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Slip-Sliding Storm Sends Folks to the ER, Docs Say

Image: A passenger struggles to exit his taxi over a slush puddle

A passenger struggles to exit his taxi over a slush puddle on Thursday in New York. John Minchillo / AP

Emergency doctors praised people who stayed home in the path of a massive snowstorm that swept a broad swath of the U.S. Thursday, saying those who ventured out were winding up with injuries ranging from broken wrists, arms and legs to spinal fractures and heart attacks from shoveling.

ERs from North Carolina to Connecticut were quieter than normal — which was the good news. At Yale-New Haven Hospital, Dr. Vic Parwani said there were 18 patients in emergency room at midday, down from 80 he would typically expect on a Thursday afternoon.

“Many folks seem to be staying put and safe,” he said.

But experts also said they expected a surge in patients as soon as folks started to dig out.

“Once people get out and start shoveling, that’s when we’ll start seeing the slips, trips and falls,” said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

“Once people get out and start shoveling, that’s when we’ll start seeing the slips, trips and falls."

As of Thursday afternoon, 18 people had died from forces related to the weather, including one person killed in North Carolina by a falling tree limb and two people in Georgia who succumbed to hypothermia. That included a 36-year-old woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., who was killed Thursday morning when she was struck by a snowplow behind a local market.

At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, Dr. Bret Nicks said he’d seen several snow-related injuries, including people hurt by chainsaws as they tried to clear debris. A few good Samaritans suffered leg or ankle injuries when they tried to push stuck cars up hills or out of ditches, only to have the vehicles roll over on them.

“Sledding injuries and falls have been the vast majority of weather-related injuries,” he said. “Everything from spinal fractures from sledding off of elevated ledges and surfaces to broken arms and legs from falls related to unsafe surfaces.”

"People need to remember that shoveing, or even snow blowing, can be a large amount of physical exertion."

At Righttime Medical Care, which operates a chain of urgent care centers in Maryland and elsewhere, Dr. Robert Graw said he’d seen typical injuries caused by bad weather, and also a number of people with concussions caused by hard falls.

“They’re getting out to their car and slipping,” he said. “Or people are taking a walk and they slip on ice because they didn’t know it was there.”

At Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, emergency department chief Dr. John Marshall said this latest storm has added to what’s turning out to be the most traumatic season in years. New York City health department officials said visits to ERs for snow-related falls and spills are sharply up this year. On Jan. 5, which was especially icy, there was a 300 percent increase in local emergency room visits.

That doesn't suprise Dr. Howard Mell, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians who works for a national staffing agency and is deployed to emergency rooms from New Jersey to Ohio.

He was in Lafayette, Ind., last week where the first patient he treated was a man who suffered a heart attack and died after trying to shovel the walkway for his wife.

“He’s going to stay with me for a while,” said Mell, who works in ERs from New Jersey to Ohio. “People need to remember that shoveing, or even snow blowing, can be a large amount of physical exertion. If you’re not healthy enough for physical exertion, this is not the way to get back into it.”