed to use the restroom. A mom walks in with her young son. He is about 3 years old and still is working on mastering toilet training. There is a big celebration once he successfully completed the task and big cheers for using the potty for #2. Pants are zipped and both Mom and son leave the restroom – without washing their hands. They return to their table and continue their breakfast with the rest of their family members and all cheer the toilet training success.
It happened right in front of me. I had no time to comment, to gently coax or to remind. They left the restroom before I could do anything. I am a hand hygiene educator and could not perform my job. Somehow this Mom forgot the basics or did not understand the importance that the ‘rules of hand hygiene’ need to be followed each and every time. She forgot that part of potty training is teaching this important rule. Wash hands every time. No exceptions. Ever! This act of ‘forgetting’ is how germs are spread within a family, an establishment, a community.
This incident reminded me that there is still a lot of educating that needs to be done. People need to better understand the consequences of not practicing good hand hygiene in all aspects of their daily lives. It made me realize that we need to continue to develop new tools and innovative approaches to teaching the importance of hand hygiene. We need to work on creative ways to ensure that the message is received and understood by a higher percentage of the population. Why? Because it matters. Good hand hygiene, when practiced BY EVERYONE in the community, prevents illness. Illness affects our quality of life. Treating illness is a financial burden. But most of all, because we live in a country where access to soap and water is readily available and there is no reason why we can’t all do it – correctly – and every time. We can prevent people from getting sick by having EVERYONE wash and/or sanitize their hands correctly, more often. When fewer people get sick, our health care system is less overburdened. When fewer people are sick, companies need to be less concerned with loss productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism. The case for better hand hygiene can be argued and won both on improved quality of life and reduced costs. There are no negatives to getting everyone to practice better hand hygiene.
So go out there and be a role model. Wash your hands correctly and often. Practice good hand hygiene at work, at home and at play. Wash your hands before you have lunch with your friends. Use hand sanitizer at your desk, when entering a building, before entering an elevator, after using the gas pump, after changing that diaper, after using the restroom, after using a piece of gym equipment, before and after preparing food. Teach your kids how and when to wash their hands and remind them often. Because you CAN and it DOES make a difference.