“Well then, doc, I think I need to tell you something….”

“Ok.” I waited. I could tell from the look in her eyes this was going to be bad.

“So, I was having a cavity taken care of a few weeks ago when the dentist stuck herself with the needle. They told me that I had to get tested for diseases. So I did. I had my blood drawn. It came back positive for HIV.” 

She paused for a moment not sure what to say next.

“So we need to set you up with an infectious disease specialist, huh?”

“Yeah.” She ran a hand through her hair. “I need someone who is really good. I’m scared.”

She looked normal. She didn’t appear ill. There was nothing about her that screamed out, “I am high risk for HIV!” 

She never would have known about the HIV if her dentist had not made a mistake and then admitted it and then gotten her tested.

And there was now a dentist somewhere who was worried that she might have contracted HIV herself. Was she taking meds? Losing sleep? 

I remember listening to a physician who said she had contracted HIV from a needle stick. She was talking to us in medical school about the importance of safety measures on sharps, of being careful. We all thought she was such a loser. We would never make such a stupid mistake. It would never happen to us, you know?

Until it does.

We all get stuck.

Three times for me, so far. I remember each. Once while placing a central line in a gravely ill patient with sepsis. Once in the OR during an abdominal surgery (the surgeon’s fault actually, I was assisting). Once after injecting a joint in the office.

There is the wait. What is lurking, hidden in that blood? My blood? Pain. Sure it hurts. But will I die?


93 thoughts on “Hidden

  1. I don’t know if there’s anything that shows a doctor’s mettle more than dealing with an HIV +ve patient, more so when you operate on one…..”Hey, I saved your life, you took mine”. Maybe the blame is ours too because it’s our fault?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. That must be a terrible feeling – the waiting. With so many needles and so much blood flying in dialysis all dialysis patients here are tested regularly for blood borne diseases. Except HIV – and I personally have been tested for HIV when I had cancer and they were trying to find it. So I can reassure anyone who gets pricked with one of my needles that all is OK and I have the paperwork to prove it. .That has actually happened twice in the 12 years since the cancer. But you have to keep in mind that I get close to a thousand needles a year. Average three dialysis needles per treatment plus 3 freezing needles – (it only takes two of each but my fistula can be cantankerous and I have had as many as 9 dialysis needles in one treatment -UGH!) times 150 treatments per year plus auxiliary test needles, blood work needles (taken before procedures for INR testing), etc.

    It must be very very hard for medical health professionals who get pricked to wait out the results.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Scary on all counts. I’ve been poked once with a needle, but luckily it was before I drew the patient’s blood, so it was a sterile needle. But I’ve known several doctors and nurses who’ve been poked with a used needle. No fun for anyone. I cringe every time I see a healthcare provider recap a needle. Should never be done.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, that is so scary. While studying Latin, I came across the saying “Errare humanum est” or “to err is human”. I had remembered reading “To err is human, to forgive is divine” in my days as an English major, I think in a work of Pope’s. I told a friend once, who was equally prone to feeling immeasurably guilty for all our past mistakes (no matter how small), that we should make chain necklaces with an engraved stone that simply said “EHE”, so we would always know, whenever we were beating ourselves up, that we were beating ourselves up for being human. That quote is nearly 2,000 years old (it was attributed to Seneca the Younger), and it still is true! We reach and aspire for perfection, but, because we are human, we always fall short. You are an *amazing* doctor. Your blog here shows your compassion and the profession is better for having you, and doctors like you, in it. So, THANK YOU! Thank you for being a doctor, but for being a humane, compassionate, doctor….

