From sunburns to broken bones, summertime injuries mark the start of trauma season in emergency departments throughout Middle Tennessee. Richard Westgate, RN, MSN, director of Williamson Medical Center’s Emergency Department, said there are small steps people can take to stay healthy and safe this summer.
Beating the heat
“This is the time of year we start seeing a lot of patients with outdoor jobs, and many elderly who don’t tolerate changes in temperature well,” said Westgate, who often reminds patients that water activity is no substitute for hydration. “There’s a misconception that if you’re in or around water you won’t get dehydrated, but it actually happens a lot faster for those people because of the reflective nature of water,” he said, noting the tendency of boaters to replace water with alcohol, which actually increases the rate of dehydration. Conversely, EDs often treat construction or road crew workers whose bodies simply can’t adjust to quick spikes in summer temps.
Symptoms of dehydration that shouldn’t be ignored include shakiness, headache and nausea. Emergency protocol for dehydration includes IV fluids, cold compresses and treatment of individual symptoms. Medical attention is imperative, as organ failure occurs when the body begins pulling water from the kidneys to compensate for lost fluid.
“If you think you’re getting dehydrated, cool yourself off and drink fluids, and give it 30 minutes to see how you feel,” Westgate said. “If you get worse or become incoherent or confused, seek help immediately.”
Sunburns are especially common in late May and early June, when people hit the pool for the first time all year. Westgate reminds patients that all skin – fair or dark – needs protection from the sun’s rays. The American Cancer Society recommends choosing a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure sunscreen has a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher, and remember that “water resistant” does not mean “waterproof”. For best results, reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating. Cover up when outdoors to protect as much skin as possible, and limit direct exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
If sunburns start to blister or skin turns dark in color, seek medical attention.
Steer clear of trauma
Trauma injuries include broken bones and lacerations, and are especially common among middle and high school students home alone during summer months. Hospitals also see an influx of injuries from outdoor exercising and four wheelers. “You only get one brain, so I caution patients to wear helmets regardless of age,” Westgate said. “It’s surprising the little amount of force it takes to cause an injury.” He encourages summer athletes to start slowly, stop and assess risks, and follow your gut when a situation seems questionable.
As Tennesseans hit the hiking and biking trails, insect and spider bites pose another concern for emergency staff at Williamson Medical Center. A painful or bulls-eye shape bite should warrant immediate medical attention. Self-care includes irrigating or cleaning the wound with soap and water, applying antiseptic ointment and covering the bite with a clean bandage.
There’s no substitute for water safety, and emergency staff know all too well the heartache caused by drowning deaths each summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US sees an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings yearly, with one-fifth of victims under the age of 14. Another 332 people die from drowning in boating-related incidents.
Swim lessons can mean the difference between life and death for children, while life vests should be worn by any person in a boat. “If you get flipped out of a canoe and hit your head on a rock, it doesn’t matter how good of a swimmer you are,” Westgate said. “Good swimmers drown all the time.”
He urges parents to keep an eye on children at all times, and to take extra precautions to secure the family pool. Small steps like extra latches and pool alarms can mean the difference between a summer of fun and one of tragedy.
“Summer can be such a fun, memorable season for all ages,” Westgate said. “It just requires a little more common sense and preparation.”
For more information
Richard Westgate, RN, MSN, has served as director of Williamson Medical Center’s Emergency Department since 2008. For more information, please visit WilliamsonMedicalCenter.org.Share this Article