Writing a more believable medical hero/heroine…day 4, handwashing, sore feet, etc

Medical image

Image © Shannon Matteson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This is going to be a hodge-podge.

But things I never see come up in a book with a medical professional…

  • We are always washing our hands
  • We tend to have very sore feet
  • We like pens–we have to write a lot and the pens disappear


From the CDC’s website… because I can’t resist the chance to educate…


  • It is estimated that washing hands with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50% 1.

  • Researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented 2.

  • A large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands. Appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections 3.

  • Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16% 4.

  • The use of an alcohol gel hand sanitizer in the classroom provided an overall reduction in absenteeism due to infection by 19.8% among 16 elementary schools and 6,000 students 5.

Now nurses know this stuff.  And hospitals (and doctor offices) are dirty places.  People get sick there.  So we are always washing our hands.  We carry alcohol sanitizer in our pockets.

Want your nurse or doctor be believable? One way to add to that? Have them washing their hands more.  We do it between each patient.  We do it before and after changing bandages.  We do it all the time.

If it’s in the workplace, there are probably posters up… they are all over the place in the health care setting. Posters on how to wash your hands… it’s not just shoving your hands under the water for fifteen seconds. You don’t have to detail the handwashing, but if she sees the poster on handwashing? That’s just another way to craft a believable medical character, showing things that she’d see every day.

Sore feet & pens… eh, I can’t really give you hard and fast facts on the sore feet thing or pens, but we spend most of the day on our feet, usually on tile floors.  If you’ve ever worked on your feet, you can imagine how tired your feet get.  We like comfortable shoes. And my pens were always disappearing or getting swiped.  By a doctor, another nurse, left in a room. Sometimes, though, I was the pen thief.

Things that you see that don’t really happen:

  • Getting it on in various parts of the hospital.
  • Nurses who still wear all white — or, hey that cap thing.
  • CPR on beds, with bent elbows
  • Giving aspirin for all sorts of shit-other than a heart attack

Sex in the workplace…

Remember how I said hospitals are dirty? I meant it.  I don’t think you could convince me to have sex in a hospital.  There are things like MRSA lurking there.  What is MRSA?  (Link) Nasty, nasty, nasty superbug.  One that is resistant to antibiotics…writing about nurses and doctors getting it on tells me that you don’t know much about nurses and doctors.  Nurses and doctors don’t want to pick that kind of infection down in those places.

The white hat

I haven’t seen a nurse in a white hat since my clinicals and there was only one nurse who wore it.  She said she’d worked too hard to get it and she’d continue to wear it, thank you very much.  I’ve been in a lot of hospitals.

When I was talking about this on twitter, I asked for feedback…none of the nurses, EMTs, doctors I know can think of any place that require the white hat, or for that matter, for the nurses to wear that stereotyped white uniform.

CPR on a bed/bent elbows

On TV, you’ll see a person give CPR and their elbows are all bent, the patient will start talking after… you’ll see CPR taking place on a bed…

CPR has to be on a flat, unyielding surface to be effective.  The person administering CPR has to lock their elbows.  CPR is brutal.  We’re told when we get the training-and we get it often…I take it every two years-you might hear a crack…ribs can break.  You can’t get the force you need to jumpstart the heart if the patient is on a nice, comfy bed or if you have spaghetti arms.  

Sidenote, while I have fortunately never had to administer CPR, when I was flying back from Alaska years ago, a passenger on the flight needed CPR.  We had to touch down briefly to get him off the plane after they’d managed to get his heart started.  A few people were freaking out… they didn’t get him breathing, he’s still dead…  CPR isn’t pretty.  People don’t stop breathing, lose their pulse and then have somebody pound on their chest and come back from that two minutes later and jump up, ready to dance.


Know why they tell you to use aspirin if you suspect you’re having a heart attack, your guy, your mom, neighbor, etc, etc?  It thins the blood, helps prevent clotting. So it can buy time on the way to get emergency help.  That’s not a bad thing…in the event of a heart attack.

But say you’ve got a head injury.  Do you want to give something that can thin the blood and predispose you to bleeding?  So why does a doctor or nurse give aspirin to a person complaining of a headache after a head injury?  What about somebody who has had an ulcer?  A bleeding disorder?  Aspirin isn’t the drug of choice for a lot of reasons, but these are just a couple of them.

Hat tip to Lillie A… she read through my posts and gave me a few more points.

FYI:  None of this, absolutely none of this is to be construed as medical advice.  I’m not a doctor.

2 Replies to “Writing a more believable medical hero/heroine…day 4, handwashing, sore feet, etc”

  1. HAND WASHING! Thank you. And it’s not just them never washing their hands between doing stuff or before they touch each other but the worst is when they don’t wash their hands after the . . . touching. That drives my poor germophobic brain up a high wall in every situation. But when they’re going to touch patients, or food (oh, forget it, before they touch ANYTHING again) it’s absolutely worse. I want to set things on fire when I read that.

    In college, one of my roommates was pre-med. One day we were watching ER, I believe, and she went off about how wrong the CPR was and how they should have been doing it. And now over a decade later any medical show I watch I scoff at how they do CPR.

  2. LOL, great post, Shiloh!!! And yes, there are lovely hand washing posters up at work as well as ‘hand hygiene audits’, lol…I am pen picky so I take my own pens, and try really hard not to leave them out or they disappear. Oh, and CPR? It drives me BATTY when suddenly the patient is ‘flat lining’ – asystole – and they’re shocking the patient…you don’t shock asystole…and no one who’s dead and needs CPR wakes up and starts chatting…

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