Common Thanksgiving Injuries You Can Avoid

Thanks to ill-fated backyard “turkey bowls” and dangerous kitchen gadgets, Thanksgiving Day is among the busiest times at our urgent care clinics. With Thanksgiving approaching, there are a few common illnesses and injuries you’ll be grateful to avoid.

Sports Injuries

Even though you might be celebrating Thanksgiving a little differently this year, you may have traditions that you’re not willing to give up such as the friendly backyard football game. “That’s where trouble first appears,” says Summit Medical Group Oregon Urgent Care Center physician, Dr. Cameron Mitchell, “with ankle and finger or wrist injuries resulting from deconditioned adults deciding to throw the football around for the first time since last Thanksgiving.” While sprains, strains, and fractures are fairly easy to triage on the home front, according to Dr. Mitchell, some of these injuries require professional medical attention. “If you can’t use a joint, limb or body part, get it evaluated,” he says. At the very least, an X-ray will tell you if it’s broken or needs further examination at an orthopedist’s office. All SMGOR locations offer on-site X-rays.

Kitchen Trauma

Cuts and burns are widespread occurrences in a kitchen. Common sense actions like turning off and unplugging a blender before attempting to unjam it or removing the turkey from the oven to baste it instead of reaching inside often goes out the window when cooks are rushed or get stressed. “It’s important not to rush and to plan ahead to be ready for dinner,” Dr. Mitchell says.

And unless you are a professional chef, avoid mandolin slicers at all costs. “If you’re going to use one, just don’t,” Dr. Mitchell says. To assess whether or not you need to seek care for a laceration, ask yourself the following:

  • Is the area numb and/or tingling?
  • Is it likely to stop bleeding on its own?
  • When was the last time you had a tetanus shot?

If the respective answers are yes, no, and I don’t know, head to urgent care. If you wait until the next day, it’s too late to stitch. Evaluation and repair of the injury should ideally happen within 12 hours even if that means going to the ED because urgent care is not open.

For burns, cool them with water, not ice, and cover with an antibiotic ointment. Don’t use home remedies like butter or lard. And if the burn blisters or covers a large portion of skin, seek medical attention at an emergency room or urgent care facility.

Food-Related Illness

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some gastrointestinal distress, right? Fortunately, most people simply suffer from a little overeating. Others who fall ill are likely victims of flare-ups of pre-existing conditions due to dietary changes or food-borne illnesses from tainted items.

So when should you be concerned? If symptoms include a rash or someone’s throat closing up, think food allergy and seek immediate medical attention. If you experience abdominal pain associated with a fever, blood in stool or vomit, and the symptoms last for a longer than expected period of time, Dr. Mitchell advises heading to the doctor. “The most commonly missed diagnosis at this time of year is appendicitis because it may present as vomiting and diarrhea (a stomach bug), and is masked by overeating,” he says.

Potential or pre-existing cardiac patients also often blame their symptoms on eating too much, Dr. Mitchell says. “People should watch out for signs of indigestion and shortness of breath that may in fact be cardiac angina and signs of a heart attack.” More often than not, overeating can occasionally mask underlying abdominal problems.

Alcohol Intake

Drinking alcohol exacerbates chronic illnesses and often leads patients to abandon their diets. For those with pre-existing cardiac problems, excess alcohol and high salt intake leads to potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms. This syndrome is so common there’s even a name for it: “Holiday Heart.” In addition, inebriation can lead to alcohol poisoning, motor vehicle accidents, and falls. Dr. Mitchell points out that falls or other trauma associated with intoxication can be associated with missed injuries or delay in injury diagnosis so it’s best to consider medical evaluation if you have any concerns.

When in Doubt, Point It Out

Whether you see long-distance relatives over Zoom or in person, observe with love and honesty. Thanksgiving is often an annual reunion of sorts when you can really tell that a person’s appearance has changed. A lot of times that change is due to a hidden or unresolved health crisis. If Grandma looks especially frail or Uncle Joe’s skin is yellow, discuss it, but unless they have acute symptoms it might be more appropriate to suggest an evaluation be scheduled with their primary care provider who knows the patient well.