Shaking hands is not really such a good idea, especially in a hospital where there are all sorts of nasty bugs floating around, seeking whom they may devour. So generally I do not shake hands unless the patient absolutely insists and I think the cultural slight may be more than he can bear. But one incident highlighted to me the reason you generally don’t want to shake hands so well it could just have well been written all over the hospital in bright neon lights.
I was on call that night so it fell to me to evaluate and treat the patient in casualties which the casualty officer said had a perianal abscess. I approached the bed and introduced myself, but I made a point of positioning myself in such a way that the patient wouldn’t be able to greet me with the traditional handshake. Experience had taught me that this was one case where this cultural idiosyncracy was patricularly ill-advised.
I asked what the problem was. without saying a word his hand moved to his gluteal cleft in one smooth motion. Moments later I found myself staring with morbid fascination as he pulled his butt cheeks apart and started prodding what was clearly an abscess with his finger. It had already broken open slightly so there was a thin stream of pus oozing out and following the natural pull of gravity. The patient’s grubby finger scratched, prodded and poked this poor stream of sepsis, completely disrupting its attempt to soil the bed linen.
I was so disturbed and disgusted that my senses seemed to heighten and the pus took on an almost luminous yellow colour in my mind. This, after a very short while, was visible on most of his hand and under his nails. But in fairness to me I managed to fight my gag reflex right up until he wiped his lip with that same hand. I had theater to organize so I fled. I felt dirty and used.
After the obligatory wait it was finally our time to go to theater. I got there early and as is my habit chatted a bit to the anaesthetist. We then went together to the preoperative holding area to see the patient. the gas monkey, a very gregarious fellow, immediately moved to the side of the patient’s bed and introduced himself, extending his hand as is customary.
As we pushed the bed to theater I kept glancing over my shoulder at my anaesthetic colleague until he asked me what was wrong. I found it surprising that he couldn’t see the bright yellow luminous marks on his hand which seemed so obvious to my mind’s heightened senses.
*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*