Relatives, Alcohol, Knives, and Other ED Thanksgiving Tales


Travel Tragedy

The Wednesday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are traditionally the highest-volume traffic days of the year. Dr. Thomas Tallman of the Cleveland Clinic related a sad story from earlier in his career that actually took place on Thanksgiving day.

An elderly woman, just arrived from the U.K., was driving to her son's house hoping to surprise him. Accustomed to driving on the left, she was in the wrong lane on the highway and smashed head on into another car. "She did not survive," Tallman said.

And the driver of the other car? It was the woman's son who was running a quick errand. He was not seriously injured, but "I have never felt so badly as I did [explaining] to him and his family what had happened," Tallman said.

The Upside

Dr. Vincent Mosesso Jr. of the University of Pittsburgh said the interaction of family and holiday sometimes is beneficial.

"During the holidays many persons are cajoled, or even forced, to come to [the emergency department] by family (or friends) who haven't seen them in a long time," he told MedPage Today and ABC News in an email. "The person often seems much worse to the visitor than when last seen and there is concern for acute illness or serious deterioration of chronic disease."

This may be an overreaction or may reflect the relative's guilt at not visiting more often. But "sometimes there are real issues that do need to be addressed," Mosesso added.

He recalled one older woman who was brought in with "a large, deep, gangrenous ulcer in a breast." Not only was it infected but it was related to a malignant tumor.

"If that had gone much longer she would have become septic and most likely died. So that was one case where the out-of-town relative visit did save the day."

How to Stay Out of the ER

Recommendations from emergency physicians for next year's Thanksgiving were simple and straightforward:

Eat and drink in moderation

Drive carefully and defensively

Be extra careful with knifes and other sharp implements. "Buy bagels pre-sliced," Tallman advised.

Now the key will be remembering them for a whole year.

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