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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Friday, October 12, 2007

Short White Coat: I'll have what she's having (in her bloodstream)

Short White Coat is a blog written by second-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

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I committed the ultimate medical faux pas last night -- sticking myself with a used syringe. I have yet to find out what the full extent of the precautionary repercussions will be, since Im still waiting for the doctor on-call for blood-borne disease exposures to, ahem, call me back. But the situation doesnt seem too dire -- and on the bright side, Ive achieved blood-sister status with one of my housemates.

Early in the evening, I decided to check out a training workshop on administering flu shots so I could help dole them out to the Boston community. This represented the first time wed actually get to puncture a patient -- until now, wed done talking and testing, but no treating. So, on entering the classroom, I was relieved to see a cluster of citrus fruits next to the vials and disposable needles on the table. Apparently our first bumbling efforts would be endured by inanimate objects.

After a quick primer on the mechanics of the task, we lined up to practice shooting water into our silent charges. I put on my best doctor voice, warmly asking my orange if "he" had ever been allergic to eggs and explaining to him that I was about to wipe his skin with alcohol and that he would feel a slight pinch when I inserted the needle. "Mr. Orange" received the dose with little complaint, and my only regret is that I could not offer him one of the Looney Tunes Band-Aids that motivated my strange affection for vaccine shots when I was a child.

And then it was time for The Real Thing. I modified my doctor speech slightly to address my housemate, then stuck the syringe into the vial of flu vaccine. I overcame the strangeness of piercing the flesh of a living person, and a friend no less, and plunged right in like a pro. But as I pulled out the needle and started to put on the safety cap, the needle slid abruptly into the tip of my gloved left middle finger, and it was immediately clear that this was A Bad Thing.

The nurse leading the workshop told me to wash out the tiny hole in my finger that issued small beads of blood, and to squeeze out as much of this blood as I could. She went over the risks of blood-borne pathogens, including HIV, and while I trust that my housemate is bug-free, I am to go through the usual protective steps, which in a clinical setting are probably more critical.

I paged the doctor to report my exposure like a good Clumsy-Med-Student, and following the brief flurry of activity, I let my roommate practice a shot on me. No mishaps that time around, and at least I wont get the flu! More shortly on What to Do When You Stick a Used Needle Into Your Finger.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 01:54 PM
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