Holiday Germs versus Patient and Caregiver

Caregivers and patients always have to be vigilant about germ exposure. With holiday visitors and crowded stores, the risk grows exponentially to the danger zone. There are some things, however, that you can do to minimize the risk.

Before Christmas in 2005, my husband had just undergone a stem cell transplant. Gordon’s white blood cell count wasn’t just low—it was non-existent. In a touching gesture that makes me wonder if he knew instinctively that it was his last Christmas with me, he insisted on going to a jewelry store to shop for my present. He mentioned going to a mall—even with the protection of a mask, I nixed that idea right away! We finally settled on a smaller, less crowded store. These are the types of considerations that a caregiver has to address over the holidays. While it’s important to keep as much “normal” in your life as you can, taking unnecessary risks can be catastrophic.

Organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa draw all their energy from their host. They may damage or destroy healthy cells (just what a cancer patient needs). As they use up your nutrients and energy, most will produce waste products known as toxins. Some toxins cause symptoms of common colds or flu-like infections, such as sniffles, sneezing, coughing, and diarrhea. But other toxins can cause high fever, increased heart rate, and even life-threatening illnesses.

Most germs are spread through the air in sneezes or coughs or through bodily fluids like sweat or blood. Obviously, you’ll want to keep any patient away from these risks. However, you have family and friends and they want to visit during the holidays. And—if the patient is feeling well enough—you can’t very well keep them a prisoner in their home. Visiting church and attending small intimate parties can serve as a major mood booster.

Preparing to Defend Against Germs

Here are some things that you can do to minimize the risk—to both the patient and caregiver.

Be aware of your surroundings, whether you’re out in public or in the sanctity of your own home. If people come into your perimeter with any signs or symptoms of sickness, take evasive action. A simple cough or sneeze can spread germs everywhere. If you can, move to a different location or seat. But this is not always possible. You may need to politely ask the other person to move. At home, when people visit and show signs of illness, it might be best to ask them to come back another time. And hand shaking may be the oldest form of greeting, but don’t do it.

Disinfect your hands and surroundings. In your home, you can wipe down doorknobs, stair rails, remote controls and light switches, but that won’t help you when you’re in the outside world. Keep hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes with you at all times. Be aware of all surfaces where germs may hide. Open doors with a wipe in your hand—especially when you’re leaving a public restroom. Think before you touch!

If you have children, have a germ fighting station right inside your back door. Make it fun. Have a super-germ fighter there with disinfecting wipes. Make it a rule to deposit shoes there and switch to indoor shoes (a good rule for adults, too). Anything that helps your children become more aware of the need to keep germs in their place will help.

Telephones, cell phones and computer keyboards are germ fields. If it’s absolutely necessary to use someone else’s phone or computer, wipe them gently with disinfectant wipes or a thin rub of hand sanitizer.

Be particularly careful while preparing food for the patient. All of the general sanitation rules apply with even more vigilance. This goes for your own home or others preparing food for the family—which people love to do during the holidays. Be particularly aware while preparing and cooking seafood and poultry. Make sure that fruits and raw vegetables are washed properly. And be aware of the sanitation grade in your favorite restaurant!

Wash towels—especially hand towels—often. And beware the sponge! These naturally sponge up germs, too. Since they’re cheap, change them every day or so. Run a cycle of bleach and water through your washing machine regularly, to prevent excess mold build-up in the pipes or hoses.

Pets are great for love, comfort and morale building. Going through cancer treatment is a great excuse for not cleaning the cat box or picking up after Fido’s walk. Be aware that germs travel on (and with) your pet, too.

Emergency rooms are the last place you want your cancer patient. If it becomes necessary to go there over the holidays (when everything else is closed), make sure the patient wears a mask. Notify the check-in staff immediately upon arrival that your patient has a low white blood cell count. If you must wait with the masses, it may be best to have the patient wait in the car.

If you take proper precautions, then you can focus on having a happy holiday with your family and friends—not the germs. That should be where most of your energy and effort are directed!


The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer

(available at

Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.

Would you like to send something special to someone that’s going through a health-related hardship this holiday season? Instead of a poinsettia or fruitcake, why not send them a Basket of Care ( These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor, and chock full of items that will lend comfort. Care baskets include such items as warm blankets, angels, slipper socks, hope messages, note cards, and books by Joni Aldrich. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say, “I care” over the holidays.

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Author: jonialdrich

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