You can tell when the holiday season starts in the ER. Perhaps you open a patient’s chart that includes “ornament” in the chief complaint, or your inebriated patient comes in with the pleasant aroma of peppermint schnapps (oh, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas). I still laugh when I see the falls in Home Alone or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But with 250 injuries a day occurring while decorating for the holiday season, unless you have a stuntman, follow my five rules for a health fail-free holiday.
1. Stash electrical cords – they aren’t for biting! I love holiday lights! But with them come electrical cords, which account for 4,000 ER visits every year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Half of those are from tripping and falling (especially a risk for older relatives). But children under age 5 are at additional risk – hundreds every year sustain severe electrical burns from biting the cord.
- Be sure that all cords are out of reach and out of sight.
- Use gadgets that retract and lock away any excess cord.
- Consider using wireless lights.
2. Gifting a bike? Give a helmet, too. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken care of a child in the ER that was given a gift of a bike, Rollerblades, or scooter but wasn’t also given the appropriate protective gear. The gift giver assumed the child could wait to use the toy until they got the gear (which makes me wonder if they remember anything about childhood).
- Make a family rule that if any gifts require safety pads or gear, those will be bought as well.
- Make sure protective gear is worn starting with that first spin around the block.
3. Stick to safer plants. Ah, mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias! The house hardly seems decorated without them. Unfortunately, in small doses they can cause mild to moderate vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, and in large doses can be toxic (including for pets). Also, the oil of poinsettias can be irritating, causing a burning sensation if you touch it and then rub your skin and eyes. I learned my lesson when my dog ate the mistletoe décor I hung up while in medical school (she was okay, but I was cleaning up her “reactions” for the next 24 hours). Now that I have a toddler, I’m playing it safe and avoiding these altogether.
- If you do buy any of these plants, keep them away from well-traveled areas.
- Remember that berries and leaves can fall to the floor and be eaten so be sure to check for them on a regular basis.
- Save yourself time, doctor’s visits, and potentially serious health problems and just get some red roses.
4. Keep hands and wine glasses intact. Last winter, I treated a woman who had cut her hand deeply while washing wine glasses after her cocktail party. Like most of us do, she pushed the sponge (and her hand) into the glass to clean it. Add a few martinis and she pushed too hard, breaking the glass and gashing her hand.
- Don’t wash glassware or sharp knives after you’ve had alcohol. (I know, that does make the washing more tolerable, but trust me.)
- Use a sponge on a stick designed specifically for washing glasses. It keeps your hands out of the glass and out of harm’s way. Genius!
5. Don’t take ladder tips from Clark Griswold. In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold first collapses the ladder on himself, then later tips it backward – quintessential Chevy Chase, but not so funny for the rest of us. In fact, falls are one of the most common causes of holiday-related injuries, with 5,800 people treated in the ER each year for a decorating-related fall (yes – the patient’s chart will read, “Fell from ladder while decorating tree”).
- Place the ladder on secure/level ground one foot away from the wall for every four feet in height.
- Never stand on the top two rungs.
- Have an adult steady the ladder at the base and keep children well away.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful, hazard-free holiday season – one that is memorable for all the right reasons.
This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.