June 21, 2018
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Holiday decorating injuries on the rise

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Dr. Charles Pattavina stands amid the St. Joseph emergency department in Bangor on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. Staff at the ER said Saturday and Sunday are usually busy times with holiday-related injuries including cooking burns and cuts due to people trying to remove gifts from thick plastic packaging. “"We definitely see people who cut themselves with a kitchen knife or a glass," said Dr. Pattavina.
By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

Consumers aren’t taking enough care as they hang their stockings by the chimney, with injuries related to holiday decorating on the upswing.

Falls from ladders while stringing lights, lacerations from broken glass ornaments and other holiday-related injuries sent more than 13,000 people to emergency rooms during November and December 2010, up more than 8 percent over 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratories reported this month. Figures for 2011 were not yet released.

Revelers also are getting burned and cut as they rush to prepare holiday feasts for loved ones, said Dr. Charles Pattavina, chief of emergency medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, on Thursday.

“I bet that’s probably the most common thing,” he said. “We definitely see people who cut themselves with a kitchen knife or a glass.”

Those consuming the decadent meals are known to overindulge and wind up in the ER with abdominal pain, Pattavina said. Or, they drink one beer, wine or spiked eggnog too many and end up falling and lacerating their skulls, according to Dr. Holly Fanjoy, an emergency physician at Eastern Maine Medical Center.

“We do see an increase in alcohol-related injuries,” around the holidays, she said Friday.

Estimates of deaths and injuries related to Christmas tree and candle fires are down this year, but the CPSC is reminding consumers to stay safe.

“A well-watered tree, carefully placed candles, and carefully checked holiday light sets will help prevent the joy of the holidays from turning into a trip to the emergency room or the loss of your home,” Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said in a press release.

Wrapping presents and opening the hard plastic packages often used for electronics also can lead to cuts, Pattavina said.

Both he and Fanjoy said bad weather tends to fill up the ER more than decking the halls, leading to broken bones from slips on icy sidewalks and injuries from minor motor vehicle accidents.

The holidays can take their toll on mental health, as well. For some, the extra demands of the season trigger episodes of anxiety and depression.

“We do see people overdoing it, trying to do too many things and getting stressed out sometimes,” Pattavina said.

The pressures of the holidays also can strain family dynamics. At Cary Medical Center in Caribou, the emergency department is witnessing the effects firsthand, according to Dr. Carol Nieroda.

“What we’ve been seeing here is much more of the family member abuse types of things,” she said Friday.

A few holiday safety pointers from the American College of Emergency Physicians to keep in mind this season:

  1. When using a ladder, first set it up on level ground before stepping onto it, and never stand on the top two rungs.
  1. Take heed of “holiday heart syndrome,” a condition involving an irregular heartbeat in people who are otherwise healthy that may develop largely because of excessive drinking.
  1. Clear snow and leaves from pathways and sprinkle salt on patches of ice.
  2. Check children’s shoes, socks and gloves for wetness as they play outdoors in cold weather to avoid frostbite and hypothermia.
  1. Have a first-aid kit nearby.
  2. Know where the fire extinguisher is stored and how to use it.

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