I learned a lot of statistics back in medical school, many of which are outdated and long since forgotten. A few still haunt me, though. One example: over 50% of seniors who suffered a broken hip would be in a nursing home, or in their grave, within a year.
The odds are somewhat better today, but a hip fracture is still a very serious event, especially if your health, or your independence, is already compromised. We may be better at helping people recover, but the best strategy is not break that hip in the first place.
Another lesson that has stayed with me from those days involves a gentleman who had spent his weekend baling hay despite his terrible back pain. He was able to do so with the assistance of handfuls of Tylenol, and a beer or two at the end of each long hot day. Little did he realize he was poisoning himself with all that acetaminophen. By Wednesday, he was on a ventilator in our ICU, in need of a new liver. His story is still common; acetaminophen toxicity is the most common cause for liver transplantation in the United States, and the second most common cause world wide. At appropriate doses, Tylenol is extremely safe. It’s just really easy to exceed those doses if you aren’t vigilant.
I don’t think any American makes it into adulthood without a story or two about a motor vehicle accident involving someone they knew. After all, between 2 and 3 million of our countrymen are injured on our roads each year. About 40,000 of us die, and many others find their lives permanently changed by the injuries they sustain. Nearly 200 Americans die every day from traumatic brain injuries, but even those who survive the initial event face a grim future. If their injury is severe enough to require an inpatient rehabilitation stay, an additional 1 in 5 people die within the next 5 years. Nearly 60% of the others face at least moderate disability.
In 2019, unintentional injuries were the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 44, and the 3rd leading cause overall. Poisoning, motor vehicle accidents, and falls account for the vast majority of those deaths, with all other causes, including suffocation, drowning, and fire making up about 15%.
I think I’ll keep nagging people about getting their calcium, about wearing their seatbelts and helmets, and about locking up their firearms. In fact, I’m going to nag YOU right now: go check the batteries in your smoke detectors. Put your phone where it can’t tempt you when you get behind the wheel. Slow down a little. Do your part to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors.
Let’s keep ourselves, and each other, safe out there, people.
Debra Johnson, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show providing health information based on science, built on trust for 22 Seasons, streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central