We people who work in healthcare often do our jobs without really thinking of personal risk. I am no different. As I typed that last statement, I got a vision of me helping to load a patient into a chopper while bagging with one hand and trying to hold the stretcher up with another. No small feat considering the patient weighed over 500 lbs, and I seriously am lucky that I didn't sustain a more serious back injury other than a puilled muscle. Or I can tell you of walking into the rooms of countless tuberculosis patients, getting parts of my pinched into bed rails, my foot run over by an ICU bed during a patient transport. Skinned and scraped knees from doing CPR in a parking lot. I even got H1N1 while pregnant with Zach. It happens. I take care of some pretty sick people. What is the realest threat? Bloodborne pathogens. HIV, Hepatitis, and more. I had managed to escape. I have spent years of my life poking needles into people's arteries and yet to have a needlestick.
Until this past Friday night.
I was taking care of a patient covered in tattoos and piercings, which are both risk factors. He was unresponsive and I was told he was unable to move his left side. Yet when I popped the needle into his left radial artery, he jerked so quickly that the needle promptly left his artery and went straight into my left middle finger. The wheels of handling an employee exposure were set into motion immediately as the house supervisor was present when it happened, when I blurted out "Oh SHIT!" and pulled my hand away with my blood already pooling up underneath the latex glove. Then another nurse walks into to alert staff that according to family, they guy also has a history of illicit drug use.
Of course I had paperwork to complete and had my labs drawn. They did a rapid HIV screen on the patient. It was a Friday night, so I was told that they would have to page an on-call employee health person, but I would have my results by the end of my shift at 7 AM. Nope.
Through a long chain of events, I finally got an answer 36 hours later. But this was after my making many phone calls, including to my family doctor. I didn't know what to do. You see, hepatitis and HIV are both passed directly through breastmilk. I couldn't feed Zach until I had an answer. They tried to tell me that the risk of me getting anything was low, and while that is true, a chance of one in a million is still too high for me when it comes to my precious baby.
Then there is the part that had me, for a day and a half, facing the scariest part of my job. What did I come into contact with? What if I caught something? What of my family? It was absolutely, positively nerve-wracking. And every possible scenario raced through my brain in the time it took me to find out that the man was negative for everything. Now all I have to do is make sure that there wasn't anything latent in my blood. And I will have to be tested several times over the next year to make sure I stay negative for everything. But for the first time in my career, I had to stop and think about what it is I truly do on a daily basis. And it scared me to death.