Top 3 Thanksgiving Emergencies

Holidays are busy times for everyone and this is also true for your local hospital emergency departments. Maybe it’s the rushing around during preparation or too many people in the kitchen, but inevitably someone gets hurt. Here are some top injuries we see in the ER during the Thanksgiving holidays and tips to help prevent them.

Posted on | Leigh Vinocur, MD FACEP | Comments ()

Holidays are busy times for everyone and this is also true for your local hospital emergency departments. Maybe it’s the rushing around during preparation or too many people in the kitchen, but inevitably someone gets hurt. Here are some top injuries we see in the ER during the Thanksgiving holidays and tips to help prevent them.

Don’t Get Burned This Holiday

Burns are a common injury seen in ERs during Thanksgiving. Most often, people report getting hurt trying to put out a cooking fire. The number one safety tip is DO NOT pour water on grease fires; this just causes the grease to spread and splatter, increasing your risk of getting burned. This is the same reason we see people getting burned frying a turkey. You CAN NOT drop a frozen bird into a fryer filled with oil, the turkey needs to be completely thawed and dried off. Set up your fryer outside or in the garage away from flammable materials. Use proper protective gear and gloves, and always have a fire extinguisher handy.

Young kids are at risk for scalding burns during this busy hectic time. Doorbells ring with guests arriving while hot pots are simmering. This is a set up for curious little hands. If a liquid is over 160° F, it only takes 1 second of contact to cause a serious burn; because young children have thinner skin, it only takes half the time! Be vigilant to never leave a child unattended in the kitchen when cooking (not even for a second) or leave hot food or hot liquids out. When cooking on the stove, use the back burners and turn pot handles inward and out of the reach of small children. Push any mugs with hot liquid to the back of the counter, also out of their reach.

If you or your child gets burned:

  • Remove the affected clothing.
  • Run the burned area under cool water for 15 minutes.
  • Do not apply butter or ointments or creams.
  • Cover with a dry clean gauze.
  • Call 911.

Cut Out This Reason to Go to the ER

Lacerations are the medical term for cuts, and they are another injury we commonly see during this holiday. Hand injuries account for about 10% of all emergency visits throughout the year. However, you can imagine that during Thanksgiving with knives flying during all the preparation and all the best china and crystal being passed around, this figure goes up.

Use common sense if you break something made of glass. Clean it up immediately, but not with your bare hands; use a broom and dustpan instead. And no walking barefoot until you are sure all the tiny shards are gone!

As far as cuts from knives, it goes without saying to keep them out of the reach of young children. But even adults need to use safe knife-handling skills while dicing and slicing. Pay attention while chopping and don’t get distracted talking to your guests. NEVER look away when using a knife. Expert chefs recommend holding the knife in your stronger hand, cutting on a flat surface, curling fingers under and away from the edge of the blade - and NEVER try to catch a falling knife. Also, don’t leave a knife in a sink where you can’t see it and turn the knifepoint upside down when loading a dishwasher. Some say sharp knives are best because dull knives require more pressure to use, which make them more likely to slip and you more likely to cut yourself.

 If an injury does occur:

  • Wash the cut with soap and water.
  • Put pressure on it with a clean gauze to stop or control the bleeding after you clean it.
  • If the cut is longer than a centimeter, your finger or hand feels numb, or you see tissue coming out of the wound, you may need stitches. Go to an emergency room to have it evaluated.
  • If the person feels dizzy or weak, lay them down and call 911.

Don’t Spoil Your Thanksgiving Vacation

Food poisoning can be a problem during this holiday. Improper cooking, handling and/or storage of food during the holidays are the culprits. We often have so much food in our fridge before we even start cooking, we don’t allow for good air circulation to cool it properly. Then, we are cooking so much, with too many pans at once. Food sometimes doesn’t get heated to the proper temperatures. Add to that the hours we often leave things out on the tables for snacking and those late-arriving guests, and you have a recipe for foodborne illness, the medical term for food poisoning.

And while most cases run their course in a day or 2 without many complications, this is not always true for very young children, pregnant women, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. They are the most at risk for severe complications like blood infections and kidney failure that can sometimes be fatal.

Here are some safe food-handling tips:

  • Refrigerate all foods right away at the proper temperature, 40° F, and freeze at 0° F. Defrost in the fridge, not on the countertops, and try not to over-stuff your fridge and freezer.
  • Wash hands well with soap and warm water, clean and disinfect countertops, plates and utensils before and during preparation as you touch raw foods to avoid cross-contamination.
  • To further prevent cross-contamination, keep raw fish, poultry, meats and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods and produce by using different plates and utensils.
  • Cook all foods to the proper temperature to kill any bacteria; that’s about 150° F for steaks, roasts and chops of beef, 165° F for ground veal, pork or poultry, and 180° F for whole poultry (the juices should run clear on properly cooked poultry). Verify with a food thermometer.
  • Don’t leave foods out for more than 2 hours. Reheat all leftovers to at least 165° F.

Using a little common sense this Thanksgiving holiday can ensure your trip to grandma’s house doesn’t also include a trip to the ER.

Blog written by Leigh Vinocur, MD FACEP
Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a board certified emergency physician and national spokesperson for the American College of Emergency...