Don’t let this be you
Margaret Keresteci should have known better. Thanks to her previous job collecting injury data, she was well aware of the many mishaps that occur during the festive season. Nevertheless, one night she was so anxious to get her exterior Christmas lights up that she hauled out a ladder, climbed to the top rung and then leaned too far to one side. The next thing Keresteci knew, she was lying on the ground with two broken wrists and a gash on her head. Her husband and kids weren’t at home, so, in terrible pain, she made her way to a nearby house, where she summoned help by banging on the door with her elbow. Keresteci suffered permanent damage to one wrist as a result of her fall. Her story is a kind of perfect storm of holiday hazards: elaborate decorating, high stress, busy schedule. It’s no wonder there are typically more falls from ladders, more accidental fires, and more food-related illnesses just before and during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. The good news is that most of these incidents are preventable. Here is our guide to the season’s red flags – and how to avoid them.
Reaching for the top
Dr Louis Francescutti, an emergency-room physician and professor and injury researcher, says he treats traumas like Keresteci’s every year. “Whoever draws the Christmas shift usually has a story to tell,” he says.
Safety tips: If you’re using a ladder outdoors, do so during daylight hours, and clear away any branches or loose items before setting it down. Never stand on a rung higher than fourth from the top, and don’t climb up or down while carrying anything. Instead, place lights or other items in a container and raise and lower them by rope while maintaining three-point contact with the ladder: one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot. Make sure you have a spotter, too.
The risk of heart attack spikes during the holiday season. Part of the problem is that some cardiac symptoms are similar to those of indigestion – another seasonal risk – and many people would rather blame their discomfort on gluttony than interrupt a party for a visit to emergency. “If you’ve lived your whole life without indigestion and all of a sudden you’re suffering from it, you need to think that it could be your heart,” warns Dr Beth Abramson, a cardiologist.
Another cardiac risk can be found in boozy beverages. “Holiday heart syndrome,” a fast, irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, can be caused by drinking too much alcohol in a short time.
Safety tips: Even doctors can’t be sure, based on observation alone, when someone is having a heart attack. While pressure on the chest is the most common symptom, a heart attack doesn’t have to be of the dramatic Hollywood variety. “Sudden chest, neck, throat, jaw or arm discomfort, or shortness of breath or nausea that comes out of the blue needs to be taken seriously,” says Abramson. Family history of heart problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and being overweight increase your risk. “There are quick and simple tests that can be done in an emergency room to confirm whether you’re having a heart attack,” says Abramson. When in doubt, play it safe by heading straight to the hospital.