The Hand-Washing Police

I’ll admit – I’m fastidious about washing my hands.  I’m a nurse and I’m constantly using the foam or gel dispensers on hospital walls, washing my hands before and after entering a patient’s room, in-between touching patients if they share a room, cleaning up if I sneeze… you get the idea.

So it really bugged me when one of the chaplains in orientation on Monday accused me of not washing my hands after going to the bathroom.  In front of a group of about 15+ people.  Um, what?

I had been ahead of her to use the bathroom, and the toilet in there didn’t have the best water pressure.  So I flushed, washed my hands, then noticed that the toilet needed to be flushed again.  I pushed the lever with my shoe, checked to make sure it flushed, then walked out the door.  There’s the female chaplain, standing rightoutside.  I started to walk out, but she wouldn’t budge.

“You forgot to wash your hands” she said.

I stared at her, then explained that no, I had in fact washed my hands.  She then proceeded to loudly proclaim that there was no way that I could’ve washed my hands appropriately, because she had just heard the toilet flush before I opened the door, and you need to wash your hands for a minimum of 15 seconds.  So, according to her, I obviously hadn’t had the time to flush, wash my hands, and open the door.  By now, everyone is looking at me like, “Who is this gross person who’s starting at the hospital and doesn’t wash her hands?”  I’ll admit, I was irritated.  This chaplain was staring at me, looking all smug and convinced of my dirty-handedness.  So I explained that I had flushed, washed my hands, then realized that I needed to flush again and did so with my shoe.  The whole time I’m explaining this, she’s standing there, blocking the door way so that I’m stuck in the bathroom with the door leaning against me.  Her response?

“Well that’s a likely story.  But I know that I only heard the toilet flush once.”

By now, my face is getting flushed because I’m so irritated.  So, I respond in my typical irritated fashion.  I tilt my head just a bit, give her a look, and then talk to her as though I’m speaking to a child – still polite, still civil, and still in a normal tone, but you know what I mean.  I asked her if she stood outside all bathroom doors, listening for flushes, and that for her to accuse me of not washing my hands when my hands were still damp, and then to block me from exiting, was beyond rude.  I told her in no uncertain terms that I had washed my hands, and that as a nurse I probably knew more about the consequences of not washing hands than she did.  I also told her that she needed to back away from the bathroom and stop trapping me in there, and that she needed to apologize for having embarrassed me in front of so many of my future co-workers.  I would’ve loved to have had this conversation with her in private, but since there was only one bathroom and she was blocking me from exiting it, and since everyone else was waiting to use the one bathroom, there wasn’t much I could do.  She had the good grace to look a bit ashamed, and said “Well, if I’m wrong, then I apologize, but I take cleanliness very seriously.  I consider it part of my job to make sure that people are washing their hands.”  She then backed away and let me by.

I went back to my table and a few minutes later, one of the girls who’d been sitting next to me came back from the bathroom.  This girl said, “I am so sorry that she did that to you, but I just have to tell you – I was next in line behind the chaplain, and she had to flush the toilet twice when she was in there.  Once was right before she walked out, and I so wanted to block her and do the same thing to her that she had done to you!”  I gotta admit, I got a little bit of wicked enjoyment after hearing that fact!

Some people!

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16 thoughts on “The Hand-Washing Police

  1. […] Today is my first actual day in the ER.  I’m not going to be doing anything related to patient care, so I’m a little less anxious than I normally would be.  ER nursing is so different from working on a unit.  I’ve had some moderate exposure to it while in nursing school and then while working Triage at my last hospital in Boston (Triage was the precursor/screening area for ER, and we dealt with the less serious stuff), but I’ve still got a lot to learn.  I’m very excited, but I have this worry that the staff there are going to be rude.  Nurses in any sort of critical setting (ER, ICU, CCU) have a reputation for being particularly gruff and curt to their colleagues, and I hate that.  However, I think that I’m pretty good at saying, “Now that’s enough” and sticking up for myself, as evidenced by my last post. […]

  2. O.M.G!

    You go girl! I am so glad you had the guts to stick up for yourself! So many rude people never get put in your place, so thank you for doing the right thing 🙂

  3. That’s insane! What a story. I can’t believe she would do something like that. Even if you hadn’t, that is so far an inappropriate way of dealing with things that it’s just incredible. How awkward that she would even want to stand there and discuss that like that.

    Glad to see how you handled it!

  4. I loved reading this. I haven’t seen you in awhile, but I could picture you, my wonderful sister, tilting her head, giving the look and then proceeding to give this woman a piece of your mind. Man, oh man, I do NOT miss ‘the look’!

  5. I can’t believe ANYONE would act that way. How can you get so accusatory over something like that? Geez.

    Also, I laughed a little when you said your face flushed. What can I say? I’m mature. I find bathroom humor in everything…

  6. Go Jenny! She needed to be put in her place. I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall while all this was happening. 🙂 I cannot believe what some people think is acceptable to do and say.

  7. Way to go!!! I can’t believe she was that rude. I think its so important that women, especially, learn to stand up for themselves in the correct manner. I have so many friends who can’t do this and they would be so much happier if they knew how.

  8. You rock! I don’t think I would have been able to say what you did (although I would have been thinking it!) Hopefully the next time I’m in a situation where I need to speak up I can channel you!!

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