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Fourth of July injuries: A little pep talk

Shuttersock | Christine Langer-Pueschel
Shuttersock | Christine Langer-Pueschel

Barbecues will be working overtime. Baseballs and footballs will be soaring through the air. Parades will be winding their way through city streets. Fireworks will be lighting up the night skies across the country. Yes, the Fourth of July (aka Independence Day) is one of the liveliest and most beloved of American holidays. Many nurses will no doubt attest to that, but from a totally different perspective—that of a frontline healthcare professional who has taken care of individuals who have been a bit too lively, or downright careless, on the Fourth of July.

Of course there will still be the usual range of injuries and illnesses that appear on any given day, but nurses can expect to see a host of ailments that are specifically related to the festivities and gatherings that take place on this auspicious holiday. These injuries are more than likely going to fall into one of two categories: fireworks-related or “weekend warrior.”

Fireworks-Related Injuries
Every year in the United States, thousands of injuries are caused by fireworks. The U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission estimates that in 20014 there were approximately 10,500 fireworks-related injuries, with well over half occurring on or around the Fourth of July.

Karon White Gibson, an RN who lives in Chicago, where she produces and hosts her own television program called Outspoken with Karon, remembers when she was a nurse at the “Old Chicago” amusement park (no longer in existence). One Fourth of July, the park had a “noise only” fireworks show. “But the man in charge of lighting the fireworks lit everything all at once, and it exploded all around him,” explains Gibson. “He was burned over his entire body, and we had to cover him in ice and with a blanket made out of a special foil. He did survive, but he was seriously ill.”

Gibson recalls another incident, when the amusement park held a regular fireworks show on the Fourth of July. “They were calling me on the radio to come because a woman was having a heart attack,” she says. “When I got there, I realized right away it wasn’t a heart attack. Her blanket had caught fire from the sparks of the fireworks, and she was screaming because her rear end was burning.”

When working as an ER nurse, Gibson saw one fatal fireworks injury that she remembers clearly. “This young boy had stuffed fireworks into a Magic Marker, and it exploded into his chest. He died.”

Burns are the most common fireworks-related injuries, but the actual explosion of fireworks, as in the case of the young boy, can cause serious injury. If you’re working in the ER this Fourth of July, don’t be surprised to see hands with missing fingers, since fireworks that prematurely detonate in someone’s hand can take out a finger or two. Also common are eye injuries in children, since children are often at the same eye level as the fireworks their parents are holding in their hands and setting off. Another common injury is damage to eardrums from being too close to fireworks. You could see a few cases of temporary deafness, but hopefully no cases of permanent damage.

“Weekend Warrior” Injuries
You’ve likely met many weekend warriors in your nursing career. The majority—about 70 percent—are men. Take the high school football star, now in his 50s and not in great shape. On the Fourth of July he has a few beers, takes part in a friendly football game and thinks he should show his buddies that he’s still got the moves. He jumps to catch a pass, lands badly, breaks his ankle and ends up…yes, in the ER. He is what’s known as a “weekend warrior”—and that’s not a compliment.

Jimmy Smith, a trainer and nutritionist based in Connecticut, says that weekend warrior injuries generally involve ankles and knees because people—especially if they were into athletics in their youth—love to engage in informal games of football, volleyball and basketball. “The problem is their minds are ready to do things their bodies are not, so injuries happen,” Smith says. “They try to do a trick to impress their buddies, but they’re physically no longer capable.”

So, if you’re on duty on the Fourth of July, expect to hear some of these weekend warrior stories and to treat some of the injuries. Here’s hoping that you have to treat more of these than the fireworks-related ones, which tend to be far more serious.

And while you’re treating any of these injuries, why not give these patients a little pep talk about exercising a little more caution when the excitement of Fourth of July—or any holiday—takes hold?

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Cynthia Dusseault

Cynthia Dusseault is a professional freelance writer with both a health and an education background. A former medical radiation technologist and elementary school teacher, she realized that no matter what she did, she was drawn to any task that involved writing, so she decided, over a decade ago, to write full-time. Since then, she has written for a variety of magazines and websites including Nursing PRN, National Review of Medicine, University Affairs, Your Health, Education Leaders Today, Today's Parent, Children's Playmate, WeightWatchers.ca and many more. She has written about topics such as asthma, genital herpes, circumcision, teleradiology, body art, learning disabilities and exercise trends, and she absolutely adores the fact that writing—particularly doing the research for the articles she writes—makes her a lifelong learner.
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