She caught my eye, making her way slowly, painfully up the sidewalk toward the big double doors of the emergency department. It was early morning, and I had just assumed my post as triage nurse for the day. The waiting room was empty, and all was quiet and peaceful, at least for the moment. I got up out of my chair and, reaching for a wheelchair, went out to meet the young lady.
“What happened?” I asked as I helped her sit in the wheelchair.
She laughed. “Oh, you won’t believe what I did!” “Tell me,” I encouraged her as I pushed her toward the double doors.
Deciding to trim some branches from a tree in her yard the afternoon before, she had taken her kitchen stool out into the yard, climbed up on it, and reached with the sheers to trim some branches way above her head. The stool, which had been placed on uneven ground, tipped over. She fell, injuring both ankles. She laughed as she told me about it, admitting to her hurry and carelessness. The pain and swelling had encouraged her to seek medical evaluation. Several hours later I met her again, now walking with crutches as she was leaving the emergency department. This time she was not laughing.
On x-ray one ankle showed a fracture, and the other was diagnosed as a severe sprain.
THERE REALLY IS “NO PLACE LIKE HOME”
Our homes represent a refuge from the busy, hectic world of bustle and stress. For most, they are havens of comfort, restoration, and peace. Perhaps this quote by Maya Angelou (an American author and poet) sums up our feelings best: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Notice the phrase “the safe place.” Perhaps it is a wonderfully “safe place” for us emotionally and psychologically, but what about the actual physical safety of our homes?
Did you know that home accidents are responsible for more fatal injuries than any other cause except perhaps motor vehicle accidents? Although home accidents are often caused by human error and typically can be prevented, they amount to approximately 18,000 deaths and nearly 13 million injuries a year in the U.S. The five leading causes of accidents and deaths include falls, poisonings, fires, suffocation, and choking. Many, many minor injuries also occur, such as bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes. Have you ever jammed your toe on the vacuum cleaner? (My toe still hurts!) Or have you reached into a sink full of soapy water to find the pieces of a broken glass and come up with a nice slice to the finger?
Maybe you have suffered an injury of some type in your home. Or maybe you have friends who have slipped and fallen, suffering broken bones, torn ligaments, or concussions that cause pain, surgery, and weeks of disability. Often we bring these situations upon ourselves by momentarily disregarding common safety sense—such as carrying too big a load while going downstairs (or upstairs), rushing about in socks on a slippery floor, talking on the phone while working in the kitchen, not testing the temperature of the water before stepping into the bathtub, using a “little bit” of gasoline to get the fire in the fireplace started, climbing on a swivel chair (with wheels) to put up Christmas lights, finding and drinking an unattended glass of water found on the kitchen counter (and discovering later it had contained someone’s contact lenses), and so on.
CHANGING THE THEME TO “HOME, (SWEET) SAFE HOME”
We are often instructed in ways of being safe while driving, flying in airplanes, swimming, biking, and while doing most activities outside our homes. Here are a few home safety suggestions that may help cut down on those potential annoying and inconvenient accidents which can happen inside our home environment.
1. Cut Your Risk of Falling By:
- Clearing walking areas of electrical cords, slippery throw rugs, toys, or other clutter
- Cleaning up spills immediately
- Ensuring stairways have handrails
- Purchasing a sturdy stepstool
- Following ladder safety rules
- Installing nightlights near stairways, hallways, and in dark areas
- Applying nonskid strips and grab-bars to bathtubs and showers
- Being aware of potential side effects of medications such as dizziness
- Using baby gates where necessary
- Wearing socks or slippers with non-slippery soles
- Being aware of potential fall risks, especially with elderly persons around household pets
- Keeping an eye open to potential areas of risk inside the home and in the yard outside which could result in a fall
2 AVOID POTENTIAL POISONINGS BY:
- Keeping medications and poisonous products in their original containers
- Carefully supervising children at home
- Installing carbon monoxide (CO) detectors
- Keeping the phone number of the local poison control center near the home phone (or programmed in your cell phone)
3 REDUCE FIRE HAZARD BY:
- Installing smoke alarms in hallways, bedrooms, and on each level of your house (replace units older than 10 years with new ones and check the batteries every year)
- Keeping matches and candles away from flammable objects and beyond the reach of children
- Staying in the kitchen and staying focused while food is cooking
- Keeping flammable things like curtains, furniture, and bedding away from heaters
- Allowing air space around the TV, stereo, or other major electrical appliances
- Setting the water heater temperature to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit
- Avoiding overloaded electrical outlets
- Developing and practicing fire drills with your family and establishing a safe meeting spot
4 ELIMINATE DROWNING HAZARD BY:
- Never leaving buckets of water or other liquids unattended when small children are present
- Never leaving non-swimming adults unattended while in a pool
- Never leaving children unattended in the bathtub, in a swimming or wading pool, hot tub, or anywhere near water
- Taking a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class (with certification for infant, child, and adult)
5. Avoid Choking Risk By:
- Taking small bites when eating
- Chewing food thoroughly
- Being aware of how and what you are eating, especially when engaged in laughing and talking with family and friends during mealtime
- Cutting foods like bananas, hot dogs, grapes, etc., into small pieces for small children
- Giving children age-specific toys as gifts to help reduce choking potential
- Knowing the first aid approach in assisting an infant, child, or adult if choking occurs
These are just a few home safety reminders. Getting right down to it, the old saying really does ring true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Being aware of safety issues, using common sense, supervising children, and using a hands-on approach to injury prevention can help protect yourself, your loved ones, and guests from the most common causes of household accidents.