MRSA – A silent stigma

A diagnosis of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection is not something to be taken lightly. It has the potential to become a life-threatening condition and intensive treatment with antibiotics will be required. However, there is another side to the diagnosis which is rarely talked about. There is the stigma attached to having an infectious condition and it forms a significant part of the MRSA journey. Hospital staff are best trained to deal with medical emergencies but their management of patients with an infectious status sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

When I was first diagnosed with MRSA I was treated with the utmost urgency and received excellent care. I was barrier nursed in isolation whilst undergoing intensive intravenous antibiotic therapy. This involuntary withdrawal from the world took some getting used to but I quickly developed my own coping mechanisms to get through that lonely time. However the ‘fun’ really starts when a patient has to come out of isolation for investigation or treatment. When an MRSA infection is confirmed by laboratory tests, a patient’s hospital chart is labelled with a luminous sticker proclaiming their infectious status. This is a method of alerting staff to take the necessary precautions to minimise the spread of infection. Hospital staff however should be aware of the sensitivities involved for MRSA infected patients.

I had to be taken to theatre for some minor surgery while still being treated in isolation. Patients with a positive MRSA status have to wait until last in the queue to go for surgery because of the very real potential of contaminating an operating theatre. So after a very long wait while fasting all day for the general anaesthetic, a porter finally arrived to transport me on a trolley to my destiny. We were escorted to theatre by a very junior nurse who was given the task of carrying my hospital chart. I was duly lined up in the pre-anaesthetic area alongside a row of other similarly nervous patients to await my turn in theatre. My surgeon and his surgical team appeared briefly in an open doorway and made encouraging faces at me. Suddenly, a loud shout came from another direction and to my horror, I heard the theatre sister roar from a distance “get that MRSA patient out of there, NOW!”. I saw the surgeon raise his eyebrows in disbelief at what had been heard and in an attempt to lighten the moment, we exchanged grins about ‘SHE who must be obeyed!’.  The theatre sister however continued to loudly remonstrate the junior nurse for accompanying me (the infectious patient) to the wrong location and any humour in the situation, rapidly dissipated. The junior nurse was mortified to receive such a public dressing-down and I felt very humiliated to be treated like a leper in front of all the other patients and staff. It was as if I didn’t exist as a person – I was purely seen as a health hazard which had to be quickly removed. A nice welcome back to the ‘real’ world after spending so much time alone.

I have since sat in crowded out-patient clinics and had the clinic nurse make insensitive enquiries in front of everyone else. You do get better at handling the ignorance surrounding MRSA but you never get used to it. MRSA patients have enough problems to contend with without having to tackle the issue of stigma as well. The sticker on a hospital chart may change colour once MRSA clearance has been obtained but it appears that you remain a ‘labelled’ patient for evermore. The legacy lives on.

11 Responses to MRSA – A silent stigma

  1. Grannymar says:

    You are one brave lady!

    I bleed for you each time I read your posts.

    Keep them coming we need to know.

  2. Steph says:

    Thank you Grannymar! You are kind and it feels very good to hear that my story might in some way, be of help to others.

    I don’t think I’m brave at all – just had lots of practice at being a patient and as a result, have had to accept that life doesn’t always turn out to be plain sailing. I seem to have gone on and on lately about my MRSA experience but in reality, it is only a very small part of the bigger picture. Contrary to what some people might think , I really don’t dwell on any of this stuff but every so often something reminds me of a past experience and it all just comes flowing out.

    Que sera, sera!

  3. Harry says:

    Thanks for all those links Steph. I wish this presentation included an element from the patients perspective, but instead we’ve been told to concentrate on more procedural stuff. Perhaps the emotional face will crop up in a PBL at some point. We did have a patient with recurring MRSA talk at the symposium which was for me the highlight of this IPE thing I’m doing.

    Presentation tomorrow :S It’ll be over soon enough!

  4. Adam says:

    Hey Steph, I just want to say that you’re an awesome human being by sharing your experience with those who are going through the same thing as you. I know those people will find comfort and realise that they are not alone.

  5. ruff says:

    MRSA has become a silent global pandemic, and i wish you well despite everything you’ve gone through. Be well always.

  6. I know it can be time-consuming to update your blog but thank you for keeping me informed and entertained!

  7. Dee says:

    People need to be held accountable for this type of treatment of people infected or colonized with MRSA! My little girl was colonized and is being treated like a leper too. Her dignity and rights to normal interactions with her family is being seriously challenged and it is not right that personnel thinks it’s okay to yell and shout about a patient with no sensitivity whatsoever. I have also had nurses yell at others who approach my daughter yelling “isolation!” or “MRSA: stay away!” and I feel enraged. Hospitals need to learn to clean rooms properly and daily and enforce rigorous hand hygiene, not stigmatize and isolate patients while alarming and restricting their visitors especially when babies and young children are involved!

    • Steph says:

      Dee

      Despite the fact that MRSA is rampant in our hospitals, I’m always amazed by the ignorance and insensitivity displayed by some hospital staff. It is very hard to maintain your dignity if/when you are being treated like a leper.

      It took me a long time to get rid of the MRSA label on my hospital chart and although it’s now marked ‘MRSA clearance’, I still get interrogated like a criminal at times.

      I appreciate you airing your experience on this blog as the more people talk about the stigmatisation of MRSA, the more it’s likely that hospital protocols will be changed.

      Regards, Steph

  8. Knipex says:

    Dee I agree with the vast majority of what you say but I have to support the isolation of patients in hospitals who are colonised or infected with MRSA or any other HCAI.

    Two simple facts support this.

    MRSA sheds. Anyone who is colonised or infected with MRSA will contaminate the environment. Under normal situations that’s not an issue.

    BUT hospitals are not a normal environment. In hospital’s you have sick people, people on long term antibiotics, people with severely compromised immune systems. They are very susceptible to acquiring an infection from the environment.

    I have been in a hospital ward where a patient was isolated due to MRSA. It was explained to the patient the reason they were isolated. They were asked to use their en-suite bathroom and not to use the open bathrooms and toilets on the ward. They were told that if they wished to go for a walk to please confine it to the public corridors or to the outside. It was further explained that there was a number of patients on the ward that were at high risk from MRSA.

    This patient refused to comply. She was to be found all over the ward, talking to other patients, sitting on their beds, borrowing their newspapers etc. It drove the nurses to distraction.

    4 people on that ward acquired MRSA infections in the space of 2 weeks. The ward was closed to new admissions and shut for deep cleaning.. Waiting in A&E increased, elective surgeries had to be cancelled. It had huge knock on effects.

    What really sickened me is that the same person had the cheek to write to the press complaining about the spread of MRSA within the hosptial.

    • Steph says:

      Knipex

      I was looking at Dee’s experience purely from the angle of what it’s like to be treated insensitively by hospital staff when MRSA positive. I completely omitted to point out the importance of isolation due to the risk of cross-infection.

      Thank you for bringing balance back into the discussion. I agree with everything you’ve said.

      I still shudder to think how other patients may have been infected/colonised with MRSA in the 3 days it took for my diagnosis to be made, before I was moved into isolation. The blame of course, lies with the hospital for not isolating me when I was re-admitted to the hospital with a rip-roaring post-operative cellulitis. I can clearly see now in hindsight, that my symptoms must have been highly suspicious of MRSA infection but at the time, I knew very little about MRSA. It’s outrageous that such patients should be put with other sick/post-operative patients while awaiting microbiology results.

      With all the talk this week about the awful plight of CF sufferers in Ireland, I can really identify with their fear of cross-infection. I despair at this government’s total disregard of their fight to survive..

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