Pandemic Healthcare Workers: How to Stay Safe and Healthy
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure.— Benjamin Franklin
How Can Healthcare Professionals Safely Work Through a Pandemic?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the only way to conquer a pandemic crisis is through diligent measures of prevention. While everyone should practice these measures, health care providers must be even more diligent so to continue going to work daily. Like it or not, we're in it to win it, so we must remain strong and taking these simple measures helps ensure we get to show up to work during the crisis:
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds after every single contact with patients and all surfaces. Even if simply walking into the restroom to use the mirror or change your clothes, washing your hands is a must.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth. This takes a conscious effort since it's a common habit for most. Every time you touch a surface and scratch your nose or adjust your contact lens, you've created a pathway to contracting pathogens.
- Avoid direct contact with napkins, tissues, or similar items used by patients. Be especially mindful when clearing patient's meal trays, bedside tables, or assisting with toileting.
- Protect others by covering your mouth when coughing, clearing your throat, or sneezing—do so into a tissue, or your arm, not into your hands.
- Please stay home if you're sick, in ANY manner. This prevents the spread of other forms of illnesses that decrease immunity and make people more susceptible to power viruses. While most health-care providers are accustomed to going to work in the midst of a cough or cold, a pandemic crisis is not the time to do that—even if you fear backlash from your manager or coworkers due to short-staffing.
Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.— Hippocrates
- Disinfect all home and work surfaces daily and common surfaces several times throughout the day. If you can't get your hands on disinfecting wipes or sprays for your home—which is the case in many areas during a pandemic—make a simple solution using 1 part bleach to 9 parts water in a spray bottle.
- Practice "social distancing". This is as simple as it sounds, meaning to consciously keep at least a six-foot space between you and the person in front, behind, or beside you in public places, even at work amongst your peers.
- Minimize contact with ALL people. Avoid public transportation whenever possible, limit nonessential travel, and work from home if your position is capable. Reschedule social gatherings and avoid crowded bars, restaurants, stores, and sporting events. You can still support your local businesses by shopping online and being patient when deliveries take longer than usual.
- Avoid direct contact with family and friends who don't live with you. We love our people, but we can show love and concern without being on top of one another. This means missing out on visits with our adult children, grandchildren, and even our parents. We can still help our parents by having food delivered or dropping it off to them while still maintaining that social distance. Our older generation is at a higher risk of acquiring a rampant pandemic virus. We as health-care providers are at a higher risk of carrying and transmitting it too. Do the right thing. It may feel lonely and isolating at the time, but they will thank you later.
- Use technology to keep in touch with loved ones. We live in an amazing time with more ways than we ever imagined to keep in touch. If you haven't tried live communication such as FaceTime, Google Duo, Zoom or Skype, now's the time to learn them!
- Amp up your sleep and practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, and light exercise for your own personal wellness and peace of mind.
A Historical Note Regarding the COVID-19 Crisis
At the time of this article, the world was in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, colloquially known as COVID-19. Many tips for healthcare workers speak specifically to the transmission of COVID-19, however, these tips are broadly useful for pandemic work generally. The following points are specific to COVID-19:
- According to the University of Alabama, Birmingham, wearing surgical masks in public wasn't recommended because of the idea that brief exposure to the virus in public is unlikely to make a person sick. Most cases have occurred when there's been prolonged contact--this idea changed a few months into the pandemic as positive cases continued to climb. Now masks are recommended in most public areas. The use of masks has always been recommended for healthcare professionals, caregivers, and those exhibiting disease symptoms. This advice could change at any time, so stay on top of the current CDC recommendations.
During COVID-19, “every reduction in the number of contacts you have per day with relatives, friends, co-workers, and in school will have a significant impact on the ability of the virus to spread in the population” said Dr. Gerardo Chowell, chair of Population Health Sciences at Georgia State University.
Pack Food That Doesn't Require Using a Shared Microwave or Refrigerator
Microwaves and ice/water machines win the prize for harboring loads of surface bacteria. Everyone uses them multiple times a day, but you don't have to. With some stealth pre-planning, you can pack easy and healthy food items that require no water or heat, which equals no touching of those surfaces.
