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Cautionary tales from the emergency department

The magical May long weekend seemed so far away as we pushed through the backside of winter. But if you're like me, you probably started planning for this weekend weeks ago.

Because there are lots of things to do, people do lots of things. And when people do lots of things, injuries happen. For those of us working in the emergency departments of the Winnipeg Health Region, the Victoria Day long weekend is the start of trauma season, a time of year when we brace for a spike of injury and trauma cases.

I would like to share a sampling of cases from one May long weekend. If it's true we can learn from example, may these examples help you avoid learning from experience.

  • A middle-aged fellow was trimming the hedge with power clippers. Holding the clippers in one hand, he tried to move a branch out of the way and instead cut two fingers. Two hands on the clippers, with gloves on both hands, is the safe way to trim.
  •  Reaching for the far corner on a dirty window, another middle-aged fellow broke his ankle when the ladder slid sideways along the wall and he fell onto his deck. Ladders slide or tip over incredibly quickly, so always have someone standing below, anchoring the ladder to the ground and the wall.
  • An older woman was pulling the lawn mower backwards and pulled it over her sandaled foot, taking off the end of her big toe. Sandals don't cut it; mowers cut sandals. When not cutting off toes, the blade will also throw stones and twigs at your feet, so wear sturdy, enclosed footwear and push -- don't pull -- the lawn mower.
  •  An older fellow fell out of the tree he was pruning when the branch he was standing on gave way. He broke a couple of ribs, dislocated his shoulder and bruised his pride. If you need to climb a tree in order to prune it, you should hire an arborist to do the job.
  •  A teenager broke her wrist when she hit a small hole while rollerblading and lost her balance. She fell full force onto her outstretched hand. She was a competent rollerblader, but that didn't save her from road hazards. Protect yourself with good wrist guards and a good helmet.
  •  A younger guy out for his first round of golf of the season sprained his back trying to make a 400-yard drive. Another fellow came in with an aching back and shoulders after spending all of the previous day digging the garden. Overuse of underused or unconditioned muscles will leave you sore and sad. Work your way up to more strenuous activity -- you've got the whole summer to do it.
  • A boater came in at the end of the weekend with a swollen hand from an infected finger laceration he got at the beginning of the weekend when a boat trailer slipped and the hitch caught him. He ignored the injury until it hurt too much to ignore. Treat your cuts and scrapes immediately and properly, or they will get worse.
  •  A teenager came in with a broken jaw from a fight he started at a party where he had been drinking a lot. A young woman came in dangerously intoxicated from another party. An old-enough-to-know-better male suffered a head injury when he crashed his bicycle while riding after drinking. Alcohol is involved in too many injury and trauma cases. When judgment is impaired, dumb and dangerous things are done. Enjoy a long-weekend drink, but don't let the drink overtake you.

The injury spike settles after the May long weekend, but the baseline of injury and trauma cases remains higher through the summer. So, when does trauma season end? After Labour Day.

Have a great and safe start to summer.


Dr. Joe Wiatrowski is the medical director of emergency at the Grace Hospital.

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