Code Blue

The ER Is (Not) the Place to Be This Summer

Fireworks and fingers don’t mix.

By Angela Cabotaje July 19, 2021

Oh, summer. Sometimes it’s all ice cream and Glossier openings. And other times it’s cursing our lack of air conditioning in a puddle of our own sweat and regret. For the fine medical professionals working Seattle’s emergency rooms, though, the season means something else entirely. 

“At the hospital we refer to summer as trauma season as the number of people who need treatment for injuries is much higher in the summer than any other time of the year,” says Dr. Eileen Bulger, chief of trauma at Harborview Medical Center. Or as Pamela Turner, an emergency services assistant nurse manager at Harborview, puts it, “recreational opportunities abound in our region,” resulting in more leisurely pursuits, yes, but also more chances to get injured. 

In other words, summer means more cars on the road, more people traveling, and more outdoor gatherings with, let’s face it, inebriated people doing things only inebriated people do. Grisly case in point: UW Medicine amputated 42 fingers and two hands in 2020 due to fireworks injuries. 

Perhaps the cringiest part is that most of these “trauma season” injuries are avoidable. “The majority and more would be reduced in severity if appropriate safety equipment were used and people did not choose to use alcohol and drugs in conjunction with their activities,” Turner says.  

C’mon, people. If you can learn how to wear a mask for a year and a half, you can learn how to stay out of the ER this summer and give our tapped-out medical workers a break. Here’s how: 

Watch your windows. “Please do not open windows above the first floor more than five inches if you have young children at home and move furniture away from the windows so they cannot climb up and fall out,” Bulger says. Most of the time with these falls, she adds, kids are leaning against a window screen that pops out.  

Wear a lifejacket. Yes, you may know how to swim. But something called cold-water shock can incapacitate even the most experienced among us. And, take it from a lifeguard, they don’t want to have to save you or your kids. 

Don’t pour gasoline on a campfire. Uh, hopefully this one is obvious. 

Don a helmet. Doesn’t matter if you’re cruising the highway on your motorcycle or terrorizing pedestrians on a motorized scooter. 

Don’t mix drugs and alcohol with things that have a motor. Or things that have fire. Or things that go boom. Capisce? 

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