9 tips to stay safe while enjoying the winter from a Utah ER doctor

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(ABC4) – Soon, the radio airwaves blaring persistent Christmas music will match the conditions outside, especially in Northern Utah. The words of Dean Martin crooning “Let It Snow!” come to mind.

“Oh, the weather outside is frightful” are standout lyrics, considering that the first major snowfall of the year is expected to land in the state on Wednesday evening, according to ABC4 Pinpoint Weather Meteorologists, Utah’s most accurate forecasters for the last 10 years running.

Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy predicts that by Thursday morning, the commute could be a sloppy one for many residents, with practically the entire state, even down to Washington County, receiving some sort of wintery weather through Friday.

While the snow can serve as an invitation to a magical time of year, including the holiday season, (Presents? Score!) it’s easy to assume that the rise of weather-related injuries would show a strong correlation to the number of radio plays of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

Dr. Wing Province, who serves as the medical director for Park City Hospital, knows all about the dangers inherent in the Utah winter. When the snow starts falling in Park City, Province sees the ER get busier and busier, like clockwork, each year.

“I work in Park City in an area where we get a lot of snow here in Utah, so our volumes increase significantly, sometimes two to three times what we normally see once there’s a winter storm,” he relays. “And that’s due to all the recreating activities, but also the rushing and hurrying around for the holidays and cars and not being safe driving on the snow or just walking to their cars. We definitely see at least double the increase in volume in our calls when a storm comes.”

Speaking to ABC4.com, Province explains that he has pinned down his winter safety recommendations to a list of nine suggestions, based on his experience seeing a number of injuries in his hospital’s emergency room.

Slow is fast

Being in a hurry, Province says, is one of the most common contributing factors that send locals to an unwanted visit to the ER at the Park City Hospital. It’s crucial to take your time and be very deliberate when maneuvering through the ice and snow, even on foot, during the colder months.

“A lot of times, when I’m working in the emergency department, and they come in on a stretcher off of an ambulance, a common story that I hear is, ‘I was on my way to work, I was running out to my car, I slept on the ice and I fell,’” Province says.

Taking things slowly and giving yourself plenty of time to get where you need to be, whether it’s to work, school, or any other function, can prevent a lot of injuries, and ultimately save you the time it might take to deal with an accident.

Going slow is fast when it comes to snow and ice, Province believes.

Don’t forget to salt when you shovel

Province recommends shoveling and salting driveways, as opposed to just one or the other.

Consider the right pair of shoes

Opting for a well-treaded shoe as opposed to the leather-soled wingtips can prevent a lot of injuries in the wintertime, Province says.

“Footwear is very important. I see a lot of people going out in dress shoes because they work in a very formal environment, and they’re just not wearing the right shoes and they slip and fall,” the doctor explains, adding he sees far too many patients arrive on a stretcher, still wearing their heels, after a dangerous fall.

Be aware of your surroundings

The move from dry to wet conditions can be quick and deceiving, especially when black ice begins to form on the sidewalk and roads. Knowing that things might be different than they were day by day or even hour by hour outside is key, Province says.

Drive safely

If you must drive in the winter weather, it’s vital to make sure your vehicle is prepared for any challenges the roads might bring. Making the investment on getting the car ready with proper tires and brakes for the ice, slush, and snow can be a pain, Province acknowledges, but it’s much better to pay for those than a hospital bill.

“I hear a lot of people say ‘I wish I just spent the money to get new tires and instead I’m going to have this huge ER bill or ICU bill because I just didn’t do that,’” he states. “So make sure your tires and brakes are winter-ready.”

Play safe

Many folks look forward to the snow because it brings so many recreational activities with it, such as skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

Whether you’re Picaboo Street, Shawn White, or decidedly placed on the opposite end of the skill spectrum, being careful and wearing the proper protective equipment is well-advised to play and stay safe on the slopes.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in saying, ‘Oh, I ski black diamonds. I’m really a great skier. I’m a former Olympic skier,’ And they come in because they have a concussion, they gave themself a skull fracture or brain bleed or they gave himself a big scalp laceration and a rebleeding all over or their faces cut up because they just weren’t wearing a helmet,” Province says.

When you’re on the mountain, you also need to keep an eye out for other skiers – especially the less-than-Olympic-caliber ones that can cause accidents on the runs, he adds.

If you drink, do so indoors and stay indoors

As Martin continues in his iconic song, ‘The fire is so delightful.’ If you find yourself cozying up to a fire with a glass of wine or some other spirit in hand, stay there. Trying to walk across the icy sidewalk while feeling a bit tipsy can be a recipe for disaster, according to Province.

Alcohol and cold weather are usually a bad combination for a number of reasons.

“Outside of drinking and driving, which can be a quick ticket to the emergency room or morgue, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who were drinking outside on their deck and then they passed out when it was 10 degrees outside and they come in with hypothermia or die because they froze to death outside.”

Keep the booze inside, he recommends.

Snow shoving-related heart attacks are a real thing

While it may be necessary to clear the driveway of snow and ice, with either a snow shovel or a snowblower, doing so can be surprisingly dangerous. Doing it the old-fashioned way, by hand with a shovel, can be even more dangerous for older folks.

Heart-attacks caused by the strain that shoveling snow are far too common, Province says. Tragically, a lot of times, folks will suffer a cardiac episode and fall, with no one nearby to offer aid and die on their driveways.

“If you’re going out to shovel, and you’re not a teenage kid or a college-aged kid, make sure you’re letting someone know and be very aware of what symptoms you’re experiencing,” Province cautions.

It’s also important to push, not lift the snow, to avoid a painful back injury.

Be avalanche aware

Getting out into the backcountry is a popular winter pastime, but those who choose to do so would be well served to check the Avalanche report before heading out. Far too often, the search for fresh powder can end in death or injury because of an avalanche.

Arriving back home safe and sound can be just as satisfying as the perfect run on the pow-pow, Province says.

“While the powder is amazing, so is living to see another season or several more seasons,” he states with just a bit of ominous caution. “So we advise people to make sure they’re aware of some of those avalanche warnings that are out there.”

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