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Deck the halls with boughs of folly: Christmas in A & E

Pic: Bailey Beverly

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house”… people were drinking, naturally. It can hardly come as a surprise that the festive period is Britain’s most alcohol-fuelled month. With a subtle blend of office parties, family dinners and catching up with friends all mixed with a good measure of Christmas cheer, Britain’s alcohol consumption goes up by 40% during December. Not entirely unexpectedly, this has a huge impact on the types of emergency for which people find themselves in A&E – though not all are standard tales of alcohol poisoning or falling over.

Last year the NHS released two spoof videos highlighting the more ludicrous reasons why people have turned up in the emergency department over the festive period. Anyone who’s had one too many eggnogs and found themselves entangled in the shrubbery outside their front door can probably feel a little sympathy for the man who came off second best in an inebriated encounter with a hawthorn bush, but those feelings of festive camaraderie start to become a little strained when we’re introduced to two people complaining of frostbite after going out in December wearing nothing but minidresses.

It’s not just going out which can launch a barrage of drink-related injuries either – the office party would appear to be just as littered with the potential to cause oneself serious harm after a few. The real jaw-dropper in the NHS Christmas video is when a woman is wheeled past on a trolley, on all fours with a towel covering her rear, as the narrator explains that in a wilder moment of her work ‘do’ the woman had attempted to sit on the photocopier only to have the glass smash underneath her.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy also highlights the perils of overindulgence, though admittedly these are slightly more quotidian than those chosen by the bigwigs at the NHS film studios. Twisted ankles and sprained wrists get the headline slot in the CSPs dedicated Christmas article , but “an over-enthusiastic shimmy and shake on the dance floor”could also land us with an appointment to see the physio in the New Year. One physiotherapist also attests: If you work on Boxing Day you see people who have dropped frozen turkeys on their feet”, though how much of this is to do with a mid-morning sherry and how much is due to the stress of catering for one’s extended family in a kitchen clearly not designed for it remains unknown.

So it would seem that nowhere is safe from the curse of the festive tipple. If you go out you’re risking frostbite, broken bones and fights with the native flora; if you stay in there are photocopiers and frozen turkeys to watch out for. The Friday before Christmas is the busiest night of the year in A&E, and with the health service already stretched under financial cutbacks, the queues to see a doctor are likely to be long. A cup of tea and a quiet night with a book would seem to be the best advice, but sometimes it’s worth taking a little risk. Just try not to end up on next year’s NHS blooper reel.

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