Thanksgiving is one of the days in the year when attention should be given to Shakespeare’s famous warning: “Wisely and slow — they stumble that run fast.”
As professionals in the funeral world can attest, it’s an unfortunate fact that Thanksgiving can be a deadly holiday.
Every year the National Safety Council issues a prediction of how many fatalities will occur on America’s roads during Thanksgiving time — sadly, their numbers correspond very closely to reality.
For this year’s holiday period (6 pm, Wednesday, November 27th until 11:59 am, Sunday, December 1st) NSC projects 471 Americans will lose their lives in traffic accidents.
It’s likely that more than 30 percent of those collisions will involve alcohol impairment. Last year, 35 percent of the 385 who died on the road were alcohol related.
Precautions such as staying sober, wearing seat belts, checking ahead about road conditions, maintaining safe speeds, and leaving early — all those loving exhortations we heard as children turn out to be true.
It’s stunning, but in 2019, about 14 percent of the drivers on American roads do not wear safety belts. It’s also stunning that 29 people die every day in a vehicle crash that involves a drunk driver. And, just as frightening: four out of five child safety seats are used incorrectly. This is self-destruction that is truly avoidable.
The NSC points out that 90 percent of vehicle crashes are caused by human error: with 55 million drivers making trips of at least 50 miles this Thanksgiving, there’s a lot of potential for human error. Alert at the wheel today, alive tomorrow.
As grim as the highway fatality numbers are, it is surprising to learn that they represent only 25 percent of accidents that are lethal — 75 percent of killer accidents occur in the home, not on the roads, and one of those accidents is conspicuously present on Thanksgiving.
The top five household accidents are poisoning (including drug overdose), falling, choking, drowning and burning in fires. Beware of choking on Thanksgiving!
A University of Florida research project found that it is ten times more likely that an emergency room visit for removing food obstruction will take place on a special event day than at any other time.
Dr. Asim Shuja, a gastroenterologist who helmed this study, said: “A pattern emerged showing a higher percentage of people seeking treatment during or just after a holiday or event …a much greater percentage during those times needed help because food was impacted in their esophagus. It’s a very serious problem that people need to be aware of.”
Choking is a particularly pernicious condition because of the immediate symptoms which take place. The impacted food inhibits air flow, therefore, the victim is unable to communicate — in fact, complete silence is often the first outward sign of choking. Like a drowning reflex, the trachea often clenches shut. Then panic sets in, but those nearby do not know how to interpret the behavior because the victim can’t speak.
On holidays, it is the celebratory atmosphere that is a key component: overindulging in both food and adult beverages is definitely a factor in choking.
Dr. Eric Lavonas, a specialist in emergency medicine, noted that “when people drink too much when celebrating, that extra glass of wine puts them off their usual chewing routine.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Lavonas added. “Cut your food into small pieces, remove any bones and chew carefully before you swallow.” Drinking plenty of water is also important, because it helps soften the food and makes it easier to swallow.
Choking is not an insignificant concern: it leads to approximately 5,000 deaths a year. Some 12,000 children are taken to emergency rooms with the condition.
In the University of Florida study, the three foods which produced the most problems were turkey, beef and chicken — which figures, since they are heavily featured on holiday menus.
The foods children have the most trouble with include meat, hard candy, nuts, seeds, and popcorn.
Experts agree that simply being aware of the possibility of choking leads to more careful chewing behavior. “We think the main message here is for people to be aware of and not to, for lack of a better term, overindulge,” Dr. Shuja concluded.
Awareness and not being in a hurry could save lives in the car or at the table during the Thanksgiving weekend — wisely and slowly, just as Shakespeare said four hundred years ago.