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 most favorite holidays of Americans, and one of the liveliest. Many a nurse 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 on the Fourth of July, or who have been downright careless.
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.”
Every year in the United States, thousands of injuries are caused by fireworks. The U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission estimates that in 2009 there were approximately 9,000 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.