Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter Health Tips

I've seen a recurring theme in the Emergency Department in the winter months. Sure, regardless of the weather, people are going to have abdominal pain, and chest pain, and headaches; and little old ladies are forever going to be weak and dizzy, but there are some ED complaints that are certainly seasonal.

I'd like to provide you with some tips on avoiding the need to come in to see me at work.

First, if you use a snowblower, take a look to see if there are some fairly self explanatory graphics depicting amputated fingers and hands. See them? Okay, do you understand that that means that the spinning metal blades can, and will, cut your digits off like a sharpened Ginsu knife would slice a year-old hot dog? Let's review; spinning metal, soft flesh, blood and missing fingers. Got it? I'm shocked and saddened at the number of people that come in to the Emergency Department after a snow storm, with a hand in a bloody bandage, because they were trying to get the auger unstuck. Okay, MOST of these people THOUGHT they were doing the right thing by having the machine be off, but the fact is, if the blade (yes, blade), is stuck, it's under tension, so even if the machine is off, once unstuck, the blade will spin and little piggies will fly. In summary, NEVER, EVER, EVER stick your hand in the snowblower near the blades of death.

Next, take a look at your shoes. Do they have metal spikes on the bottoms? If not, you're just asking to slip and fall on ice. No one expects to slip and fall. That's why it's called an accident, but it's totally preventable. Get some grippers that slide on to your shoes, AND USE THEM. Use them when you don't think you'll need them, because that's when you'll need them. Ground looks clear? Whoops, was that black ice? A little dusting of snow isn't slippery… Ooops, is that a frozen puddle hidden under the snow? I've had people fall down stairs, fall getting out of their vehicles, fall walking across a parking lot, and these falls result in anything from sprains and strains to broken bones and head lacerations. Sure, I love stapling up a good head laceration, but do you want the staples in the head? Check out these links: Yak Trax, STABILicers; or read this and learn how to make your own.

And one final tip; if you get a cold, meaning a cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, fevers,  sinus pressure, etc, know that the VAST MAJORITY of these are caused by viruses, and antibiotics are not going to help. You'll need to ride it out while your body fights it off, and you should take whatever over the counter medications you need to help with the symptoms. Of course, this broad statement becomes a bit sticky in older patients with many underlying chronic medical conditions, but for most young, otherwise healthy people, it's viral until proven otherwise. The CDC has pretty firm guidelines on when to use and when NOT to use antibiotics, and it has some tips on taking care of yourself when you do get sick. I've had PLENTY of people sit in the waiting room for a couple of hours to be seen for their cough, sore throat, sinus congestion, feeling achy for a few days complaints who then get upset that I don't prescribe antibiotics. Waiting for two hours does NOT translate into an indication for a Z-Pack, sorry.  Of course, my caveat, pneumonia IS usually bacterial, and Strep throat is too, so, use some common sense to determine if you need to come to the ED or not, but either way, I strongly recommend that you start with your primary care provider.

Okay, so there you go. Next time, I'll provide some tips on getting a prescription for 120 Vicodin tablets, with 11 refills, and a work note all for 10 out of 10 chronic back pain.

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