Black ice. Broken bones. More to come?
Beware the ice of March. Tuesday’s nor’easter gave way Wednesday to a flood of ice-related injuries, according to health officials.
And emergency workers expect the parade of broken bones to continue, as ice melts in the daytime sunshine only to freeze again amid below-normal temperatures at night.
Boston’s Emergency Medical Services stationed extra ambulances on the city’s streets Wednesday to handle calls for help, which were running about 30 percent higher than normal, according to Joe O’Hare, superintendent of field operations at EMS.
“We had some downtown, in West Roxbury, Back Bay, it’s been all over the place,” O’Hare said.
EMS typically receives 340 to 360 calls a day but by midday Wednesday had already responded to nearly 200, he said.
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the emergency room was full of people who had fallen on the ice, said Dr. Michael VanRooyen, who heads the hospital’s emergency department.
At one point Wednesday, 20 percent of the patients in the department were being treated for ice-related falls.
“This is a really tricky time for older populations,” he said. “They slip and break their pelvis, and sometimes they fall and strike their head, and it’s a bad head injury.”
On a typical day at the Brigham, doctors treat perhaps five or 10 patients in the ER who have fallen. By midday Wednesday, they had already seen nearly 30.
Patients with severe ice-related injuries were also arriving at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Ali Raja, vice chairman of the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said he winced when looking at some patients’ X-rays because they showed wrists that were entirely displaced.
“People are breaking the entire weight of their falls with their hands,” he said.
“The really horrible part of this is that with leg fractures, people can usually go back to work,” Raja said. “But with wrist fractures, even if it’s a desk job, it becomes hard to do your job for months afterward, because it’s six to eight weeks to heal the fracture and then physical therapy, so you are impacted for four to six months.”
Most of the patients treated at Mass. General from falling on the ice were older, but the ice felled quite a few younger victims, too.
“It doesn’t look that bad out, and the salt is visible out there and people think it’s treating everything well, so younger people are running across the road and tripping and falling,” Raja said.
Physicians at other hospitals said they, too, were seeing an increase in injuries related to the storm.
South Shore Hospital in Weymouth treated two patients with heart attacks related to shoveling, and at least two who injured themselves using snow blowers, according to hospital spokeswoman Sarah Darcy.
Injuries from snow blowers are especially nasty, particularly when someone sticks a hand in the machine, trying to fix it, said Dr. Jonathan Olshaker, chief of emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center.
“Sometimes, they are amputations or severe lacerations involving tendons,” Olshaker said. “They are debilitating injuries.”
Olshaker said that too often, patients don’t appreciate the severity of winter-related accidents.
“You have to respect the cold,” he said. “You have to respect ice.”