It’s easy to laugh off a slip-and-fall, particularly if it results in nothing more than a bruised ego. But not so fast, please.
Doctors and other health care professionals in the Twin Cities have seen a rash of patients, both hospital admissions and emergency room visits, thanks — but no thanks — to falls on the ice-coated streets, sidewalks, driveways and stairs.
From Monday to Tuesday alone, 28 people were treated for ice-related injuries at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, a spokesman said Thursday.
“We definitely see more wrist and ankle injuries this time of year because people are slipping on the ice,” said Dr. Larik Woronzoff, medical director of Tria Orthopaedic Center’s Acute Injury Clinic. “The wrist injuries are typically from blunt impact, which happens when a person reaches out to try to stop the fall. We also see many more ankle injuries, especially fractures, but those are more typically due to the twisting motion that occurs while a person is falling.”
Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis reported that between Dec. 15 and Wednesday, doctors there saw 19 leg fractures, 15 arm fractures, 15 strains, abrasions or contusions, 11 concussions or head injuries and 10 other injuries, all due to falls on ice or snow.
Regions Hospital in St. Paul was too busy Thursday to even share any data, a spokesman said.
The city of Minneapolis is offering free sand to residents to help mitigate at least some of the ice on sidewalks, driveways and stairs. Removing snow and ice from sidewalks isn’t just the neighborly thing to do, it’s the law in Minneapolis, city officials said.
Residents can bring a pail and shovel to scoop sand 24 hours a day at four locations: 6036 Harriet Av. S. on W. 60th Street between Lyndale and Harriet; 1809 Washington St. NE.; E. 27th Street, just east of Longfellow Avenue near the Public Works gate, and 2710 Pacific St., outside the main Public Works gate between 27th and 28th avenues N.
Greg Busker, a registered nurse at HCMC’s emergency department, said there’s definitely been an increase this week in the number of patients with injuries due to falls. He suggested applying salt and sand liberally outside homes and apartment buildings and being extra careful when stepping out of a car at the grocery store, for example. A layer of snow might seem safe, but there could be a patch of ice under that snow.
Be especially careful — and watchful — about slips and falls that cause head injuries, said Dr. Steven Jackson, a HealthPartners physician at Regions.
Jackson said he’s been seeing more traumatic brain injuries due to falls in the past week and just admitted another one Thursday.
“With it being warm and then being cold, most folks’ driveways are like ice skating rinks, so it’s not surprising for us to have an increase in diagnoses ... and in admissions,” he said.
Some people think the best remedy for a concussion is to “sleep it off,” Jackson said, but in reality, a concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury and can have long-term effects on people’s lives. The majority of concussions can’t be detected on a CT scan, yet can cause symptoms down the road such as sleeplessness, emotional problems and difficulty concentrating or relating to children, spouses and friends.
“Absolutely, there are a lot of concussions/mild traumatic brain injuries that go undetected and undiagnosed because of the lack of education and awareness as well as the lack of respect for complications,” Jackson said.
“Anybody that hits their head can benefit from seeing a doctor. I would rather see more people than I actually need to than not see them and have them go on to have problems in the future.”
The glimmer of good news in this ice-crusted winter is that ice eventually does evaporate, even when temperatures stay below freezing, according to Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist and meteorologist.
“Ice evaporates,” he said. “Even on bitter cold days like today, we lose ice due to sublimation. Sublimation is a word used to describe the phase change that occurs when the air is so dry that it literally causes the ice to lose molecules as vapor to the air. It never goes to liquid and then to vapor. It just skips the liquid phase and goes straight to vapor.
“That’s why lips and throats dry out, eyes and skin get itchy,” Seeley said. “When dew points are around zero like they are now, there’s hardly any water vapor molecules in the air at all.”
Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252