Calgary ER doctors seeing hundreds of icy sidewalk injuries

Calgary emergency rooms are pretty full this week due to treacherous, slippery sidewalks.

Dr. Eddy Lang says slip-and-falls can be 'terrible' — even fatal for some

Icy sidewalks like this one are a big problem in Calgary, where city councillor Druh Farrell is presenting a motion to council to seek solutions to the city's problem keeping its sidewalks clean. (CBC)

Calgary emergency rooms are looking pretty full this week due to treacherous, slippery sidewalks.

It's been a record year for snowfall, and matched with cycles of melting and freezing, so sidewalks are often coated with ice.

"The sidewalks have, in fact, been the source of a number of falls — and unfortunately a number of fractures," said Dr. Eddy Lang, who supervises emergency rooms for Calgary's four adult hospitals.

Thursday's snowstorm layered fresh snow on top of ice, masking the danger. The four adult hospitals in Calgary saw 282 visits for fall-related injuries during the storm — almost double for an average winter day, according to Alberta Health Services.

Dr. Eddy Lang is in charge of emergency rooms in Calgary's four adult hospitals. (Eddy Lang/Twitter)

Many are hurt while walking their dogs or running errands, Lang said, and often frail older folks are the victims.

"These can be terrible injuries," Lang said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener. "Some of our elderly who are taking blood thinners, if they are so unfortunate as to fall and hit their head on the ice, they can end up with very, very serious and even fatal bleeding into the brain."

On average, those four hospital ERs see a combined total of 150 visits each day from patients who've been injured in falls, Alberta Health Services said Friday. About 10 per cent of patients are referred to orthopedics for surgery.

Thursday was an especially busy day, but not the busiest ever. On March 16, 2017, a similar winter storm resulted in more than 400 fall-related injuries recorded at the adult Calgary ERs, the health authority said.

Dr. Eddy Lang says he's been seeing a lot of pedestrians coming into emergency rooms with twisted ankles and broken wrists from slipping on snowy and icy sidewalks and paths. (CBC)

Doctors see a few common types of injuries, Lang said. People fall and reach out to break the fall, and instead break their wrists. Others slip backwards onto their backsides and get spinal injuries. Twisted ankles are common as well.

"Basically, whatever can possible get injured is injured," Lang said.

Head to emergency if you feel painful deformity on your wrist or if you can't put weight on a body part after a fall, he said.

He recommends anyone especially susceptible to injury consider cancelling appointments when the weather is really poor, and wear extra grips on the bottom of your boots.

"The treacherous part of the whole thing is once the snow starts to fall, the icy sidewalks become dangerously camouflaged," Lang said. "People who are out and about ... may not even see things coming at them."

The ice-covered sidewalks and unshovelled snow have been causing trouble for people with such accessibility difficulties, preventing some from leaving home entirely for days. Advocates have spoken out this winter, calling for better snow clearing.

About five more centimetres of snow is expected to fall Saturday in Calgary.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.