FREEP
FREEP Logo

Michigan

Local news main: Detroit | Oakland | Wayne | Macomb | Michigan | Politics | Lottery

Posted: Dec. 24, 2010

Hidden holiday dangers send thousands to ER

By ROBIN ERB and KRISTI TANNER-WHITE
Free Press Staff Writers

Christmas: Operate with caution.


Database: ER visits and injuries

Holiday cheer brings in plenty of work for ER doctors -- from light-stringers dangling from ladders to shoppers skidding on slippery store floors to travelers yanking on stuffed luggage.

Then there are the unexpected culprits under the tree.

A shiny new table saw and its cousins will most likely send several new woodworkers to area hospitals in the coming days. So will the weather in its ice-crusting, bone-chilling, snow-drifting splendor as some people wrestle with snowblowers.

Curtis Faulkner, a Southfield father of three and a bank manager, lost a battle this month with an uncooperative plastic candy cane stake he was trying to pare with a utility knife.

"The knife just slipped. It started at the tip of my thumb, went all the way down my thumb, through my knuckle and into the palm of my hand."

Ouch.

In fact, about 11,000 people were injured by Christmas decorations alone last year.

Most of these injuries aren't life-threatening, but they can necessitate multiple visits to a doctor. And a stocking full of painkillers.

Decking halls lands many in ER

A string of Christmas lights in hand, Rob Gnam tumbled off a 12-foot ladder, heading for the concrete patio floor, flailing at anything he could.

"All I could think of was the Flying Wallendas," said the Lincoln Park man. "I remember reaching for the gutter and thinking, 'Oh God, this is going to hurt.' "

In a rush and taking on unfamiliar tasks, many of us will spend part of our holidays not by the light of a cozy fireplace or the sparkle of a Christmas tree, but in the glaring light of overheads in an ER, according to a Free Press analysis of visits to the nation's emergency rooms in 2009.

"It's a stressful time of year. People are running out. They're getting gifts, making sure they've gotten everybody, making sure they're seeing family. ... Your mind isn't where it should be," said Dr. Gust Bills, division head of emergency medicine at Henry Ford Medical Center Cottage campus in Grosse Pointe Farms.

[Page 2 of 2]

"It's a lot of slips and falls," said Wayne Fire Department Capt. Ken Chapman. "It's people going over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house, but Grandma comes out and hits the ice."


Plus, frantic holiday shoppers can hit watery slicks inside stores, Chapman said.

Holiday hustle-bustle

Last year, about 11,000 people went to the ER for injuries related to Christmas decorations alone, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a database compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. An additional 3,500 were injured hanging or taking down Christmas tree lights.

It took surgery, several weeks of being out of work, and several rods and bars on the inside and outside of Gnam's hand and forearm last year to heal his shattered wrist.

"I was scaring little kids," said Gnam, 52, chuckling. He adds quickly: "It wasn't funny at all at the time."

Although 92% of patients were treated and released from ERs in November, December and January, some injuries were either life-threatening or the victims were among the most vulnerable.

One in five patients involved in decoration mishaps were 3 or younger -- those likely to chomp down on glass decorations or yank on stockings hung on heavy holders.

And though bruises from a slip or fall can heal quickly for a young person, a broken hip can send life into a tailspin for an elderly person, said Dr. Phillip Levy of Detroit Receiving Hospital's ER.

"If you're 30 putting up the lights, be careful," he said. "But if you're grandpa, I don't think maybe that should be your task."

Snowblowers take their toll, too.

Last year, they accounted for more than 6,000 injuries nationwide; three of four occurring in December and January. Often, local doctors say, users are in a rush to clear driveways and sidewalks for guests -- poking their hands in to clear snow- and ice-packed blades.

"Yeah, they're as bad as they sound," said Rachel Rohde, a Beaumont Hospital hand surgeon and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Kitchen catastrophes

And who can forget the finger-mangling capabilities of food processors, blenders and electric carving knives -- the kinds of things hurried cooks use infrequently or when they're nipping at the eggnog during frantic New Year's party prep?

One patient recently was cutting chicken in her kitchen, Rohde said, "when she sliced open her hand and cut through tendons."

Of nearly 500 injuries last year involving electric or battery-operated carving knives, about four in five happened in November, December and January.

When it comes to the kitchen battlefield, Rohde said: "The chef's knife always wins."

Contact Robin Erb: 313-222-2708 or rerb@freepress.com

Curtis Faulkner, 30, cut his hand while using a utility knife to cut a candy cane stake. The Southfield dad is one of thousands of people who have visited the ER because of holiday-related injuries. "The knife just slipped. It started at the tip of my thumb ... through my knuckle and into the palm of my hand."   (WILLIAM ARCHIE/Detroit Free Press)

Curtis Faulkner, 30, cut his hand while using a utility knife to cut a candy cane stake. The Southfield dad is one of thousands of people who have visited the ER because of holiday-related injuries. "The knife just slipped. It started at the tip of my thumb ... through my knuckle and into the palm of my hand." (WILLIAM ARCHIE/Detroit Free Press)

Dr. Phillip Levy, 39, and resident Amy McCroskey, 29, discuss a patient's care while working in the ER at Detroit Receiving Hospital.  Dr. Phillip Levy, 39, talks to Mildred Lee, 70, in the ER at Detroit Receiving Hospital. Although 92% of patients were treated and released from ERs in November, December and January, some injuries were either life-threatening or the victims were among the most vulnerable.   (MADALYN RUGGIERO/Special to the Free Press)

RELATED INFORMATION

Seasonal injuries

Been sliced or diced or otherwise wounded by the holidays? You're not alone. These types of injuries spike around the holidays, according to a 2009 database:

About 11,000 injuries involved Christmas decorations. An additional 3,500 injuries involved Christmas tree lights.

More than 1,600 injuries were from artificial Christmas trees. Lower back, eye and head injuries were the most common.

More than 6,000 injuries involved snowblowers. Almost all of the patients were men (94%) and more than half of the injuries -- 58% -- involved fingers. Most occurred in December and January.

About 26,000 injuries involved shoveling snow. Three out of five injured were men and 57% of reported injuries were to the upper or lower back.

And finally -- throughout the year -- 242,731 injuries involved toys.

related articles

More Michigan headlines

FREEP
Get local, breaking news sent to your phone.
Enter your phone number:
T & C | Privacy | Cancel Alerts
Powered by 4INFO. Standard Messaging Rates or other charges apply. To Opt-out text STOP to 4INFO (44636). For more information text HELP to 4INFO (44636). Contact your carrier for more details.

most popular

most popular, most comments & most recommended