Trauma season

Summer means outdoor fun, trauma cases at Enloe Medical Center

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends people under age 16 avoid riding ATVs altogether.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends people under age 16 avoid riding ATVs altogether.

Photo By iStockphoto

Trauma surge:
The average number of times the Enloe trauma team gets called into action in each of the summer months (June through August) compared to the yearly average:

2010 2011 2012 2013
Summer 50 48 47.7 TBD
Full year 41.8 39 38.8 34.2*

*through June

Summer in the North State isn’t just a prime time for outdoor activities. As staff at Enloe Medical Center’s Trauma Services department attest, it’s also peak season for serious injuries.

Compared to the rest of the year, Enloe’s trauma team treats an average of nine more serious cases a month in the summer and receives 20 percent more calls.

While some accidents and injuries are unavoidable, the majority could be prevented or made less serious by using safety equipment and practicing sensible behavior. In fact, Dr. Eugene Cleek, medical director of Trauma Services, estimates roughly 95 percent of the department’s cases are avoidable injuries.

Judy Cline, chief flight nurse and trauma coordinator at Enloe, finds that figure disturbing.

“It definitely takes a toll when you know a simple action might have prevented something traumatic,” Cline said.

However, Cleek doesn’t expect people to stay indoors, protected by a plastic bubble.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame to die at 115 years old and have never done anything?” he said. “It’s about taking acceptable risk and trying to minimize the problems that may occur.”

Cline and Cleek preach safety to anyone who will listen; Cline regularly does so through outreach programs for schools and community groups. In separate interviews, they shared some tips with the CN&R in hopes of preventing emergency-room visits for local outdoor enthusiasts.

Sober is safer.

This may seem obvious, but Cline estimates that 30 percent of trauma patients’ accidents occur while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, not counting patients who are injured by other impaired individuals.

“Sober is good,” Cline said. “There’s more of a tendency, I think, for people to drink alcohol when it’s hot outside.” Such behavior increases the likelihood of poor decision-making, she said.

Butte County has a particularly high level of substance abuse. According to data collected by Enloe, 18 percent of county adults binge drink (compared to 16 percent statewide), 19 percent consume alcohol heavily (compared to 17 percent statewide), and the county experiences more than triple the drug-poisoning deaths than the state average.

Helmets help.

California has experienced a drop in traumatic head injuries from motorcycle accidents since helmets became mandatory by law in 1992, but that requirement doesn’t extend to all-terrain vehicles or horses, and only bicyclists under the age of 18 must wear helmets.

Cleek says Enloe sees “a significant number” of ATV-accident victims, and Cline recommends helmets for all riders and cyclists. In addition, Cline said, “once you’ve been in an accident, your helmet can no longer be considered good anymore, because it may have tiny stress fractures [and it may not prevent injury in a future accident].”

Judy Cline, chief flight nurse and trauma coordinator at Enloe Medical Center, educating local school children about traumatic-injury prevention.


Stay aware of your surroundings.

Cline calls this “situational awareness”; others call it defensive driving. Whatever the term, the concept is the same—keeping an eye out for likely hazards when operating a motor vehicle.

Many car-on-motorcycle and car-on-bicycle accidents occur when automobile drivers “aren’t aware of who’s sharing the road,” she said. Moreover, you’re more likely to find pedestrians in and along the roadway during the summer.

Twilight is the witching hour.

Sunset can be a particularly dangerous time to be on the road. Drivers headed westbound find sunlight shining directly into their windshields, making it harder to see pedestrians and cyclists.

Once night falls, make sure to wear bright clothes and mount a light on your bike. Cline also says to avoid riding ATVs at night or on roadways.

ATVs are adult vehicles.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends people under age 16 avoid riding ATVs altogether. Cline acknowledges that may be hard in rural areas of the North State, where ATVs are often used as farm transportation, so she advises riders not to carry passengers, especially small children.

“We’ve seen that even at low, low speeds, just hitting a small bump will send a toddler flying,” she said, “and without any protective equipment on, they often end up with some serious head trauma.”

Jump in feet first.

“If you want to dive into a body of water, you want to know what’s under the surface,” Cline said, “and that’s very difficult to do in a lot of our fast-moving creeks around here. Sometimes people underestimate or overestimate the depth of the water. We always say never dive into the water [head first]—we always say feet first.”

Know your boat.

Whether operating a ski boat or personal watercraft, nautical skills are critical. “Many of these watercraft can get up to 70 miles per hour,” Cline said, adding that hitting the water with one’s body at such a high speed can lead to serious injury.

Cline emphasized the importance of knowing the capabilities of your vehicle, taking boat-safety classes, and—to stress an earlier point—never operating watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Don’t go it alone.

Bring a buddy along on your hiking, biking or boating trip. If you can’t take someone, let friends or family know the specifics of your plan, because, as Cline points out, “There are a lot of areas here—when you go out in the valley or up in the foothills or out on the lake—where there’s no cell-phone coverage whatsoever.”

Though the tips above are good guidelines for staying safe this summer, Cleek recognizes that even extremely cautious people may suffer serious accidents from time to time.

“Normal people have bad things happen to them,” Cleek said, “and when that happens, we’ll be here and do our best for you.”