Monday, July 4th, 2011
As the heat cranks up the deeper we go into summer here in North Texas, I am reminded of my first weekend on-call during my plastic surgery training. Entering the training program, I remember thinking that there probably wouldn't be too much need for a plastic surgeon in the emergency room, other than a few lacerations. That way of thinking changed quickly.
My pager went off (cell phones were in their infancy and few people had them) that first Saturday afternoon, and it was the University Hospital emergency room telling me about a patient. He was a young man, about 23, who had been on a boat with some friends. They were having fun, water skiing, having a few beers. As the day wound down and the last skier was climbing back into the boat, this young man did what anyone who skis has done many times. He started to pull the rope in. As he did that, he wrapped the rope around his upper arm and the 'V' between his thumb and index finger, going around and around. After he had done this wrap a few times the guy driving the boat, who incidentally had only had "a couple beers", punched the throttle forward. The boat lunged forward while a bunch of the ski rope was still dragging behind the boat. In an instant the entire rope jerked tight, snapping around the young man's upper arm and severing it. The entire arm was yanked off in the middle of the upper arm, and it fell into the water. Someone dove in after it, retrieved it, and somehow they managed to bring the man and his arm to the emergency room.
Let that scenario sink in for a second.
There are just so many things that we do that we take for granted. Water skiing and drinking beer? It almost seems like there is some sort of statute here in North Texas that says you can't go skiing without having a cold one around. Wrapping the ski rope as you pull it in? How else are you going to get the rope into the boat? This was another situation where everyone was having a good time but someone just didn't pay attention for a second. And that second meant the difference between a nice day versus losing an arm (we couldn't save the arm).
We have a severe drought in North Texas this year and the lakes are low. Tree stumps lurk close to, but below, the lake surfaces. Be careful if you're out on the lakes in the next two months. Take that extra second or two to be aware, to be safe. And remember, if you're the one driving the boat, you shouldn't be drinking cocktails (or beer!).
By the way, the same is true with fireworks. Some day maybe I'll write about my experience with those from a plastic surgeon's perspective.