When it comes to ER visits, Thanksgiving is no Fourth of July (with its finger-sacrificing backyard pyrotechnics) or St. Patrick’s Day (with its vomitous binge drinking). But that doesn’t mean the day of gluttony takes no physical toll. Especially the deep-fried turkeys—the number of home cooking fires increases nearly fourfold on Thanksgiving Day. And while there’s little data to suggest hospital visits spike on Thanksgiving, those that do occur often seem to be related to the holiday.
To better understand what our hospitals are dealing with after the country’s biggest meal, we reached out to five different medical professionals at two different L.A.–area hospitals for their most memorable Thanksgiving-induced medical emergencies. Their replies? A mix of stab wounds, poop in a bag and phantom gas pains that are best treated by letting out a big fart.
The Toughest 90-Year-Old Grandmother You’ll Ever Meet
“One year we had the sweetest old lady come in; she was in her 90s. She had slipped and broken her arm while preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her family. It was a bad break in multiple places. Still, she just shook off the pain. She basically told us that since she wasn’t scheduled for surgery until the next day, we were to give her a splint and send her home. She’d come back in for surgery after she enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with her family. ‘After all,’ she said ‘this could be one of my last.’ The whole staff fell in love with her and wanted her to be their grandmother.” — Director of Nursing, Emergency Department at Providence Tarzana Medical Center
The Phantom Menace — Your Gas and Indigestion
“We always get a surge of patients on Thanksgiving. A lot of them think they’ve got something in their throat or believe that they’re choking. But it’s usually a phantom pain; we’ll do a scan, and it’ll come up clean. Others think they’ve got a serious stomach problem — a rupture or something. But again, most of the time it turns out to be just way too much food.”
— Emergency Department Nurse at Providence Tarzana Medical Center
It’s Not Just Thanksgiving That Ails You
“Thanksgiving is a time we staff up since we see a huge surge in admitted patients. In particular, there’s usually an upswing in people with heart failure. These are patients who may have been symptomatic or had something brewing, and the combination of holiday stress and salty food sends them to us. Also, we’ll see many patients struggling to manage their diabetes after a hefty meal. Those with nut allergies can really suffer around the holidays, too, as other food like mashed potatoes will often be prepared in same kitchen as pecan pie and result in anaphylaxis.” — Emergency Department Physician at Providence Tarzana Medical Center
A (Carving) Knife Fight
“On Thanksgiving a few years ago, two elderly women entered the ER together. One of them needed treatment for a nasty laceration to her hand. The patient began bickering with her friend about who should’ve been carving the turkey. She then showed off her wound to me and said, ‘Look at this CUT!’ After that, she leaned down and pulled a huge carving knife out of her purse and laid it on the triage nurse’s desk. ‘Look at this knife,’ she told us. ‘That cut my hand!’ I was shocked that this little old lady had brought this large carving knife — a serious weapon — into our ER. Of course, I had to advise her to never bring a knife to the hospital again.” — Charge Nurse, Emergency Department at the San Fernando Valley Hospital
A Leftover by a Different Name
“Around the holidays, grateful patients often stop in to say thank you or drop off gifts of thanks. But a few years ago, one nurse in our department got quite the gift. She walked into the exam room to find the patient sitting quietly with a tied-off plastic bag next to him. He nervously confessed that he was concerned about the shape of his fecal matter. So he had brought her a sample to review. What a little package to receive on Thanksgiving Day!” — Charge Nurse, Emergency Department at the San Fernando Valley Hospital