'Stephens Day and the rest of the week will be horrific' – Consultant at the Mater's emergency department

This Christmas will be a particularly busy time in Emergency Departments (EDs) as it falls on a Tuesday, with a full weekend on boozing and carousing leading up to it.

“What tends to happen, Christmas Day is pretty quiet in the morning, as the day goes on it gets busier and busier,” says Dr Fran O Keefe The Mater Hospital’s Trauma lead and an ED consultant. “Christmas night can be very, very busy. Stephen’s Day and the rest of that week will be horrific.”

Should you find yourself in one over the Christmas, please bear with the staff, who are most likely working at a reduced capacity.

“We are not a first come, first serve service. People don’t see the ambulances coming through with critically sick patients and they can get frustrated.”

Having your medical history and any relevant information ready for the doctors will speed things up when you do get seen. “If you’re rushing into the hospital, just get there. But it’s always helpful if you can bring a list of medications with you, or a list of previous illnesses, a GP letter or a letter from a specialist. But don’t worry if it’s not possible, we are trained to find this information ourselves.”

The joy of working in emergency medicine is that Dr O Keefe never knows what is going to come through the doors. But alcohol-related injuries and illnesses are the primary causes of a visit to the ED over Christmas. “People out on the town, go to the pub, everything goes fine, and then they all spill out onto the street and the punch-ups happen. 

“Or people, who are maybe not genuinely happy to be together, consume more alcohol in each others presence, leading to accidents in the home. “

Accidents related to drink driving are also up.

The elderly or people who are vulnerable are also most at risk of a visit to the ED over the Christmas season. “You got to look at your at-risk groups, over 65, young children, people with chronic illnesses like diabetes who suddenly develop flu-like symptoms. They need to keep an extra eye on themselves or ask the family to keep an eye on them and waste no time getting to us if the symptoms persist.”

While the major explosion in over-the-top Christmas decorations has led to a major increase in falls over the holidays. “People on blood thinners putting up decorations or lights and they fall and hit their head. One of the most common injuries we are seeing is people falling from a small height and ending up with major head traumas.”

Lots of ailments don’t require a trip to the ED. “People are unsure about their symptoms, but most GPs aren’t open and there are very little other areas you can access care. They know the ED is open 24/7 so they come here.”

If you are suffering from flu-like illnesses there is very little that can be done for you in an ED. Try instead, undertheweather.ie that will give you advice from HSE, GPs and Pharmacists.

In the run-up to the big day, maybe check if your GP is actually open, as some do, if there is an injury unit you can go to instead or if you have coverage, a VHI Swiftcare service that you can avail of. 

That being said, if you are experiencing symptoms you have not before – pains or discomfort in your chest, indigestion beyond what is normal, a headache more severe than usual, Dr O’Keefe recommends you go straight to the ED. “ We don’t turn anybody away, while with conditions like strokes and heart attacks, the sooner we start treating you, the better your outcome will be. So if you have a visual disturbance, weakness in limbs, or anything that you haven’t experienced before, come to the ED straight away.”

As well as the mistletoe and wine, ensure that your First Aid box is well stocked. “You can’t beat plasters for the inevitable knife wound got from cutting the turkey. No matter how big the cut is, get a towel, put pressure on it and then put a bandage on it. It should stop bleeding pretty soon. 

“If you burn your hand taking the turkey out of the oven, run cold water on it for 15 minutes, which will make a difference to the cosmetic appearance of the scar.

Paracetamol for mild to moderate pain can really help. One of the worst things people do to themselves when they come into us is they don’t take painkillers because they want to show us how much pain they are in. But it’s the first thing we will give them.  We don’t need to see it.”

Meanwhile, Hidden Hearing audiologists have issued advice to people on how to protect their hearing over Christmas, when they open their brand new ipad or tech device and plug in their earphones.

  •  If listening with headphones to your personal device, you should be able to clearly hear someone talking to you in a normal voice at arm’s length away.
  • Set a safe listening limit on your devices.  Go to ‘settings’ to override the 100dB (decibel) volume limit setting – around 60dB is best.
  • Observe the 60/60 rule – listen at 60pc of the maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day, and take regular breaks

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