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Getting stuck with getting stuck
By Barry Evert, Sergeant
Published: 02/11/2008

Tattoogun Out of all the dangers we face as correctional professionals, none is as life changing as an exposure incident. During a cell search, I was stuck with a “dirty” tattoo needle. I followed all the rules and took all the precautions. I was wearing two sets of latex gloves, and even looked in the area I was searching before I put my hand there, but nonetheless, fate intervened.

As I grabbed for some contraband between two lockers, I felt that telltale electric shock feeling. I pulled my hand out and looked again, only to see a tattoo gun taped to the bottom of the locker.

After chiding the inmate for his carelessness, I hurried myself to the emergency room, following our local guidelines. Our exposure control plan is an in-depth one that aims to minimize the risk of infection. Unfortunately, with a rate of Hepatitis C ten times that of the general public, there is little that can be done after a needle stick like this. Luckily, the chances of contracting any disease from a minor puncture are one in 10 million; however I have never been one to tempt fate, so I took the precautions available to me.

If you do not have an exposure control plan for incidents of “gassing” or needle sticks, you are not only out of compliance with federal mandates, but you also are putting your employees at risk. Did you know that the risk of contracting HIV can be lessened if the employee gets to a hospital within two hours? If you didn’t, discuss this with your physician, and do everything you can to implement a plan at your institution.

It is a sinking feeling to wait for test results, and having to change your entire life for several months. A good exposure control plan can ease this for employees. Make sure that at the very least you inform your employees of the following:
  • Until test results come back, take great care not to infect your family. This will include using protection during sex with your spouse.

  • Make sure you are up to date on your Hepatitis B vaccinations, and that the vaccination is effective. This can be determined with a simple blood test. There is a simple booster available should you need it.

  • Immediately after exposure, remove any affected clothing or gloves, and wash using hot soapy water. If alcohol wipes or other solutions aimed at killing viruses are available, use them.

  • Assume every exposure is dangerous until you are told otherwise by medical staff.
  • DEMAND to be seen by a physician within two hours of your exposure; this could save your life.

  • Get counseling as soon as possible if you feel overly anxious or nervous; knowing the facts of your exposure will make you feel better.
I know I will be looking hard at what else can be done to prevent sticks like this in the future for other officers. Of the many options available, few are practical. Puncture resistant gloves are too thick, and latex gloves are too thin, leaving us unprotected most of the time.

However, being proactive never hurts. Remind employees to look before they leap, and to never reach into areas they cannot plainly see. Don’t have them, or you, get stuck with getting stuck.


Comments:

  1. jimevert on 02/11/2008:

    I think we have all run into this situation at one time or another. I have also had my share of unfortunate sticks, and luckily, no bad luck as a result. But as the article mentions, don't tempt fate! I think one thing that helped me in training new cops was to recommend they all buy a mirror at the local store - they cost a buck or two, and, could save your life. Or, buy one with an adjustable handle on it to stick underneath such things as lockers, book shelves, etc. The cost outweighs the benefits, regardless of which one you choose to use. I think one additional comment is in order here. Don't search by yourself. You have a partner for a reason - and if not, get your supervisor to help you. The last thing you need, is to be searching a locker area, (where, as in our minimum facility, inmates are all around you), and you get into an altercation. Who's going to back you up? It happened to me as a young cop: I found a tat gun in a guy's locker, and he decided he wanted to fight me for it. Had it not been for my partner downstairs who saw the whole thing unfold, I may have been in some serious trouble. Going back the next day, I had a snitch tell me I should look in the ceiling area above the bunk I was searching. This time I brought my partner with me. We cleared the area of inmates and started looking. Within five minutes we found what we were looking for: a 24" (yes, twenty-four inch) long contractor's marking spike, stuck in the ceiling area! The only thing you saw exposed was the nail-head, the rest fitted nicely in-between the caulking in the seam. 'Nuff said! Be careful out there!


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