Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter about nurses and doctors not washing their hands before touching a patient is so true. I got a severe cut on my hand, which required a trip to the emergency room. I was placed in a cubicle next to another patient, with only a drape in between. The doctor examined the person next to me and I heard him say, "Boy! That's some rash you have." When he was finished with him, he parted the curtain, came to me and said, "You need stitches."

I said, "Would you please wash your hands before you touch me?" He did. Abby, why did I have to tell him?

Thank you for the article. I hope everyone reads it -- especially doctors and hospital personnel. -- MADELINE IN NEWARK, N.J.

DEAR MADELINE: People promptly responded to that letter, and some of their letters -- like yours -- were eyebrow-raising. Read on for a sample:

DEAR ABBY: On Nov. 5, 1999, I went into the hospital for an estimated four-day stay for surgery on my lower spine. Four months later I am still bed-bound due to a staph infection.

I was sent home with drainage so bad the dressings were soaked in about half an hour. Nurses come to my home daily to change the bandages. I needed four pints of blood to replace the blood I had lost. I've had to return to the hospital and have the wound opened, flushed and drained twice. The second time it could not be closed with stitches or staples.

One of the nurses who cared for me didn't wear a mask or use rubber gloves, and she constantly sneezed and coughed while changing the dressings. -- ANNE IN PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: While sitting by my father's hospital bedside, I was handed the phone by a gloved LVN who was in the process of checking the other patient in the room -- a man covered with skin rashes.

Also, my friend recently refused to have her temperature taken by an LVN who had just changed the diaper of her roommate and was still wearing the same pair of gloves!

It makes me wonder what happens to sleeping or unconscious patients who do not have a friend or relative standing guard. -- REPULSED IN SALINAS, CALIF.

DEAR ABBY: Allow me to add my recent experience: In a dermatologist's office, the doctor's assistant put on gloves for a surgical procedure, then ducked out to answer the phone and do a few front-office procedures. Then she returned to the surgery room to assist the doctor -- wearing the same gloves.

In a podiatrist's office, the doctor's assistant smoothed out the paper upon which the surgical instruments were to be placed using her bare, unwashed hands. All the surgical supplies were handled in the same way. After the surgery, another assistant wore gloves while cleaning up the bloody tray -- and then while wearing the same gloves, proceeded to put away the leftover supplies to be used on the next patient. -- HORRIFIED IN CINCINNATI

DEAR READERS: Tomorrow, I'll print what the medical personnel had to say. Stay tuned.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600