Shots - Health Blog
10:35 am
Thu November 24, 2011

How to avoid a Thanksgiving trip to the ER

Originally published on Wed November 23, 2011 1:33 pm

Take it from emergency room doctors, Thanksgiving can be dangerous.

I learned the hard way that plumbers' busiest day comes on Black Friday, when pipes are groaning from too many flushes from Thanksgiving guests and too much garbage shoved down the kitchen sink.

How about hospitals? Yep, the emergency room can be a pretty busy place, too, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Dr. Sandy Schneider, immediate past president of the group, took a few minutes out from her shift at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., this morning to offer some tips on avoiding her and her colleagues this holiday.

Be careful with the knives. Overwhelmed cooks can make mistakes. And people who rarely venture into the kitchen get drafted as sous chefs. Their eagerness to help often exceeds their skill. "A lot of people cut themselves," she says. There are plenty of burns, too, so keep an eye on hot objects and especially the deep fryer, if you're going that route.

Cook the bird thoroughly. And beware of bacterial contamination in the kitchen. Schneider says the ER usually sees people with food poisoning about four to seven hours after the big meal. Whole families sometimes come in. Remember the turkey may be bringing salmonella to the festivities. Here are some food safety reminders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Wash your hands after you touch the bird," Schneider advises cooks.

Watch the salt. For people with congestive heart failure, a little too much salt can cause dangerous fluid retention. Pay attention to the canned soups and vegetables, Schneider says, because those are loaded with sodium. Some people skip their diuretic medicines because they don't want to be running to the bathroom while traveling. Add in the heavy salt dose in the typical Thanksgiving feast and you've got a recipe for trouble, she says.

Don't wait for Thanksgiving to check on older relatives. In what's become a sad ritual, worried family members bring their elderly parents or grandparents to the emergency room because they're not acting quite right, Schneider says.

Often, the family is only just noticing behavior that's been a long time in the making. They just haven't seen Grandma or Grandpa for a while. "If this has been happening over months and months, that can be dementia," Schneider says, and it's not the sort of thing that's best dealt with in the ER

"Very often, you get the feeling the family has had a meeting at home, and they expect that we will be able to" put the person in a nursing home. That's not going to happen, she says. "We can only put them in the hospital."

Keep the peace. Families don't always get along like the ones we've seen in Norman Rockwell illustrations. Roughhousing cousins can end up breaking more than fine china. And too much alcohol can turn disagreements into all-out fights.

Schneider has Thankgiving off this year. But she still remembers the shift she pulled over the holiday as an intern more than 35 years ago. Co-workers of a hospitalized Pittsburgh restaurateur brought a huge Thanksgiving dinner right to his bed. He shared it with Schneider and the rest of the staff on the floor. It's her fondest Thanksgiving memory, she says, because it was "so unexpected."

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