NOVEMBER 9, 2016
In the medical world, a trauma is a serious and sudden injury that requires immediate attention. Trauma can be life-threatening or life-altering. The only Level I Trauma Center in Tarrant County is John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS), where Texas Health Care physicians staff the trauma and surgical units. JPS is a great resource to have nearby in the event you or a family member are ever in need of emergency medical care.
With that said, we would all like to avoid a trip to a trauma center, if possible. So, what are the most common reasons people suffer medical trauma and what can we do to reduce our chances of a visit to the emergency room?
“Nationally, the leading cause of trauma is a fall from standing, which primarily affects the geriatric population,” according to Dr. Raj Gandhi, a Texas Health Care surgeon who leads the trauma team at JPS. “However, here at JPS, falls constitute the second-most common trauma we see. The leading cause here is motor vehicle crashes – we tend to see a greater share of those due to the fact JPS is the only Level I Trauma Center in Tarrant County and we receive trauma patients from numerous surrounding counties, as well.”
It’s Trauma, Not an Accident
How we talk about trauma is important, says Dr. Gandhi. “Trauma surgeons don’t like to use the word ‘accident’ to describe the types of injuries we see,” he explains. “‘Accident’ implies happenstance or an ‘act of God.’ In reality, these injuries are preventable. If someone is in a motor vehicle crash, there’s a reason for it – maybe it was distracted driving, maybe a drunken driver was involved, but it was not pure happenstance.”
By internalizing that there are not accidents, only preventable injuries, we’re much more likely to be successful in identifying and reducing our risks.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among adults age 65 or older. The numbers are staggering: in 2014, 2.8 million seniors were treated in an emergency department for a fall and 800,000 of them required hospitalization. About 27,000 adults died due to a fall – that’s one person every 20 minutes.
A hip fracture is one of the most serious injuries that can result from a fall. More than 300,000 people who are 65 or older are hospitalized for hip fractures each year; 95 percent of these injuries are a result of a fall.
Despite these startling statistics, falls do not have to be inevitable. There are a number of steps people can take to reduce their risk of a fall and subsequent trauma. “Many falls are the result of environmental factors,” explains Dr. Gandhi. “Rugs, bed slips, stairs and pets can all cause someone to trip and fall.” Assessing and mitigating these and other risks in the home is the best way to begin to reduce chances of a fall.
Additional resources are available to help seniors. As part of senior education programs, Tarrant County College and JPS offer a course called “A Matter of Balance,” which helps improve strength and balance. The Fort Worth YMCA also offers senior strength programs.
The CDC has a program called STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries), which provides resources for both health care providers and patients on best practices to identify and reduce the risk of falling. In addition to reducing environmental risk factors, it recommends exercise to strengthen the legs, regular vision checks and most importantly, letting your doctor know if you have fallen or are worried about falling. Your physician will help you reduce your risk of falling.
Motor Vehicle Crashes
According to the CDC, approximately 90 people die every day in the United States as a result of a motor vehicle crash. And for those who survive, the injuries can be gruesome.
“Imagine a motorist driving at a high rate of speed with no seat belt and then colliding with another vehicle or stationary object,” says Dr. Gandhi, describing situations he has witnessed in the hospital. “The person’s face is bleeding and disfigured, as a result of being smashed against the windshield. Their chest is thrust into the steering wheel, breaking the breastbone and causing internal bleeding. Their legs are broken as they collide with the dashboard. Traumatic brain injuries are likely.”
Of course, there are proven ways to significantly reduce your odds of sustaining serious injury in a motor vehicle crash:
- Always wear a seatbelt.
- Don’t drive distracted. Distracted driving includes texting, reading, looking at social media, etc.
- Don’t drink and drive and don’t ride with a driver who has been drinking.
- Keep your vehicle well-maintained. Bad brakes and bald tires can be deadly.
- Obey traffic laws and drive the speed limit.
Avoid Danger & Ask for Help
Other top reasons people end up at a trauma center include assaults and suicide attempts. “Drugs, alcohol and tempers – these are all reasons people can find themselves in a physical altercation that lands them in the hospital,” says Dr. Gandhi. Substance abuse increases the likelihood of ending up in a dangerous situation, just as being around people who abuse drugs or alcohol does.
Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States; 42,000 Americans took their own lives in 2014 and more than 500,000 were treated for self-inflicted injuries. Depression and other mental illnesses, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and unexpected, highly stressful situations, are all identified as suicide risk factors.
“A lot of people suffer from depression and it’s no reason to give up or feel ashamed,” says Dr. James Harvey, a primary care physician. “If you’re having a hard time, ask for help – it’s there for you.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-273-8255. MHMR of Tarrant County, which serves 24 North Texas counties, also has a helpline that is answered around the clock, including holidays: (817) 335-3022 or (800) 866-2465.
If you notice a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor or anyone else who is withdrawn, depressed or doesn’t seem themselves, reach out to them and ask how they’re doing. See if they need any help. Sometimes, just letting a person know someone cares about them can make a big difference in their outlook. And if they do need help, you’re now in a position to help them get it.
“If you’re feeling depressed, unusually anxious, stressed or using alcohol or drugs to cope with these feelings, please tell your physician about it,” says Dr. Harvey. “Your doctor is there to help you, but we can’t help if you don’t let us know what’s going on.”
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