Tales From the Emergency Room on New Year's Eve

PHOTO: Paramedics wheel a patient into the emergency room in this undated stock image. Getty Images
Paramedics wheel a patient into the emergency room in this undated stock image.

Even on the calmest day of the year, emergency medicine doctors are prepared to expect the unexpected. But on New Year’s Eve, all bets are off.

Ask any doctor and he or she will tell you; the only place crazier than Times Square on New Year’s is the hospital emergency room, where physicians tackle traumas and tend to revelers who have partied a little too hard.

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Take one of Dr. Robert Glatter’s most memorable New Year’s Eve patients, for example. Glatter, a New York-based emergency medicine physician and a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), recalls treating a young woman who accidentally glued her eyes shut an hour before midnight one New Year’s Eve. She had inadvertently dripped super glue into her eyes instead of the antibiotic eye drops in her medicine cabinet.

“In her haste to get to the ER, she reached into her bag and then used what she thought was breath-spray, but it turned out to be pepper spray, instead,” Glatter said. “She came in screaming with chest pain with her eyes glued shut, saying her chest was on fire.”

What’s an ER doc to do? He treated her eyes with lubricant, then administered medications to ease her chest pain.

“She felt much better, and wished us a happy New Year as she was discharged home much happier than when she arrived,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, not all New Year’s injuries are so innocuous.

Two to three times more people die in alcohol-related crashes during Christmas and New Year’s than during comparable periods the rest of the year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And a much higher percentage of these crashes involve a driver who is alcohol-impaired.

In New York, alcohol-related emergency room visits more than double on New Year’s Day compared to what is typically observed, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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Drugs are also a concern, even bath salts, apparently. Dr. Eric Ketcham, an ACEP spokesman and the medical director of the emergency department and urgent care at San Juan Regional Medical Center in New Mexico, treated a young man who was high on bath salts one New Year’s Eve.

The man was running around naked in sub-zero temperatures, and was caught using an extension ladder to break into a second story window. Unfortunately, this man ended up arrested, but first Ketcham treated him for excited delirium, hypothermia and frost bite to his feet, which had severe abrasions from running around barefoot in the cold.

Dr. Angelique Campen, medical director of the emergency department at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and an ACEP spokeswoman, says that for ER docs, New Year’s is just business as usual.

“This is the essence of ER doctors,” she said. “We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even on New Year’s Eve, to help you when you most need. We sacrifice our own celebration to be available for the public, but do so with pleasure. We treat everyone’s emergency as such, no matter how big or small, with compassion, respect, and privacy.”

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Speaking of smaller emergencies, Campen recalls a New Year’s Eve kissing mishap that brought a young woman into her ER. This woman had turned around at midnight and kissed who she thought was her boyfriend only to find it was a completely different man with a giant cold sore. She then came into the ER to get checked for herpes simplex.

As funny as some of these tales may sound, Vanderbilt Department of Emergency Medicine Chairman Dr. Corey Slovis emphasized that much of what emergency doctors see on New Year’s is troubling, as they witness how “amazingly dangerously people can behave due to drugs and alcohol.” At all costs, he says, make a plan so you won’t end up driving while impaired.

Glatter had an additional warning for 2016: Beware of hoverboards. Combining alcohol with these precarious devices could be deadly, he said.

People always resolve to get healthy for the New Year, Glatter said, “but to do that, you first need to survive into the New Year.”