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Stuff your mouth, not the ER: Hospital reps offer tips for a safer Thanksgiving

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 22, 2021

Photo supplied

When cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving, make sure the meat is cooked to the proper temperature to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year in the emergency room, where people are treated for everything from exploding turkeys to food poisoning.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, cooking fires remain the No. 1 cause of residential fires on Thanksgiving. The data shows an average of 1,700 cooking fires a year, more than three times the average number of cooking fires on any other day. In addition, around 36,000 people are treated in the ER on turkey day.

“Thanksgiving Day and the holiday season as a whole is a very dangerous time for our emergency services, more so in the evening after everyone has eaten,” said Heather Christensen, director of emergency services for Ogden Regional Medical Center’s Pleasant View Emergency Center. “One of the reasons we commonly see patients on Thanksgiving is stomach and chest pain complaints.”

Christensen said those pains are mostly due to overeating or eating something that didn’t sit right. Although heartburn and indigestion can create painful side effects, Christensen said it’s still best to go to the ER to make sure it’s not something more serious.

Dr. Cameron Symonds, emergency room physician at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital, Spanish Fork Hospital Emergency Services and Orem Community Hospital, said turkey carving cuts are probably the most common injury seen on Thanksgiving.

“A lot of people have fingertip cuts,” he said. “People just need to try to be careful about proper knife handling and try not to get distracted while they’re carving the turkey.”

Other reasons people end up in the ER include food poisonings, burns, overeating, overexerting, car crashes, recreational accidents, over-indulgence of alcohol, and slips and falls. Christensen even had a badly burned patient from an exploding turkey cooked in a deep fryer.

“You have to be very careful to ensure the turkey is completely thawed and not retaining any water when you prepare it this way,” she said.

Christensen said it’s also important to drink plenty of water between alcoholic drinks and use a designated driver to get yourself home.

“We also unfortunately treat people injured in domestic violence events,” Christensen said. “Family tensions can run high at holiday celebrations and we see injuries that are the results of fighting. Avoid controversial issues or known triggers that could cause disagreements. Leave if it’s getting too tense or heated.”

Christensen and Symonds both see a lot of sprains, fractures, broken bones and concussions from football injuries or other contact games, and a small percentage will end up with heart issues because they aren’t as fit as their activities demand. Symonds said he once treated two people with Achilles tendon tears participating in recreational activities.

“Our trauma teams also receive a lot of patients traveling on the (Interstate 15) corridor and if the weather is good we receive a lot of the outdoor recreational injuries from the central and southern part of the state,” Symonds said.

If you don’t want to end up with salmonella or another form of food poisoning, cook your stuffing outside of the turkey, sanitize surfaces, don’t let food sit out, make sure your turkey is cooked all the way through and refrigerate leftovers within two hours, both health care workers said, and be careful with hot things such as ovens, plates, food and liquids, which can cause very serious burns.

“Make sure your gathering place is visitor friendly,” Christensen said. “It should be well lit at all times. Pay attention to hazards on the floor like water from weather or other liquids. Remove or secure rugs. Be careful with stairs, doors, tables and folding chairs. Always secure all medications and firearms out of sight and preferably lock them away so visitors, especially children, cannot get into them.”

Symonds said COVID-19 is still high in Utah, so it’s important to think of people’s health risks.

“Getting into the holidays, those at risk should be cautious around large gatherings,” he said. “But despite our hospitals being full, we work very hard to be ready for people with heart attacks, strokes, broken bones and other acute problems. Don’t be afraid to come to the hospital. We will see you and help you.”

Christensen also said to remember any family and friends who might not have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving.

“This is a health issue. Invite them to your celebration if possible or at least call or check on them to help keep them safe and feeling like they are included,” she said. “We are always ready to care for you when you need treatment, and my strongest advice is not to avoid or delay emergency care when it’s needed. We are here to help.”

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