emergency_room_web.jpgThe Tampa Tribune

TAMPA (AP) — One woman fell from a galloping horse while texting.

Another woman’s bangs caught fire as she peered into a toaster.
More than 818 emergency room trips in the past four years involved “chicken” – dead and alive.

Yes, big recalls of Toyotas or peanut butter may get the headlines, but millions of Americans with oddball injuries fill emergency rooms every year.

Federal regulators review a sample of those visits for signs a product might need to be recalled. Those records provide a view into the dramatic injuries of Americans who seem able to hurt themselves with almost any product made.

Boxes of cereal (cut fingers), cans of pork and beans (falling from a cupboard onto one’s head), wood chippers (yes, people stick their hands in) and trombones (more on that below). Hundreds of people suffer piercings gone wrong, thousands fall out of their mobile homes or have objects intractably lodged in orifices.

“Every day, people come in and you just think, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” said Brian Peckler, an ER doctor for 15 years, now at Tampa General. “I mean, what makes a guy think using a fish hook to clean out ear wax is a good idea?”

The tally

Most ER visits are the result of heart attacks, car wrecks and the like. But another wave of patients stumbles into ERs because of careless accidents or failing products.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission assembles data from about 100 U.S. hospitals to track trends. The safety commission follows up on about 10 percent of the cases or incident reports it receives from hot lines or via e-mail, spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

The several-million record database of this bloody tally breaks down into a few categories: Cell phones, suspicious circumstances, dramatic flair, simply being a guy and Americans’ compulsion to demonstrate products, athletic feats or dance moves.
Cell phones

Cell phones receive heaps of blame as states, including Florida, rush to ban texting and driving. But people are finding a wider range of ways to hurt themselves or others with cell phones. Such as:

A 19-year-old male, on the phone while lifting weights, drops a barbell on himself.

A 21-year-old male, riding his bike and texting, crashes, scrapes his face.

A 37-year-old male cutting chicken while on the phone slices his hand.

A 25-year-old male, texting, walks into a telephone pole’s guide wire and tells emergency room workers “he might have gotten zapped.”

Hundreds of injuries are blamed on the phone in its capacity as a weapon: They’re used as missiles or as a bludgeon to beat people on the head.

Suspicious cases

Many of the cases come with a tale, an alibi that suggests more of a back story than patients are willing to admit to the ER staff.

There is the 2006 case of an 18-year-old woman who was “looking for a cell phone in a dumpster at sorority. Had rubber lid of dumpster fall onto head when wind blew.” Head injury.

There is the 2004 case of a 24-year-old woman who said she slipped in the shower. Though such accidents are common, she said hers happened when she stepped on a basketball.

Why was the phone in the Dumpster? Why was a basketball in the shower? The records don’t reveal.

Federal regulators emphasize that their records are anonymous, contain no geographic data and patients can decline to be interviewed. But some people volunteer their names, which is how they appear in news reports about product recalls.

Dramatic cases

For others, the case record alone provides vivid mental imagery.

Such is the 2006 incident involving a 46-year-old woman: “Husband was wiring Internet when antlers fell off wall and hit patient on top of head.” Or the 17-year-old in 2007 who injured himself at band camp while running and playing trombone.

In the dangerous music category, an 11-year-old vigorously playing the violin poked himself in the eyeball with the bow. And proving that Mother was correct – a number of cases involve children running with scissors, almost all resulting in gouged eyeballs.

Peckler, the Tampa doctor, recalls a young man who came to the ER complaining that his girlfriend’s iguana bit off his finger – and he had another issue. The grief-stricken girlfriend had given him her antidepressant medication for pain, which metabolized in his body with effects similar to an overdose of Viagra.

Raccoons, possums and snakes seem dangerous, both when attacking people and when people attack them.

Such as the 30-year-old man in 2008, “Chasing a raccoon last night, forgot he had cable set up in yard.” Tripped, twisted left wrist. Or the 66-year-old woman who chased a raccoon off her porch, slipped and broke her hip.

About half the raccoon-related incidents involve people slicing their hands while skinning a dead creature. And one 43-year-old man was sleeping on his porch in 2007 when a coon crept in and attacked his ankle.

Being a guy

Men account for 56 percent of the ER visits, according to federal data, though in some areas they dominate the injured.

Men suffer injury in 80 percent of pressure washer cases. Nine in 10 injuries involving “mobile home” and “alcohol” were suffered by men. And 96 percent of “nail gun” cases were men.

“Guys are definitely dumber than women in this regard,” Peckler said.

One 37-year-old man tried cutting branches with a circular saw – on top of a running wood chipper. The saw cut off several fingers, which fell into the chipper.

Having a brother appears dangerous as well. Regardless of who was injured, ER records implicate the brother twice as often as the sister.


“Demonstrate” appears in no small number of cases where less-than-skilled people tried to show off martial arts moves, wedding dances, pogo-stick skills and cheerleader routines.

Though many people consider themselves expert enough to demonstrate something, Robert Cano at University Community Hospital sees scores of cases that prove otherwise.

“Almost nothing good comes after someone says ‘Hey, watch this!”’ Cano said.

Note the 52-year-old mother, demonstrating judo to her daughter by flipping her husband. Torn left knee.

Other cases: The 25-year-old man demonstrating to children how to climb on monkey bars when his shoulder “snapped.” Or the 16-year-old demonstrating a softball technique who stepped on a rake that smacked her in the forehead.

Or the 55-year-old woman showing her grandson how to use a pogo stick – she fell and smacked her head.

Peckler at Tampa General marvels at accidents that should have been fatal but weren’t.

His favorite case: the man who was supposed to be watching his 3-year-old, but decided to change his car’s oil in the driveway. Seeking a safe holding area, Dad put the child in the car and crawled underneath to drain the oil.

The child knocked the gear shift from park to neutral, and the car’s tire rolled over the man’s chest.

He suffered no major injuries, Peckler said. But how could anyone survive?

Peckler shrugged and said, “God’s strong love for fools.”