Valentine's Day Tales From the Emergency Room

PHOTO: On emotionally-charged holidays like Valentines Day, emergency room doctors encounter some unusual - and memorable - injuriesGetty Images
On emotionally-charged holidays like Valentine's Day, emergency room doctors encounter some unusual - and memorable - injuries

Unlike New Year’s Eve or the Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day is not known for being one of the most dangerous days of the year. Overdosing on chocolate, it turns out, is less likely to kill you than drunk driving or fireworks gone awry.

But on any day when emotions are running high, emergency room doctors are destined to bear witness to insane -- and sometimes intimate -- episodes in their ERs.

Chocolate Mousse Surprise

Sometimes, for example, the excitement of a Valentine’s Day proposal ends in tears -- and not just the happy kind.

“I had a woman who swallowed her engagement ring in chocolate mousse and then was so excited, she passed out and broke her nose at a restaurant,” recalls Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

A trip to the ER might have dampened the mood for some couples, but not this one, he said.

“She was so happy to be engaged, all of the drama really didn't upset her,” Glatter said. “She passed the ring a few days later in her stool, and then sent us a box of chocolates as appreciation.”

Risky Business

Based on Glatter’s tales, it seems as though Valentine’s Day marriage proposals are an under-publicized public health risk.

Glatter remembers treating another woman who suffered a cervical spine fracture when she hit the headboard during a passionate night in the bedroom on Valentine’s Day. One might think that an emergency room visit would have put an end to further romantic gestures for the night, but “her boyfriend still proposed to her on a gurney” in the hospital, Glatter said. Fortunately, she recovered fully and the couple went home engaged.

Glatter said that people tend to get overly enthusiastic on holidays, taking risks and possibly endangering themselves or others.

“People are excited, they want to do novel things,” he said. “The problem is when they overdo it.”

For some novelty-seekers, risks result in a “Casanova Fracture.”

Dr. Alexander Kleinmann, an emergency physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, explained that a Casanova Fracture is a heel fracture associated with lumbar spine fracture that ensues after jumping out a window -- “historically when the husband comes home to find his wife in bed with another man,” explained Kleinmann. He has seen numerous such cases, particularly around Valentine’s Day.

Glatter also noted that Valentine’s Day can be a time when lonely hearts get lonelier, putting those who are prone to depression at risk.

“Be mindful of that. Support your friends,” Glatter advised. And for goodness sake, be careful with drinking and engage in safe sex, he cautioned.

A Valentine’s Day Miracle

While ingesting a wedding ring or jumping out a window may not make for the perfect holiday, not all Valentine’s Day surprises are unwanted.

Dr. Eric Lavonas, an emergency room physician at Denver Health Medical Center and ACEP spokesman, recalled treating a couple who came in to the emergency room after a Valentine’s Day car crash. They were moderately banged up, he said, nothing too serious. But in an instant, their routine exam turned into something life-changing.

“In the course of taking their medical histories, it came out that they had been struggling with infertility,” he said. Before taking an X-ray, he did a routine pregnancy test. “Surprise! The routine test confirmed she was pregnant.”

Lavonas said he got the couple in a room together -- the mother-to-be in a neck brace and the father with his leg suspended in traction -- and broke the happy news.

While most people who come in to the ER don’t leave with unanticipated positive news, Lavonas said the “privilege of being participants in important moments in people’s lives” is a “tremendous pleasure” of his job.

“I remember the two of them hugging and crying in the emergency department,” he said. “It was the thing they most wanted in the world -- and I got to tell them they had it all along.”