When snow piles up, so do injuries

The snow is falling and so are pedestrians. Navigating icy sidewalks, streets and stairs means more injuries and more patients heading to local emergency rooms. Doctors tell us, slipping on ice is a much more violent type of fall that often leads to broken bones.
The emergency room at Rush University Medical Center was unusually quiet this afternoon. But Dr. Paul Casey says that’s about to change.

Dr. Paul Casey, emergency medicine, Rush University Medical Center: “We haven’t seen so many yet. Often it’s once the snow freezes over, the day after, we start seeing more falls and things.”

Down the street at Midwest Orthopedics, a different story.

Dr. John Fernandez, orthopedic surgeon, Rush University Medical Center: “Today alone we’ve had four or five ad ons … all slip and falls, all fractures.”

And a dislocation. A young woman who slipped and fell yesterday … her finger took the impact. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Fernandez performed what’s called a reduction, carefully manipulating the bones back into place. A pretty easy fix. Others aren’t so simple.

Dr. John Fernandez: “The hand basically impacts the ground and all the force comes up through the radius. So all that energy is being concentrated in this part of the bone, and this part of the bone is relatively weak. So that part of the bone breaks like a stick. You can see how this person fell. This is the palm side of the wrist, the impact came from below. The bone got bent backwards and just like a stick snapped. Falls that occur in snow and ice, it’s a very rapid injury and occurs so quickly and so rapidly that the patient can’t really adjust, so what happens is all of the energy and all of the weight goes into one part of the arm.”

If you have to be on the go, Dr. Fernandez says, slow down.

Dr. John Fernandez: “So when you’re leaving the house and you’re going over the door threshold, you’re going from a dry, safe, familiar area to one that’s icy and snowy. If you slow down and take time and be prepared, you’re less likely to get into a situation where you’re going to slip and fall.”

Dr. Fernandez says wearing the right footwear — boots or shoes with good traction — is a key factor in avoiding falls. And another concern among emergency room doctors … hypothermia. With colder temperatures coming our way, they say the very young and the elderly are most at risk. Dress in layers or stay indoors if you can. And if you have older neighbors, be sure to check on them.

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