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Holiday Decorating Can Send 250 People a Day to the ER

However, with 250 injuries a day from decorating for the holiday season, holiday safety is less funny in the ER. Unless you have a stuntman, follow my five rules for a health fail-free holiday.
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Caucasian woman hanging Christmas wreath on door
Caucasian woman hanging Christmas wreath on door


I can always tell when the holiday season starts in the ER. Perhaps it's a patient's chart that includes "ornament" in the chief complaint, or my inebriated patient comes in with the pleasant aroma of peppermint schnapps (oh, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas). I still laugh when I see the falls and capers in Home Alone or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (how is that still funny?). However, with potentially 250 injuries a day from decorating for the holiday season, holiday safety is less funny in the ER. Unless you have a stuntman, follow my five rules for a health fail-free holiday.

1. Stash electrical cords to prevent toddler electrical burns. I love holiday lights! But with them come electrical cords which account for 4,000 ER visits every year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Half of those are from tripping and falling (especially a risk for older relatives). But children under age 5 are at particular risk -- hundreds every year sustain severe electrical burns from biting the cord.
Holiday RX:
• Be sure that all cords are out of reach and out of sight.
• Use gadgets that retract and lock away any excess cord.
• Consider using wireless lights.

2. New gifts without protective equipment mean injuries. I don't know how many times I've taken care of a child in the ER that was given a gift of a bike, rollerblades, scooter... you name it ... but wasn't also given the appropriate protective gear. The gift giver assumed the child could wait to use the toy until they got the gear (which makes me wonder if they remember anything about childhood).
Holiday RX:
• Make it a family rule that if any gifts require safety pads/gear, buy those as well.
• Make sure protective gear is worn starting with that first spin around the block.

3. Stick to safer plants. Ah, mistletoe, holly and poinsettias ... the house hardly seems decorated without them. Unfortunately, in small doses they can cause mild to moderate vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, and in large doses can be toxic (including for pets). Also, the oil of poinsettias can be irritating, causing a burning sensation if you touch it and then rub your skin and eyes. I learned my lesson when my dog ate the mistletoe décor I hung up while in medical school (she was ok, but I was cleaning up her "reactions" for the next 24 hours). Now that I have a toddler, I'm playing it safe and avoiding these altogether.
Holiday RX:
• If you do buy any of these plants, keep them away from well-traveled areas. Remember that berries and leaves can fall to the floor and be eaten so be sure to check for them on a regular basis.
• Save yourself time, doctor's visits and potentially serious health problems and just get some red roses.

4. Keep hands and wine glasses intact. Last winter, I treated a woman who had cut her hand deeply while washing wine glasses after her cocktail party. Like most of us do, she pushed the sponge (and her hand) into the glass to clean it. Add a few martinis and she pushed too hard, breaking the glass and gashing her hand.
Holiday RX:
• Don't wash glassware or sharp knives after you've had alcohol (I know, that does make the washing more tolerable, but trust me).
• Use a sponge on a stick designed specifically for washing glasses. It keeps your hands out of the glass and out of harm's way. Genius!

5. Don't take ladder tips from Clark Griswold. In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold first collapses the ladder on himself, then later tips it backwards -- quintessential Chevy Chase, but not so funny for the rest of us. In fact, falls are one of the most common causes of holiday-related injuries, with 5,800 people treated in the ER each year for a decorating-related fall (yes - the patient's chart will read "Fell from ladder while decorating tree") .
Holiday RX:
• Place the ladder on secure/level ground one foot away from the wall for every four feet in height.
• Never stand on the top two rungs.
• Have an adult steady the ladder at the base and keep children well away.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful, hazard-free holiday season -- one that is memorable for all the right reasons.

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Check out more articles by Dr. Darria Long Gillespie

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