- More than 36,000 people visited emergency rooms on Thanksgiving Day 2016.
- Doctors in New York City estimate their ER visits spike 5-12% during the holidays.
- One ER doctor tells Business Insider that there’s a clear pattern on Thanksgiving Day: the later it gets, the more drunk patients he sees.
A 32-year-old with a plastic fork stuck in his throat. A 61-year-old man with a grease burn on his scrotum. A 7-year-old who fractured his shoulder playing touch football.
Those are just a few of the injuries that emergency room doctors saw last Thanksgiving. An estimated 36,729 people across the US went to the ER that day, according to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Dr Erick Eiting, who directs emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, told Business Insider that he’s noticed a distinct, familiar pattern on Thanksgiving or Christmas. As the day wears on, the crowd in the ER shifts from people sick with viruses like the flu to folks who’ve eaten the wrong thing, gotten food poisoning, or drank too much.
In New York, Eiting estimated that emergency rooms see a 5-10% uptick in patients over the holiday season. Joseph Underwood, chief of emergency medicine at the nearby New York-Presbyterian Hospital, estimated the spike at a similar 10-12%.
Others across the country seem to agree with those numbers. In Kansas City, Daniel Baker told Fox 4 News that his patient load increases 15% around Christmas Day. James Williams in Lubbock, Texas told Governing Magazine that he sees around 10% more people at this time of year. (He credits at least part of the rise to Christmas light-hanging disasters.)
Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control suggest there aren’t necessarily more injured people nationwide during the holiday season: In 2014, more people visited the ER in the spring than in fall or winter.
Doctors, however, say they see a spike in certain types of injuries around this time of year. Eiting noted that more patients cheat on their doctor’s orders over the holidays – people who are supposed to be on low-sodium diets gorge on holiday favorites, and many revelers don’t get enough sleep, which makes them more susceptible to strains and broken bones. The holiday season is also flu season.
“Make sure that you’re taking all of your medication like you’re supposed to,” Eiting said, “and practice restraint in your indulgences.”
Overcrowded ERs are dangerous, since it’s more likely that patients could die. So Dr. Eiting suggests holiday revelers avoid the ER unless they’re dealing with a life-threatening emergency like chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty speaking or difficulty moving arms and legs, or signs of a stroke. (Which is good advice year-round.)
The holiday season is also a time of year when doctors worry about emotional health, since a lot of people tend to feel down (even though suicide rates are at their lowest in December). Because of that, Eiting said it’s important to support those around you during the holidays.
And if you do have to go to the ER, it’s best to bring someone along to help.