During a distinctly busy period at work, unforeseen circumstances lead to a heavier appointment list. While attempting to see a patient within their allocated slot, I punctured my finger with a used needle. As the injury was sustained from a high-risk source, I spent the last three months in limbo feeling both scared and ashamed. Although my colleagues were supportive, I feared it might reflect badly on my competence. I dreaded having to recount the story to others and worried constantly about what they thought. Surprisingly, a number of people shared their own experiences and I began to feel less alone. Since receiving my blood results, I feel prepared to reflect on the incident and hope it will help reduce the stigma associated with needlestick injuries.
At the time of the injury, I believed I was working efficiently. I now recognise that my perceived ‘efficiency’ jeopardised my safety. Immediately afterwards, I criticised myself for enabling this after 9 years in healthcare. It was a few weeks before I felt prepared to rationalise. The incident now serves as a reminder to be more accepting of running behind schedule. Most patients do understand this is a possibility when they attend appointments and hurrying does increase the risk of harm. It is difficult to ignore the pressure of time, but personal safety is a priority.
Despite receiving my hepatitis b vaccinations, I couldn’t recall the number of doses or the last time I had a blood test to check immunity. Through reviewing the statistics, I concluded that my risk was 30% without antibodies and considerably lower with. Despite knowing this, I couldn’t help but feel paranoid. Researching needlestick injuries became part of my ritual as I waited for some new evidence to magically appear. The days after my blood test were filled with anxiety. This past week I was liberated after receiving my results detailing high levels of antibodies and the absence of hepatitis b.
This incident provided me with a wakeup call and learning experience. It also disseminates a much broader message—the value of vaccinations. I was lucky enough to have vaccine acquired immunity to protect me from disease. Without it, I could be disclosing a very different outcome. During a time when uncertainty has been publicised so widely in the media, I am grateful to be able to share the positive way in which my life has been impacted by vaccines.