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Avoiding slips and falls during winter

Dr. David Thomas is the Chief of Staff at the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre in Channel-Port aux Basques. – © File photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — Winter comes with numerous hazards from high winds and blizzard conditions to extreme temperatures and ice buildup. With ice and snow buildup on the roads and sidewalks, the probability of someone suffering a serious injury due to slips and falls are significantly increased. Dr. Dave Thomas, Chief of Staff at Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre, said the result is something seen often in the winter months. “It’s very common for us. We see a lot of patients with slip and falls, both in our clinics and in our emergency department in particular. This time of year, particularly when the ice gets down and then you get the snow down over top of it, we see a lot of people with injuries from falling down.” Even though a multitude of injuries could happen as the result of a fall, there are a couple that are seen at the hospital more often. “There are three main injuries. Injuries to the limbs, the arms in particular because, when people fall they reach out their arms to catch themselves, they often break their wrists. It’s a super common one and it’s more common as we get older,” explained Thomas. “The elbows and the shoulders can also get injured, but the wrist is really common. In the lower limbs we see a lot of hip fractures and, of course, osteoporosis and advanced age adds to that as well. When people fall down on their hip it can break quite easily when we get older. Finally, the other one that we see a fair bit of on the ice is when people’s feet come out from under them and they land on their head, concussions, head injuries, and even something as serious as bleeding on the brain can happen from those sort of falls.” Dr. Thomas has also seen more serious injuries from slips and falls during his tenure at LeGrow. “We’ve seen a lot of concussions and we have certainly see people fall and bang their head enough that they get a bleed as well. We have a lot of people who take blood thinners for various reasons, and that increases the risk again, so we end up sending people out for CT scans of their head to rule out a bleed quite frequently.” There are numerous ways an individual can protect themselves and prevent serious falls when outside during inclement weather. “I think prevention is a big thing, just recognizing what kind of day it is and if it’s the type of day where slip and falls can happen. Making sure you’re always looking for the patch of ice or being suspicious of the dusting of snow over the top, those are some of the main things. If you’re going to move and you know you’re a bit unsteady on your feet, have a walking aid, whether that’s a person to go with you, a walking cane, or a walker in some situations. Don’t try to cheat and do it by yourself if you know you’re unsteady by nature,” said Thomas. “Making sure that first step is a nice, secure one, not taking your strides too big is really important, testing the sidewalks and the stairs before you go to make a move. The other one that a lot of public health agencies talk about is the penguin walk, having small strides with your feet close together, making smaller strides, waddling, as opposed to bigger strides when walking on ice in order to avoid falls. Try not to be in a hurry.” So far this winter, with the temperatures being on the milder side up until recently and the snow never sticking around longer than a few days, slip and falls haven’t been as prevalent. “It’s been a slow start to winter, and because of that we’ve had less slip and falls, not none because a lot of times when there is frost there can be slip and falls,” said Thomas. Even though the numbers are currently lower, the recent significant snowfall and cold snap has resulted in a spike. “This week, we saw quite a few. We started on Tuesday morning, with a bit of snowfall after the cold night we had, and it’s continued all week, so it has picked up. Hopefully it will go back to normal, but with that little bit of ice over the bare surface and snow on top of it, yeah, we certainly saw a surge this week,” said Thomas. Even if injuries may not be serious, the necessary precautions should be taken because, when a serious injury does occur, the repercussions could be severe. “We’ve seen people this week who have fallen and required surgery to have bones fixed. Sometimes that’s not required and we can do casting or just a bit of physio if there is a sprain,” said Thomas. “For head injuries, there’s an assessment that we do and, based on the severity of what we are seeing, a CT scan of the head may be indicated, and sometimes not. Sometimes we can just diagnose someone with a concussion and give them the instructions for a concussion. It does affect them because they have to reduce their activities and they have to be careful not to fall again. Some people can have permanent damage from having a brain injury, so it can have quite big consequences.”

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