In the land of 10,000 lakes, we are blessed with an abundance of areas to swim, fish, boat and enjoy the water, especially after a long, cold winter. Certainly, there is nothing better than a day on the beach or the boat, but not all of those days end accident free. At The Urgency Room we see a variety of injuries from water activities. While many are accidents, others are purely preventable.
Many of the water-related injuries I see have a common theme: the injured made bad choices. One of the top culprits in that category is alcohol. Too many times we see a boater or angler injured because he or she was drinking too much alcohol and used poor judgement. For so many of the most popular water activities like boating and tubing, you have to be, not only careful, but vigilant. Alcohol lowers our ability to react quickly, judge danger or feel pain and that’s a recipe for disaster especially behind the wheel of any watercraft.
Often the accidents we see are not to people inside the boat, but rather those outside, like tubers and swimmers. We see a lot of bruises, broken bones, fractured jaws and concussions from tubing accidents caused by a driver going too fast trying to “knock the riders off the tube.” Many of these injuries involve two riders who hit each other as the tube flies up over a big wave.
Ropes are also dangerous. Drivers and spotters need to be careful not to get a hand or finger under a tow rope. As well, never step on the gas of the boat unless the rope is taught and you can see all of it. A rope hiding under the water could be tangled on a water ski or tuber’s hand. We have seen many injuries to hands and rope burns to the body because boaters aren’t paying close attention to the rope before taking off.
Personal watercraft like jet skis also pose a great risk. There have been accidents involving riders who have crashed into each other. Others have tried to pull tubers or skiers with a jet ski and no spotter. This is not only dangerous, it is illegal.
Lures are the culprit of the most common fishing injury we see at The Urgency Room. I’ve seen lures stuck in hands, legs, heads, faces… you name it. These injuries can be very painful, especially if the barb is stuck beneath the skin. Do not remove a lure that isn’t easy to get out. Instead, come see us and we will numb the area with lidocaine before removing the lure. Also, be aware of your surroundings and never cast when people are near you.
That (not so) clean lake water
A small accidental cut on your leg from swimming to close to the dock may seem like no big deal. But, in some cases, bacteria in our lakes can make this simple injury much more complicated. One example is Aeromonas hydrophila. This is a type of bacteria commonly found in freshwater or brackish water and in some fish. If this bacteria gets into an open cut, it can become contaminated causing a serious skin infection. Aeromonas hydrophila can also cause stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting if swallowed.
Giardia is another infection caused by swallowing lake water. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhea. A giardia infection is caused by a microscopic parasite found in lakes and can also be transmitted through food and person-to-person contact.
We see cases of lake or water-related dehydration all the time. Typically, the patient has spent the entire day outside. He or she may have been drinking alcohol and forgot to put on sunscreen. This is the perfect recipe for dehydration. The sun of course can make you sweat and lose fluid, while alcohol can exacerbate this process. Swimming is also a culprit. Few people realize that the pressure of the water on your tissues causes more water loss or more trips to the bathroom. Together, all of these factors make the risk of dehydration so much greater during a day on the lake.
Avoid mistakes on the lake
Don’t underestimate the power of the sun, dangers of the water or trouble alcohol can cause when out on the lake. Be smart and enjoy our beautiful lakes this summer. End your days taking in the sunsets… not the view of an Urgency Room doctor with bad news.
Dr. Jim Stowell is a physician at The Urgency Room