Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Chemo Patient's Biggest Fear - Germs

Steffie and I had a talk last night about hand washing and such. You see, I got an e-mail from a friend that said there have been outbreaks of norovirus in our county at various events and nursing homes. This just freaked me out. We all came down with norovirus after a plane flight a few years ago. Miss Cast Iron Stomach (ME) couldn't even withstand the onslaught.

Back to Steffie. She is concerned because her very closest friends aren't as careful as she is with hand washing and such. So I explained to her last night that she needs to tell them why she washes her hands to the count of 20, under the nails too. And that her Mom cannot be exposed to germs willy nilly because of my situation.

So we got into blood counts, platelets, anemia, and all the assorted things that get "counted" once a week with me. And where we pick up germs. Grocery carts, door knobs, bathroom door handles, desks - and that a huge number of bacteria and viruses can live for days on surfaces. Then she wanted to know why this was so dangerous for me.

I told her it's for 3 reasons:

1) My immunity is low. Both good and bad cells are being killed with chemo and my body isn't strong enough to fight off even the normal bacteria. Case in point: chemo patients must defrost foods in the fridge over time or in the microwave instead of on the counter because foodborne bacteria can grow quickly at room temps. She thought this was gross.

2) The eyes and nose are the perfect hosts for bacteria, both normal and adverse. We touch our eyes and noses alot each day. When on chemo, these areas tend to be more prone to dryness and cracking, making a perfect little avenue for bacteria and viruses. By the way, everyone's eyes and noses are good hosts.

3) Chemo patients are on a mission to complete chemo. Nothing should impede this schedule. It's a test of our will, a test of endurance and opportunistic illnesses really screw this up. It really isn't fair for anyone to expose us to germs and viruses. It's an extremely dangerous situation that can land us in the hospital with the blink of an eye. This is a very real and serious threat, and frankly, I don't go to church because of the risk of being exposed to illnesses. It isn't paranoia - it's just too dangerous.

So she had a mission today - to talk to her friends about cleaning their hands better, being careful around her because of her Mom, and taking better care of their own hands so they don't get sick. She's even considering how she stuffs food in her own mouth with her hands. She's so funny. All of these questions are very timely because a few of her friends did science experiments for the science fair where the actaully examined the effectiveness of soap, antibacterial soap, and hand sanitizer under a microscope. The results were very gross.

Jackie is doing very well washing her hands too. I bought her a special soap container and she happily sings the ABC song in it's entirety every time she washes her hands. Down to the "Next time won't you sing with me!" Very loud and offkey :) She even does it at school, after I requested that her teachers supervise her hand washing.

So there it is. Germs and chemo - a nasty mix.


Michelle said...

Hello Love. Keep some wipes with you as well. Did you know that your cell phone has more germs than a toilet seat? This also goes for your LAN line phone. Make sure it's wiped off when others use it.

2 more weeks to go until we're all together. Until then, keep up with the humor- you always make me laugh.

Your favourite sister-in-law :-)

Sue in Italia/In the Land Of Cancer said...

Hi Sharon

When I was working, I was on a science education task team (not my main job but something I did on the side) One of our demos in the schools was on germs. We covered the kids thoroughly with this uv dye and told them to wash their hands. Under the uv light, you could see all the parts they missed.
And my husband has a cold. I banished him at night at least, to another room. Can't do a cold with chemo.
My chemo is in 2 week cycles. 4XAC, 4Xtaxol. I think you are doing the same. Did you usually feel better in the 2nd week?
My scalp does burn. So far no hair loss but it is only day 10.