Heeding some basic safety tips this summer could help to keep you and your companions in the game and out of the emergency room.
As an emergency room physician in Southern California, Brady Pregerson has seen or heard it all. He incorporates many of the resulting insights in a helpful little book, “Think Twice: More Lessons from the ER,” a sequel to “Don’t Try This at Home: Lessons From the Emergency Department.”
I’ve selected those lessons that are especially relevant for the coming months. But many of the tips can help at other times of the year, especially for those living in the warmer states.
• Want some fresh air? Don’t push on the glass when opening windows. “I’ve seen many terrible hand and forearm lacerations from this mistake,” Pregerson writes. To which I will add: If there are children younger than 10 in the house, install window guards. It takes but a moment for a young child to fall out an open window.
If you work or play in the dirt, be sure your tetanus immunization is up to date. The deadly bacterium Clostridium tetani lives in soil, and it can enter the body through even a small cut or splinter, Pregerson said in an interview. Children require a vaccine series called DTaP, and adults need a booster every 10 years.
• When you mow the lawn, first clear it of sticks and stones that can become flying missiles; wear goggles, and work crosswise on sloped terrain.
• Protect yourself and your family from tiny critters that are disease vectors, like mosquitoes that transmit West Nile encephalitis and ticks that spread Lyme disease. A repellent with DEET is effective against both. Suppress the mosquito population around the house by getting rid of standing water, especially after a rain.
• Hiking, a summer favorite, is no fun if you get lost in the woods. Try to stick to blazed trails. Pregerson suggests turning around every so often to identify landmarks that may help guide you back. Let people know where you are going and when you’re likely to return. If you do get lost or caught in a storm, it may be best to stay put in a place where you might be found.
Try to hike with someone, and take plenty of water, sunscreen, an extra layer of clothing, a compass, a knife and some nonperishable food. In wild-animal country, the doctor suggests wearing a “bear bell” on a wrist, ankle, belt or backpack to scare off four-legged hazards.
• Avoid vigorous exercise in very hot weather. “I’ve had patients who died of heatstroke from walking four hours in the desert,” Pregerson said.
But you don’t need to be in a desert to get heatstroke. It can happen to anyone who overworks on a hot day. The elderly, who are especially vulnerable, should stay out of the sun and drink plenty of plain cool liquids.
Some of the most serious summer injuries result from incorrect use of a fire starter. Never sprinkle or spray it on embers, as flames can shoot up and burn you badly.
• On road trips, Pregerson suggests keeping your medical insurance card, a list of medications and key health and allergy information with your driver’s license. He also warns against tailgating, excessive lane changing and leading other cars on a two-lane highway. You could be the first to hit a deer, for instance, or an oncoming vehicle in the wrong lane.
• Do-it-yourselfers should heed basic safety measures, like wearing protective gear when shearing hedges, cutting wood, scraping or spraying paint, or installing insulation.
• No summer safety column would be complete without cautionary words about swimming.
“Don’t swim alone,” Pregerson said. “Use the buddy system.” Children should be watched closely at all times in and around water. Pools should be protected by a fence and safety gate that a young child cannot open.
Never dive into unknown waters or swim in areas designated off limits.
Pregerson offers more tips at GotSafety.org.