Some accidents are just that — bad things that happen that are completely beyond your control or ability to prevent them. But then there are those unfortunate incidents that are the result of some poor decision-making.
During the pandemic lockdown, for example, Dr. James Bradley, vice chair of surgery at Northwell Health in New York City, treated an unusual number of snake bites.
“People got this idea that they could, for extra cash, milk venom and sell them to pharmaceutical companies,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Potentially dangerous decisions like these lead to countless trips to the emergency room and can even be life-threatening, so we asked plastic surgeons to weigh in on the things they do — or in this case, don’t do — to avoid getting seriously injured.
Dangle your arm out of a car window
Dr. Kelly Killeen, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, knows this all too well.
“I’ve seen horrific hand and arm injuries from people putting their arms out of a car window,” she said. “Everyone thinks they have quick reflexes but I can assure you that’s not the case. You’re thinking about other things like slamming on the brakes or moving the car, not necessarily getting your arm out of the way.”
Killeen, who has posted on TikTok about this subject, said she has treated everything from nerve damage to a severed arm. If it’s a child’s arm hanging out the window, there’s an added problem if the vehicle doesn’t have power windows that automatically reverse when they sense something between the glass and the top of the door.
The same goes for dogs. They can be injured by the window or hurt by flying debris, she said. “Your car is highly rated for safety if you’re inside of it,” said Killeen. “All of the things that keep you safe are inside the car.”
Pet strange dogs
Speaking of dogs, it’s okay to look at or admire dogs from afar, but try to avoid petting ones you don’t know, at least without asking their owner for permission. “I have seen many horrible face injuries,” Killeen said. “Please, please do not pet dogs you don’t know.”
More than 4.5 million people in the US experience a dog bite every year, most commonly children. One in five of these people need medical help, said the CDC.
That said, most dog bites do come from canines a person knows, which probably makes sense as there’s more interaction. However, for any dog, keep in mind that they can be especially territorial and likely to snap when they are eating, playing with toys, protecting their young, scared, or not feeling well.
Mow your lawn when it’s wet
This tip is especially true if it’s on an incline, Bradley said. Last spring, one of his patients was pushing a mower on a sloping patch of wet grass, slipped under the mower, and lost several toes. The patient needed a free flap — when you move tissue from one part of the body to correct a problem at another part.
Injuring digits is not the only potential issue with lawn mowers. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), more than 77,000 adults and 3,000 children received emergency-room treatment for lawn mower injuries in 2019. This included cuts, burns, and broken bones. While push mowers can result in accidents, riding mowers cause more accidents as they can roll over or tip, which can be especially dangerous for children.
Play on a trampoline
Fun, yes. Safe, not so much. Especially if you’re not what Killeen refers to as “an experienced connoisseur of trampoline life.” Even with protective nets, accidents happen.
“The number one problem is jumping high and landing at funny angles,” said Killeen. You could hurt your wrists or feet, and if you land on your neck you may never use your arms and legs again, she said. Daredevil stunts like flips or somersaults are also high risk.
There are safer ways to play on a trampoline, though. Dr. Shirley Madhere, a plastic surgeon and founder of Holistic Plastic Surgery in New York City, advises clearing the area near the trampoline, wearing appropriate footwear, making sure shoelaces are tied, and having someone nearby in case you do fall.
Ride an ATV
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are also something she avoids, said Killeen. According to the Consumer Product Safety Center (CSPC), 2,211 people died in accidents related to OHVs (off-highway vehicles, which include ATVs) from 2016 to 2018.
ATVs were responsible for three-quarters of the deaths, 300 of which were children under 16. Many more patients needed treatment in emergency departments.
Snowplows pose similar dangers. Actor Jeremy Renner recently spent his 52nd birthday in the hospital after he was crushed by a snowplow while trying to clear a driveway near his Nevada home. Since his run-in with the power machine, he’s had at least two surgeries for broken bones and chest trauma.
