IF IT’S WET AND STICKY…
No doubt that you have heard that phrase multiple times in your career…even if you are just starting out. If It’s Wet and Sticky and Not Yours, Don’t Touch It!
Multiple times in the last several years, the use of PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, has been touted as an absolute must for all medical clinicians from first responders up to doctors and surgeons. During the fairly recent, and still ongoing with continuing variants, COVID crisis, the list of PPE includes the minimum of gloves, N95 masks, and protective eyewear (goggles).
As first responders, ambulance crews don’t always have the complete story to their call; often they’re the ones to attempt a diagnosis. By the time the patient reaches the hospital, the patient’s (possible/suspected) condition has been called ahead and the hospital team is geared up and ready to treat. So what happens if the EMS crew has approached the patient and begins treatment without the proper PPE? Everyone on that crew may become a carrier of whatever germs or viruses the patient has – they can carry the infection to their own crew, to the next patient, and even to their own families.
In recent times, COVID seems to be at the forefront of possible dangers, and with each new variant (the latest one being Vibrio Vulnificus), it will possibly remain there for a long time. However, there are several other infectious and/or communicable diseases that EMS has encountered through the years: influenza, the common cold, croup, and direct contact diseases such as Conjunctivitis, Creutzfeldt-Jacob, Ebola, Fifth disease, Impetigo, Head lice, Polio, and Roseola.
Even if a crew is responding to a trauma call, such as an MVA, and not a medical call, there is no true way to know what will be encountered. Double gloving at a bloody scene is recommended; when applicable the outer blood-stained glove can be removed without exposure to the EMT’s skin, and ideally, another clean layer of gloves can be added. Eye protection, goggles instead of simple eyeglasses, is wise to prevent any body fluids from contaminating the eyes. Face shields, worn with goggles, can protect the responder from any splashes. Tyvek or other full-body overall, or a splash-resistant apron may help to keep the responder's uniform clean and free of contaminants. All responders should be wearing hard and closed shoes. Another wise precaution to take would be to double-sheet the gurney to minimize staining and fluids.
And of course between calls, thoroughly clean your rig. Your ambulance is your patient treatment center. It is a mobile unit that travels quickly along the roads. Unsecured and soiled tools can roll along counters. Bloody spots can find places to hide. Needles can become projectiles on a curve. The area is cramped for a crew to work together.
You are not being a wimp to take precautions. Remember, you are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting future patients as well as your own loved ones by minimizing possible exposures.