Emergency rooms prepare for holiday crowds

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With Thanksgiving and the holiday season under way, area emergency rooms are preparing for an influx of patients.

The holidays create the perfect storm of family, food and alcohol, which contribute to an increase in visits to the ER, doctors say. The fact that many health care clinics and local doctors’ offices are closed for the long weekend also sends more people scrambling for medical help.

Dr. Beth Mulcahy, the director of Kaiser San Francisco’s emergency room department since 1994, said they see an 11 percent increase in patients on a holiday. On Thanksgiving, she typically begins the day with cooking injuries, suturing a lot of fingers and treating burns, she said.

As the evening wears on, doctors begin to see more alcohol-related injuries, including a condition dubbed “holiday heart,” a fast irregular heartbeat associated with binge drinking, Mulcahy said.

“A lot of people are at home getting into trouble that otherwise they wouldn’t,” Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy also warned people to take caution when eating food that has sat out for a while, naming food poisoning as a common contributor to late-night holiday emergency room visits.

While there are plenty of food- and alcohol-related injuries, the stress of the holiday season can also be seen in increased domestic violence incidents and in an increased number of people seeking treatment for aches and pains brought on by depression, doctors said.

Moderation in food, alcohol and even family are encouraged, they added.

The elderly in particular need to watch their diet because once-stringent regulations are sometimes tossed out the window to indulge in holiday treats, said Dr. Beverly Cronnelly, the director of emergency services for Kaiser South San Francisco.

Cronnelly said facilities typically see an increase in congestive heart failure because low-salt diets are suddenly abandoned for roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

dsmith@examiner.com

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