South Charlotte

Doctors’ advice: How to avoid a holiday visit to an emergency room

Hospital emergency room traffic is up and will continue to increase throughout the holidays as festivities get underway and more folks visit from out of town.
Hospital emergency room traffic is up and will continue to increase throughout the holidays as festivities get underway and more folks visit from out of town. Charlotte Observer file photo

The holidays are full of cheer, but may also be full of mishaps, leading to trips to the emergency room, a place that’s especially busy this time of year.

Jason Cooke, nurse manager of the Emergency Department at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center, says ER traffic is up and will continue to increase throughout the holidays as festivities get underway and more folks visit from out of town.

“We’re already seeing the volume trickle up, at least 10 percent since the September/October time frame,” said Cooke.

He says folks decking the halls, inside and out, is partly to blame.

“We see people injured by falls from decorating. Don’t decorate alone. If you are using a ladder, make sure you have a spotter. And use the proper equipment. It doesn’t happen often, but we see the occasional electrocution when someone uses indoor lights outside or tries to plug too many wires into one socket,” said Cooke.

Be careful with sharp tools

Emergency rooms also see an increase in cuts and lacerations that may need medical attention.

“We see cuts from opening presents or assembling gifts like bicycles. People get excited and use knives or razor blades to get into the packages and then cut themselves. We also see a handful cuts from the kitchen with folks carving the turkey or ham,” said Dr. Jason Mutch, medical director of Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center Emergency Department.

Use the proper tools to get into packages, make sure your knives are sharp (sharper knives are safer than dull ones), and, though it may sound obvious, pay attention when using sharp tools.

Wear a helmet

Mutch says pediatric orthopedic injuries are also common around the holidays as kids try out new hover boards, bikes, skates and trampolines without protective gear, especially helmets.

“The biggest preventable injuries are head injuries. Always wear a helmet,” said Mutch.

Don’t wait

The cold, flu and other upper respiratory infection season is usually well under by Christmastime and lots of friends and relatives gathered in close quarters help the nasty bugs spread even faster. Dr. Jason Bolden, medical director of the Carolinas HealthCare Systems SouthPark Free Standing Emergency Department, says the key is to treat the symptoms early to prevent an ER visit.

“Often times people don’t seek attention soon enough. Call your primary care physician early for guidance instead of waiting till things get worse or until after hours when the only alternative is to come to the ER,” said Bolden.

He also cautions against the over consumption of alcohol.

“Sometimes people enjoy the holidays a little too much with overconsumption causing dehydration as well as falls and injuries because they are intoxicated,” said Bolden.

In other words, practice moderation to save a trip to the ER.

Chest pains and strokes happen year round, but ER docs say some patients are reluctant to interrupt the holiday fun to seek medical attention.

“Don’t play around with chest pains or stroke symptoms. Come see us,” said Cooke.

Depression can also be exacerbated when days are shorter and it’s assumed that everyone should be filled with holiday cheer.

“It’s one of the things we see consistently. The stresses and strains of the season coupled with missing those loved ones that are no longer here can become unbearable. Talk to your primary care provider before it gets overwhelming. Seek help early, don’t wait,” said Bolden.

Dr. Brad Bissell, medical director of the Emergency Department at Carolinas HealthCare in Huntersville, encourages those suffering from depression to ask for help.

“If you have a support structure – whether it be friends or family – reach out and rely on them. And don’t resort to alcohol or other substances to try and make things better,” said Bissell.

For travelers

Finally, easy access to medical record keeping can be a lifesaver for out-of-towners.

Some of the increase ER traffic comes from out-of-town guests who don’t have a primary care physician nearby. When traveling, Bissell encourages everyone – especially those with multiple health issues – to pack a copy of all medications they take as well as medical records detailing any problems they may have. These documents could be lifesavers if an ER visit is required.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer:

Learn more

For information about when to visit an emergency room and where emergency care facilities are located visit and choose “Get Care Now” or visit and choose “Services” then “Emergency.”