Thanksgiving Tales From the Emergency Room

Sharp knives and distant relatives reuniting are all recipes for disaster.

ByABC News
November 24, 2016, 4:15 AM
EMS vehicles are pictured in this undated stock photo.
EMS vehicles are pictured in this undated stock photo.
Getty Images

— -- Thanksgiving is a holiday tailored for chaos -- burning food, sharp knives and distant relatives reuniting are all recipes for disaster.

The most dangerous place on Thanksgiving is where everything comes together: the kitchen, said Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. People are often distracted and multi-tasking, which can lead to injuries, he said.

When accidents do happen, people are often reluctant to put on a coat and venture out in the cold to go to the hospital on holidays, which sometimes causes more damage than the initial injury, said Dr. Jamie Coleman, an academic trauma surgeon at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital.

Sharma instructed people celebrating the holiday to be mindful and stay safe. Here are some tales from past Thanksgivings in which that advice was not heeded:

The Extra Ingredient in the Turkey

With all the action knives get on Thanksgiving Day, one of the most common emergency room cases are lacerations, Sharma said. Several years ago, Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, was treating a routine laceration a woman received from slicing her finger while cooking, he told ABC News. The woman was bleeding heavily and walked 10 minutes from her apartment to the emergency room.

The woman called Glatter after she got home to tell him she had misplaced her keys and that she had summoned a locksmith since the superintendent to her building wasn't available. After dinner was over, the middle-aged woman called Glatter to let him know she'd found the keys -- baked deep inside the center of the turkey, much of which had already been eaten.

Parts of the keys were melted, but none of the dinner guests got food poisoning, Glatter said, adding that the woman was "so frazzled" while he was treating her that it didn't surprise him that she'd unintentionally added an extra ingredient to the main dish.

Thanksgiving Traditions Gone Wrong

Sometimes people get injured while partaking in the typical Thanksgiving traditions. One year, Sharma treated a man for a second-degree burn, which he got from dropping boiling-hot gravy.

The man was hosting dinner for his entire family when he likely lost his grip on a pot full of gravy and dropped it on the ground, Sharma said. The man burned the entirety of the top of his foot, and he was admitted to the hospital for at least a day.

The emergency room also often admits patients on Thanksgiving Day who are experiencing nausea, abdominal pain or vomiting -- likely from eating a heavy meal or food poisoning stemming from eating food left out too long, Sharma said.

Even a friendly familial competition can result in an emergency room visit. People who may not work out on a regular basis will participate in a game of football or a sudden wrestling match with a cousin, which can lead to an unexpected injury, Sharma said, adding that the most common ones he sees from this type of activity are sprained ankles and head injuries.

Toddlers Lethargic From Drinking Alcohol

A classic scenario that happens at pediatric hospitals during the holidays is toddlers being brought in because they consumed alcohol, said Erica Michiels, associate medical director for the pediatric emergency department at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"We do see toddler intoxication as a problem the day after big holidays," she said.

In the evening or the morning after Thanksgiving, parents will bring their lethargic toddlers into the emergency room, not knowing what's wrong with them, Michiels said. Once the toddler's blood is tested, doctors will then find traces of alcohol in their system.

Parents don't immediately know what's wrong with their children because "toddler intoxication looks very different than adult intoxication," Michiels said. The toddlers are often just tired and kind of stumble around -- not unusual behavior for young children. Parents then put them down for a nap or bedtime, and when they wake up they're still tired and want to go back to sleep, she said. Sometimes toddler intoxication can manifest itself with seizures as well, due to extremely low blood sugar.

The kids usually pick up alcoholic drinks left unattended by party guests as they watch football or the parade, Michiels said. "Toddlers are just so naturally inquisitive that they will drink the little leftovers that have been left by the adults," Michiels said.

Since their livers are not fully developed, their bodies are not ready to process alcohol.

"It doesn't take much for a toddler weighing 20 or 30 pounds to become intoxicated," Michiels said.

Don't Eat the Bones

Doctor's orders that people should always heed -- on and off Thanksgiving -- is to never eat the bones.

One year, Coleman treated a woman who had actually eaten the bone intentionally. The woman then waited a few hours to come in and ended up needing an emergency esophageal surgery and a weeklong hospital stay, Coleman said.

While most people who swallow bones do so by accident, it's important to keep in mind that esophageal injuries are "incredibly difficult to treat," due to the large incision and high rate of complications, Coleman said.

"The esophagus is definitely an organ you don't want to get a hole in," she said. "It's extremely difficult to access."

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