Use your hands or feet as a trash compactor
This isn’t about the automatic trash disposal in your sink, which comes with its own risks. It’s about using your hands or feet to tamp down bulging garbage bins.
“There can be broken glass in there or bottles you don’t recognize,” said Bradley. “I had a mom who used her hand to push down the trash and there was a wine glass that broke.”
Even after surgery on her thumb, the patient still can’t use it to even open a bottle. “I wouldn’t recommend this,” adds Bradley. “I’ve seen foot cuts, but hands are even worse because it can injure the tendon. Once a tendon is injured, that’s a hard thing to recover from, not just surgery but rehab as well.”
Watch TikTok while walking
Certainly you know you should never text (or do anything else on your phone) while driving: those dangers are obvious. But it’s also unsafe to watch TikTok or send texts as you're strolling down the street.
“In the city, people who are on social media and just walking and they run into trouble tripping or falling, get hit by a taxi or an Uber driver,” Bradley said.
While texting and driving has been an issue for years, the popularity of TikTok has upped the ante. “People are so immersed in videos and sometimes we see severe accidents,” he said. “One man hit by a bus pulling into a bus stop fell on his face, crushed it, and suffered several facial fractures including both cheekbones, his mandible, and his nose.”
Use a table saw
Table saws bring a particularly high risk of accidents, most of them due to contact with the blade. In 2015, the tools caused about 33,400 injuries that needed treatment in an ER in 2015, according to the CPSC. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) documents thumb, finger and even hand amputations, not to mention lacerations and fractures. There can also be kickback injuries.
That said, there are precautions you can take.
“Accidents can happen, and you want to lessen the probability of accidents by either being trained in things you’re going to do or having a professional or instructor help,” said Dr. Lyle Leipziger, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. “To be safe, people should stay in their comfort zone. If you’re not accustomed to doing something it could increase the risk of accidental injury,” he adds.
Set off fireworks on your own
When it comes to booms and sparklers, there are just too many variables. Among other things, you just don’t know how long it will take to explode and how far the sparks will fly, said Killeen.
Firework injuries were especially bad during 2020. Attribute it to the boredom of lockdown and the cancellation of regular fireworks events, but the CSPC reported a 56% increase in injuries related to fireworks in 2020 — not just during the month of July.
This happened despite an overall decrease in injuries that needed to be treated in a hospital. (There were also increases in injuries related to skateboards, scooters, hoverboards, and even masks.)
Punch a wall or window
This may seem obvious but plenty of people hit walls, windows, or worse while in a rage or another altered state. It happens often enough in movies or television shows without too much consequence. In real life, though, the hazards are real, Madhere said.
She remembers one man who punched through glass and denuded his entire arm — removed skin from the entire area. “We had to do a reclamp of his arm because it detached from some tendons and blood vessels. We reattached them one by one,” she recalls. “I was in the operating room for 36 hours.”
Try taming your rage with anger management classes, deep breathing, or a timeout. Anything but violence.
Any of the above while drinking alcohol
“When you’re drunk, you’re brave in a way that you aren’t normally,” said Killeen. And there’s a fine line between brave and reckless.
Take fireworks: “Your reaction time is much slower when you are drinking alcohol, so you may not throw fast enough, and since you don’t know how long it takes to go off, you may look at them and they go off in your face or hands.”
In fact, there aren’t many things you should be doing while you’re drunk — especially not driving. “Doing anything drunk could be dangerous,” Bradley said. Stress can have a similar effect on a person’s likelihood of having an accident — particularly at work, Madhere said. A study published in Clinical Therapeutics showed a correlation between physical and mental stress and bruises, sprains, and vehicle accidents.
Put up and take down your own holiday lights
Bradley has already seen three patients this year with different facial fractures from falling off a ladder or roof while taking down holiday decorations.
Ladders in general are something to be wary of. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a million people need medical treatment and 300 people die each year from ladder-related injuries.
“Maybe let the professionals do this, especially if you have complicated lighting,” he said.