Health Care: A Risky Business

by Lorien E. Menhennett

A classic scabies rash.

A classic scabies rash.

There are, clearly, risks associated with becoming any health care practitioner, including a physician. One potential risk that comes to mind is an accidental needle stick. This can transmit bloodborne pathogens such as HIV or hepatitis. Obviously not good. Thankfully, I have never experienced that. However, this weekend I did experience the dangers of the health care profession firsthand.

I likely have scabies.

My mom is a hospice nurse, and one of her patients was recently diagnosed with this skin condition, which causes extreme itching and skin lesions. I have been itchy the last couple of days but attributed it to the cold Chicago winters and dry skin. But this morning, I was literally scratching head to toe – not normal. My mom put two and two together (and she has a couple of the classic scabies lesions on her arm) so we both went to urgent care. The physician there said she couldn’t make a definitive diagnosis, but she said we needed to be treated regardless. This involves literally putting a cream on your entire body, leaving it for 8 to 14 hours, and then washing it off. Like with a lice infestation, you also have to wash all your sheets, clothing, etc. A big hassle.

An image of the mite the burrows into your skin (and lays eggs there), causing scabies.

An image of the mite the burrows into your skin (and lays eggs there), causing scabies.

My mom was at first so embarrassed and upset. But I just laughed. What else could we do? It happened, there was nothing to do about it now. It was nobody’s fault. It’s an adventure, a learning experience. And I will definitely now know the signs of scabies should I ever treat someone with it!

When you go into health care, you have to be prepared for such risks. It’s easy to say you are. But less easy to deal with the consequences if it actually happens. I’m very glad this wasn’t a serious issue, and it’s one that is relatively easy to treat. At the same time, my reaction to it makes me aware that I seem prepared for health care-associated risks, not daunted by them. That is a good sign, I think.

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