Freezing precipitation, wildly fluctuating temperatures and a month’s layer of old snow and ice have combined to make most of the outdoors a hazard for Mainers. Emergency room staff with Central Maine Healthcare note that this winter has proven especially dangerous.
“At one point, it seemed that the trauma team’s entire caseload was slip-and-falls,” said Pete Tilney, M.D., an emergency room physician at Central Maine Medical Center. “It’s hard to overstate how dangerous a fall can be.” He said that while slippery weather is especially dangerous for the elderly, nobody is immune from serious injury resulting from falls.
Broken bones, concussion, deep bruising and smashed teeth can all occur in just one slippery second, Tilney said. And these injuries can have further repercussions.
Tilney offered some critical safety tips for those who have to navigate sidewalks, driveways, roads, ramps and stairs:
- Use ice melt, salt or sand on frequently traveled walkways around your home. Get it out there early and often to adjust to changing weather conditions.
- Wear shoes with gridded soles or removable cleats.
- Take your time. Whether driving or walking, build in extra minutes to get to your destination, whether it’s the mailbox or Grandma’s house.
- Use handrails or other supports where available, even if you’re normally agile and able-bodied.
- Be aware of aid resources (such as paramedics) especially if you are in a rural area.
- When driving, take it slow. Changing conditions on roadways and bridges can cause cars to spin out in seconds. Carry a blanket or extra jacket in your car in case you need to wait for help.
- If you do fall, don’t minimize the extent of your injuries or attempt to “self-triage.” Tilney said that calling 911 is your best option. “The paramedics will assess you and discover whether you need to go to the ER. Let the professionals make that call,” he said.
Karen Harding, R.N., an employee health nurse at Bridgton Hospital, offered an outside-the-box tip for getting around in icy weather: “Walk like a penguin,” she said. The Antarctic birds take short steps with toes turned slightly outward, and it turns out mimicking their waddling gait may also keep humans upright on slick surfaces.