How to not Spend your Holidays with a Doctor


Healthy Living – November 29, 2016
Anthony Tannous, MD - Eastern Maine Medical Center
The holiday season is upon us and people have been looking forward to it for a variety of reasons:  catching up with relatives, exchanging considerate gifts, enjoying fun traditions, and not least of all reveling in delicious meals. But absolutely no one has been looking forward to spending it with doctors and nurses, unless they’ve invited them for dinner, of course.

The threat of spending the most joyful time of the year in the emergency department is however very real. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that every year, American emergency rooms and doctor’s clinics see more than 68,000 injuries involving holiday decorating. Accidents involving falling from ladders and slipping on broken ornaments which may be funny in the Home Alone movies but they can result in very serious injuries.

The most frequently reported holiday accidents involve falls, lacerations and back strains from carrying heavy luggage. Moreover, every year fire departments nationwide respond to more than a couple hundred fires caused by ignited Christmas trees, and holiday lights cause about 510 fires each year.  Car accidents are also more common during the holidays as the driving while drinking or texting rates go up and the weather can be challenging. Needless to say, it is very important to abide by some basic safety rules to avoid holiday trauma.

To prevent fires, throw away any holiday light sets with evidence of damage such as broken sockets and bare wires. You should only use lights that have been tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Always remember to extinguish candles before leaving a room and keep them within sight on a stable heat-resistant surface where small children and pets cannot reach them. Place your tree at home away from heat sources such as fireplaces, vents and radiators. If you are opting for an artificial tree, look for “fire resistant” on the label keeping in mind that that does not make the tree completely fire proof. If you’re going with a real tree instead, make sure to water it frequently as dry trees catch fire much more readily.

Furthermore don’t use generators, grills, or any charcoal or gasoline burning devices inside your home. If you choose to use fire salts which produce colored flames when thrown onto wood fires exert a lot of caution as they can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting. Also, never burn wrapping paper in the fireplace because it can ignite suddenly and result in flash fires. Perhaps most importantly, install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector in your home and change the batteries regularly.
To avoid falls, use steady step stools on stable platforms rather than furniture when hanging decorations. If you are decorating with children, make sure to avoid sharp or breakable decorations, with small removable easy to swallow or inhale parts. Keep in mind that most holiday decorations look like candy.

Traveling safety is key during the commute heavy holiday season. By all means, do not drink and drive (or for that matter drink and decorate). Plan to spend the night at the location of the party or take a cab home if you do not have a designated driver. Put the cellphone in the glove compartment. The holiday wishes and fun snaps will still be there when you get to your destination. Keep the radio on and look out for weather updates.

You are much more likely to enjoy the holiday season if you stick by these basic safety rules. Spend this most cherished of times with family and friends … don’t spend it with a trauma surgeon.
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