Sure, we wash and sanitize our hands after everything we touch, but it's hard not to touch the food we put into our mouths. Keep it simple and stop the meal-time germ transmission in its tracks with proactive meal planning and packing? Your safest bet is to keep your food in a tote or small soft cooler in your locker, with a small ice pack if for perishables, to avoid using a shared fridge.
These are my go-to staples when I head to work.
- Make hard boiled eggs. I make a dozen at a time in just seven minutes in my Instant Pot and they're perfect every single time. Two hard boiled eggs provide a filling, protein-packed fix with roughly 12 grams of protein and approximately 160 calories. Pair them with a healthy energy bar or protein drink and you're good to go! I mostly eat "Kind" brand bars because they're low in sugar, and gluten, soy, and GMO-free.
- Meal-prep a batch of protein-packed, hearty red or white bean chili and take it (already heated) in a good old-fashioned thermos. Or if you're like me and think is the be all end all for keeping things hot, give the 12- or 26-ouncer a try! Yeti
- Make a simple peanut or almond butter and jelly sandwich on organic sprouted whole grain bread. If you haven't tried "Dave's Killer Breads", you may end up eating PB&J everyday once you do!
- Make a salad with those awesome hard boiled eggs, garbanzo beans, fruit, nuts, and loads of fresh vegetables and microgreens. Keep your salad dressing in your bag and not in a separate bottle in the communal fridge. Bring your own utensils versus using the open plastic ones from the breakroom or cafeteria.
- One half to one cup of unsalted almonds is also filling and contains healthy fat. I always have a bag of almonds in my locker for a quick way to stave off hunger when there's no time to stop and eat.
Let Thy Medicine Be Thy Food and Thy Food Be Thy Medicine.— Hippocrates
Boost Your Immunity With The Right Foods
By eating immune-boosting foods high in antioxidants and all the great juju our body needs, we stand a better chance of staying healthy and continuing to provide the care our patients need. Here's a fast and furious list of the immune-boosting foods I've compiled from credible sources that are easy to pack, can be added to your salad, or simply eaten on the fly like many healthcare workers often do:
- Citrus fruits and red bell peppers contain abundant amounts of vitamin C (our bodies do not produce or store vitamin C). Vitamin C boosts white blood cells to fight infection.
- Papayas have 224 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single one.
- Raw Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals as well as fiber and is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. Spinach is second in command and also best in its raw form.
- Ginger reduces inflammation and soothes the gut. I add fresh slices to a cup of boiling water, steep and drink it as a tea.
- Almonds contain vitamin E and healthy fat. A half-cup serving provides nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
Kiwis are naturally full of essential nutrients: Folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C.
Prevention is the best first line of defense when dealing with a pandemic for which there's no known cure, which also means keeping our immunity at full-throttle.
Help me improve this article by sharing your favorite packed food and meal staple(s) in the comments below!
What About Black Elderberry Syrup?
There's much discussion all over social media about the benefits of black elderberries for immunity. I've been making and using homemade black elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup for the past three years, especially before travel by plane or cruise ship. I'm happy to say I haven't been sick in over five years until this past January when I neglected to take it before my cruise and during the midst of a very long and stressful move. I was sick for five weeks with bronchitis—or maybe it was COVID-19? At any rate, I swear by it and recommend it to people all the time. There's some on my stove boiling as I write this article!
I rarely see negative reviews, mostly all positive, so I did more in-depth research to see what the experts say on the topic of this seemingly potent berry. According to the University of Alabama, Birmingham's Dr. Jessica Grayson M.D.,
“There are many studies on the antiviral and antimicrobial activity of elderberry,” It has been shown in some studies to bind to some subtypes of the flu virus to prevent cell entry. However, there are still more studies needed to confirm whether this is true substantial benefit.”
Here's one of the most comprehensive articles I've read on the topic of black elderberry syrup as it pertains to immunity. It's written by Dr. Kevin Curran, a biology professor at the University of San Diego.
If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out my other popular piece on getting (and staying!) healthy:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2020 Debra Roberts