Summer was upon my doorstep and I had graduated into the 11th grade. I was beginning to wonder about what lifetime career I would want pursue. Since my mom was a nurse, I decided I would explore the medical field and see what duties a candy striper performed. After contacting various nursing homes, I found out they worked on a volunteer basis helping the needy in either a hospital or a nursing home. The first candy stripers originated as a high school civic project in East Orange, New Jersey in 1944. The name “candy striper” acquired its name because the volunteers sewed their jumpers with a red and white fabric called “candy stripe.”
I thought I would like to help those who needed help, and in a few weeks I had landed a position as a candy striper at a local nursing home. In the beginning I was given simple duties, such as helping in dietary; making sure the dining room tables were properly setup with clean tablecloths, dinner plates, glasses, and silverware. I helped in laundry making sure the residents clothes were washed, dried, delivered, and put away in either closets or drawers. Sometimes I would help in housekeeping by dusting, sweeping the floors, or delivering mail and reading the resident’s treasured letters to them.
After a month of doing the very basics, I asked if I could start advancing my privileges with direct contact with the residents. I was then allowed to help the residents into the dining room and leaned how to properly push a wheel chair, guiding the person safely to their destination, along with helping those who used walkers or needed an arm for moral support. The job was self-rewarding and I felt like I could pursue further responsibilities.
After I started showing some initiative to independently do more, I was then told I could begin to help with bathing and dressing the residents as well as changing briefs and giving oral care. Soon I was seeing what needed to be done and recording activities in the patient’s chart without supervision. I began to volunteer almost every day of the week. I was very proud of myself, I was helping those in need and in return I learned kindness, respect, and responsibility.
Summer was quickly over and I had to return to school, but once during the week and on the week-end I still volunteered at the cherished nursing home. After two months of returning to school and my extra-curricular activity at the nursing home, I thought I was stressed because I wasn’t as hungry as I normally was, and at times I would have stomach cramps with diarrhea. I then began consciously forcing myself to eat but when I did I began to vomit. My mother asked if I felt ok and I told her I just had an upset stomach and needed some rest.
After a month of my bouts of ailments, it caught up with me and I was unable to attend school or volunteer, I was totally exhausted almost to the point where I could hardly get out of bed and had a fever. Finally my mother took me to our family physician and after commenting that my skin and the whites of my eyes had a yellowish (jaundice) appearance , he ordered blood work to check my immunoglobulins, which measures the level of certain antibodies (IgG anti-HAV) for the hepatitis A virus. He asked me some personal questions about my stool. I told him I had diarrhea quite often, and at other times, it was a funny color resembling a whitish clay color. After further questioning I found out that the pain was not coming from my stomach but from the upper-right part of my abdomen, the area of the liver. When a urine specimen was taken, I noticed it was not a normal straw color, but a very dark almost brown color.
At my follow up appointment I was shocked to hear I had contracted the hepatitis A virus. I was told that that the only cure for this type of hepatitis is rest and drinking plenty of water. My liver function would have to be monitored on a regular basis to make sure I was healing appropriately and my condition had to be reported to the Board of Health. I would also have to take some time off from volunteering at the nursing home for at least six months until I recuperated, as well as notifying the staff.
After asking my general practitioner numerous questions and visiting the Board of Health, I found out that hepatitis A is contracted from fecal contamination. It enters the body by water or food, and it is impossible to be 100% sure of where I contracted it, but the suspicions reflected upon the nursing home while bathing or changing briefs of the residents. The symptoms appear approximately 4 weeks after exposure to the virus and in some cases, there are no physical signs of the virus. It replicates in the liver and is excreted in bile (a fluid that is made and released from the liver to help with digestion) from the stool. The jaundice occurred because of too much bilirubin – a compound produced by the breakdown of hemoglobin (a red protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood) that circulates through the blood.
A preventative measure for the hepatitis A virus would be to get a series of inoculations (Havrix or Vaqta). The first series would be given as two shots, six months apart, and follow up with the gamma-globulin injection as a booster. There is also a combination of hepatitis A and hepatitis B inoculations (Twinrix), which can be given to a person 18 years old or older in doses of three series over a six month period. Both types are given in the deltoid muscle (the round triangle muscle located at the uppermost part of the arm). But the best preventative is to thoroughly wash your hands before after having contact with any bodily secretions, before and after eating, and after using the toilet.
I was one of the fortunate ones who discovered this virus before it caused permanent liver damage. Since my tender learning days as a candy striper, I still work in healthcare, but now when I meet a new co-worker, I always remind them that proper hand washing techniques are a premium and anybody can contract the hepatitis A virus if proper sanitary measures are not taken.