Summer Home Repair Safety Tips to Prevent Serious Hand and Finger Injuries
Hand and finger injuries are among the most common causes for emergency room visits, but taking time to prepare a safe work area, using proper tools, and alerting someone nearby about your home repair project can reduce your risk for serious accidents this summer.
The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) database reports that nearly 3.5 million people a year are seen in a U.S. emergency room for injury to an upper limb, which ranges from shoulder to fingers; of these, 45 percent occur at home and 23 percent involve deep cuts, called lacerations. Dr. Nebil Bill Aydin, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon with the New York Group for Plastic Surgery and an attending surgeon at Westchester Medical Center, has operated on many home repair-related upper limb injuries, including the wrist laceration experienced by 55 year-old David Guiliano of Valhalla, NY, that nearly cost him his left hand.
Guiliano, a firefighter as well as a professional bricklayer, was renovating a friend's pool house and needed to demolish a brick seven feet up a wall. He stood on an overturned plastic bucket and held his heavy electric grinder tool in both hands high over his head. As he pushed grinder to brick, the blade tip caught and jerked, pushing him backward. As he fell, the grinder slipped from his grasp and the blade sliced his left wrist, cutting through tendons, nerves and arteries down to the bone.
EMT Training Saved a Life, Microsurgery Saved a Hand
With no one else around, David crawled to his truck for a towel to wrap around his hand. He dialed 911 on his mobile phone but didn't know his friend's actual address, so he stayed connected while emergency dispatch tracked him. He lay down, keeping his cut hand high over his head and squeezing an upper arm pressure point with his other hand to control the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.
A team of microsurgical experts led by Dr. Aydin spent seven hours operating to repair David's wrist and hand. Microsurgery is a very complex, technically demanding surgery that uses specialized tools with microscopes to operate on extremely small parts of the body. When a tendon, nerve, vein, or artery is lacerated, a healthy one from another area of the body can be transferred and grafted to the injury site.
"Without microsurgical techniques we would not have been able to preserve David's hand at all, much less restore its use," said Dr. Aydin. "It's critical that anyone with a serious injury be taken to a major medical center where microsurgery is frequently practiced and a full staff of microsurgeons, orthopedists, and emergency room staff are immediately available to literally save life and limb."
Lessons Learned to Avoid Home Repair Accidents
Looking back, Guiliano recognizes that his many years as a bricklayer led to complacency about home repair work. "I didn't secure my balance, and I used a grinder with an exposed blade instead of a saw with a protective guard," he said. "I bypassed important precautions because of my experience, but I'd urge everyone to take time to prepare properly and put some simple safety measures in place for any task using tools."
Regardless of experience, following simple safety rules can help you avoid a serious injury:
- *Think through the tools and materials you'll need in advance, and position them strategically in your work area before starting. If you realize in the middle of the project that you've forgotten a tool, carefully and fully disengage from your work to get it — do not lean over or reach up for it.
- *Do not use a tool that lacks safety mechanisms or is inappropriate for a specific task. If you're unsure, check with an expert at the hardware store.
- *Alert a family member or neighbor that you are undertaking a home repair project and ask if they'll come by to check up on you periodically.
- *Keep a phone and first aid supplies nearby, in case. If you're not working at your own home, be sure you know the specific address so emergency dispatch can find you, and be aware of nearby major medical centers.
Thanks to his firefighter training, David Guiliano was able to take basic steps after his wrist laceration that likely saved his life as well as his hand. And he strives to heed his wife and children's advice now before starting any tasks: Take a breath and slow down!