WASHINGTON, D.C.—Thanksgiving can be one of the busiest days of the year in the emergency department. In addition to taking precautions amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) wants everyone to enjoy a safe holiday and be careful to prevent a medical emergency.
“Thanksgiving should be time spent with family and friends, not at the emergency department,” said Gillian Schmitz, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Avoiding the riskiest behaviors can help give everyone a chance to enjoy the holiday the way it is meant to be celebrated.”
The kitchen is where most Thanksgiving emergencies occur inside the house and cooking fires are the number one cause of fires in the home. Thanksgiving will typically have three times more cooking fires than any other day of the year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The safety organization notes that there are about 360,000 home fires every year leading to about 2,400 deaths and 10,400 injuries. Emergency physicians advise everyone to make sure smoke detectors are working and that there is a working fire extinguisher available nearby - before the cooking starts.
“The surest way to avoid a kitchen emergency is to plan ahead and slow down,” said Dr. Schmitz.
Home chefs can prevent a fire in the kitchen by always supervising children and monitor cooking fires at all times, and turning pot handles inward or toward the back of the stove to avoid unintentional bumps, burns, or spills. If you decide to deep-fry a turkey, make sure it has thawed all the way to avoid an explosive disaster that could lead to fire, burns and other injuries.
If there is a grease fire on the stove, do not throw water on it, that will only cause the flames to spread. For a fire in a pan, turn off the burner and cover it quickly to let things cool down. And, if a fire starts in the oven, keep the door closed and turn off the heat. Do not open the door until the fire is completely out. If any flames spread beyond control, do not hesitate to call 911.
Once everyone is eating, it is important to try to avoid overindulging. Emergency physicians see a spike in heart-related emergencies every year around the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving. Meals this time of year tend to be large, rich, and heavy on the salt, which is a dangerous combination for those with heart issues, diabetes, or other conditions that involve dietary restrictions.
“Heartburn and indigestion can sometimes feel very similar to a heart attack. Do not ignore worrisome symptoms and do not hesitate to call 911 or go to the closest emergency department if an emergency occurs,” said Dr. Schmitz.
Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times to be on the road and auto accidents are a major cause of emergencies this time of year. During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, from 2015-2019, nearly 800 people died in crashes involving a drunk driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“Drunk driving is 100% preventable,” said Dr. Schmitz. There is no safe level of alcohol that can be consumed before getting behind the wheel.”
Many people will stay off the roads, if possible, but for those who plan to safely get together, it is wise to designate a sober driver before any drinking starts and schedule rides ahead of time. Do not let friends or loved ones drive if they are impaired and help them make alternative arrangements for safe transportation.
Emergency physicians wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving, especially after the challenging year everyone has had.
“Protecting everyone’s health and safety should be a top priority, especially during the holidays,” said Dr. Schmitz. “Still, no matter how careful you are, accidents can happen. Emergency physicians are ready for anything and if a medical emergency interrupts this year’s celebration, an emergency physician will be there for you.”