They were supposed to save his life not take it

We know that hospital-acquired infections in Canada kill 8,000 to 12,000 people every year and may well be the 4th leading cause of death in the country. Yet we hear very little about that and even less about how those deaths occur.

However, the compelling story of George Gould (below), who caught an untreatable superbug infection at the Vancouver General Hospital is an exception. His wife went public because of his prolonged suffering that involved some 22 hospitalizations over 18 months. And she went public because, in her words, the hospital was “supposed to save his life not take it.”

We understand her anger. But as the high number of infection-related deaths suggest, the problem doesn’t lie with any one hospital; rather, it’s a systemic issue – and so we all have to be on guard.

Brad Spellberg, MD, Chief Medical Officer at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center, tells us why hospitals are such dangerous places:

I do think that people need to understand that the hospital is an inherently dangerous place and it’s not because hospitals are dirty or doctors are lazy or anything like that. Think about it this way. You’re taking the sickest people in society, crowding them into one building, tearing new holes in their bodies that they didn’t use to have by placing plastic catheters in their bloodstream, their bladder, putting tubes into their lungs that can breathe for them, and we’re using very large quantities of antibiotics to treat infections. So that’s a perfect breeding ground to generate antibiotic resistant bacteria.

 

Armed with this knowledge, is there anything we can do to protect ourselves? Andrew Simor, MD, an infectious disesae specialist with the Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, says we need to be more assertive:

I think patients need to advocate for themselves to ensure that there are proper infection prevention control standards in place. That hand hygiene is being done consistently as it should be. And that other barrier precautions [such as] use of gowns and gloves environmental cleaning is being done as it should be. I think we all need to advocate for ourselves and for our patients to ensure that this is happening.

 

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