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Stuck 3 or 4 times during my assisting career, usually my own fault, but I have to share the first ever stick story:
    In dental assisting school, at our schools clinic assisting with oral surgery. We had used Marcaine, pt still in pain. Repeated injections and this dentist was obviously frustrated. Had me reload the syringe and decided to inject alongside the tooth into the ligament. You could see the force behind his depression of the syringe–he REALLY wanted that anesthetic in those tissues. Somehow as he pulled the syringe out of the tissue perhaps patient moved or dentist slipped, but the next thing was my thumb being pumped full of marcaine with a very dirty needle.
    I still remember his face to this day and his concern afterward.
    Mind you this was in the times prior to always using retractors rather than fingers during procedures, prior to masks and gloves being mandatory as well. That part creeps me out more than the needle stick. This was also prior to required testing if a stick occurred.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Although it is fortunate the woman discovered she has HIV, how horrible it must have been for her–and the dentist–to go into a routine visit, and then for each to have her world changed irrevocably in a second. Hopefully, the dentist will find she does not have HIV, but I bet she will always remember this scare. And if the woman has family or sexual partners, then they have to be notified, too. Scary for all concerned. I’m certain it made you pause, since you wrote about it.

    I guess we all face some risks every day, but unless you are a patient, addict, or someone in health care, you don’t face the risk of a contaminated needle on a regular basis. As you said, accidents happen.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I’m with Gibber. Scary.
    I get a lot of sticks (no where near what Paul gets), and I always worry about the person on the other end of the needles — not that I am contagious. Then again, I also worry about giving them the flu or whatever, too. (Then again, again, there are a few doctors to whom I’d like to give a month or two of Crohn’s so that they would have a clue … only gastroenterologists, though, so you’re safe, VD!)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What with all the times you use a needle, I’m surprised you don’t stick yourself more often, no matter how careful you are. Heck, I stuck myself giving the dog his monthly staph injection, and that scared me. I can’t imagine the angst that would be caused by sticking yourself while dealing with a patient.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I know how difficult and scary this issue must be for you, and how admirable it is that you put that fear aside and continue to treat patients. We suffered through a few tense weeks when my husband got stuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I understand that here in the UK there is a drug which if taken by those who may have been exposed to the risk of contracting HIV can stop the infection dead in its tracks. However the ttreatment needs to be administered within 48 hours of the patient having been exposed to the risk. The drug is often given to those who have been raped. Have you heard of this Victo? I take my hat off to you for your work. Kevin

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I have experienced needle sticks too. Remember the protocol..soaking the finger in betadine and checking the patient for ID. Always made me a bit scared. I think anyone who is in a profession where they are having contact with the public and body fluids has had this experience. So sad about that woman and I can only imagine what that dentist is feeling.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for writing about this. I had my first exposure 18 months ago – a CSF splash of a very ill man not on ARTs. I was terrified and the meds I took were horrible. I scoured the internet and no physician was writing about it! So I wrote about it myself a few months later on my blog, because I felt we needed to stop being so quiet about it. That waiting is the most terrifying thing that ever happened to me.

    I also feel horrid for your patient. What a shock it must have been.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This is a real and terrible example of how real life is. While often there is a proper emphasis on prevention, yet 100% prevention is often impossible. There can be pressure to be perfect yet mistakes, accidents happen. Gritty post and made my stomach turn thinking of the pressure you and other providers are under.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. That is so scary. I have been stuck with several needles during my 30 years, but that was mostly before we had to worry about HIV and Hep C. Working with the pediatric population, I am more concerned with respiratory droplets. Have contracted Pertussis (3 years ago), had my boosters, have contracted Rubella in my early 30s (awful disease as an adult) and Mono with Parvovirus (didn’t know humans could get Parvo) at the same time(but I suspect I caught that at a waterpark in Atlanta).
    I remember back in the late 70s, I worked as a clerk in an Emergency Room on the South Side of Chicago – I used to have to go in to the trauma and dig around in their pockets for ID, we didn’t routinely wear gloves back then. I think about that now and it makes me shudder.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I’ve only had one so far, thankfully. I got stabbed with a scalpel during a c-section. Patient was low risk, and had clean prenatal Labs a few months before. It only took 2 days for all the results to come back negative. Phew!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Sticks are a real danger. Fortunately we only have a few a year. But it does happen. And the legalities of it are also frightening. We have to dance through hoops anytime we have one of our staff stuck to get the testing blood draw. The grossest one I ever heard was an aide was searching for something on the floor (not sure why) and ran her hand across a razor from a nose hair trimmer. ARGGGHHHHHH…. Still makes me flinch.

    Liked by 2 people

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