Healthy Living: July 9, 2019

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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Maine Summer is almost reliably here. Mainers everywhere are snubbing their couches for the beautiful outdoors. Camps and Lakes are playgrounds for nature lovers everywhere who have braved through the harsh winter in anticipation of the beautiful season.

One of the unfortunate downsides of this rush for outdoor activity is a marked increase in hospitalization and traumatic injuries secondary to unsafe and reckless operation of recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and ATVs (All-Terrain vehicles). I want to dedicate this Healthy Living segment to spreading awareness about safe utilization of the latter. ATVs can be a thoroughly enjoyable outdoor activity but they can also be deadly.

The size of this problem is very significant. Since January 2017, we have seen around 80 patients in the emergency room of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center presenting after ATV crashes or misadventures, with 10 patients already this year. Only five of those patients had injuries minor enough to be discharged home from the emergency department. Of these, 75% were males, and unsafe substance use was noted in a significant number of the cases. Twenty one of the patients were below the age of 20 including four patients below the age of 10. Three of these children were not wearing helmets.
The injuries sustained covered a wide range of organs and systems and varied from the mild and reversible to the irreversible and deadly. They included traumatic brain injuries many of which required prolonged mechanical ventilation and need for tracheostomy, cervical and thoracic spine fractures, long bone fractures, severe soft tissue injuries, and rib fractures many of which with significant lung injuries requiring chest tube placement.

In almost all these cases, the toll on families and quality of life is almost insurmountable and we would like to do whatever we can to limit the danger of such injuries. As often is the case with trauma, the best cure is prevention. There are specific laws that govern the operation of ATVs in the state of Maine and I encourage everyone to visit the Maine government website dedicated to that to familiarize yourself with them. I want to dwell a bit on some safety rules that can help protect you from unwanted accidents.

While operating an ATV, always try to wear a Department of Transportation compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves. This may seem like a lot on a hot summer day but that gear can be crucial to protect you from devastating injuries and careful selection can still make it light and bearable. Avoid riding on paved roads except to cross them because you put yourself at risk of being hit by other vehicles. In addition, never carry a passenger on an ATV designed for single passenger use. Many of our pediatric patients present as a result of breaking this simple rule. Riders younger than the age of 16 should ride age appropriate ATVs and be closely monitored and supervised. The need for speed can be intoxicating but fight the urge for dangerous speeds. There is no glory in devastating injuries. If you are new to ATVs, take a hands-on ATV safety course.
All these seem like common sense rules but a big part of this is holding on to your common sense. Common sense is the first thing to get thrown out the window when alcohol or drugs are on board. This can be a highly dangerous situation even with moderate consumption. Avoid riding while under the influence. This may be the cardinal rule.
Get out, have fun, embrace Mother Nature while it's treating us nicely and make sure you stay safe so you can enjoy it year after year.