It’s simply a fact of life. A heavy snowfall means paramedics and hospital emergency rooms will get busier as city residents — many of whom don’t otherwise exercise — give it all they’ve got to clear off driveways and sidewalks.
Although the London Health Sciences Centre doesn’t track the cause of visits to the ER, Jay Loosley, Middlesex-London EMS superintendent of education, knows all too well how many people end up in hospital during the winter.
“At this time of year we definitely notice an increase in chest pain-related calls, in relation to shovelling snow,” said Loosely. “The problem is that shovelling snow, when you start, it raises your heart rate at a rapid pace. It’s like a car going from 0-60 in three seconds. Instead of taking it slow, slowly working, you just grab the shovel and you go. People on the verge of not-so-healthy hearts and aren’t used to cardiac activity like that, then develop chest pain which sometimes turns into cardiac arrest.”
With that in mind, EMS personnel, Loosley said, “do a lot of calls with middle-aged gentlemen sitting outside holding a snow shovel.”
It’s a well known fact, he added, that it’s snow shovelling time and that there will be a lot of calls to people’s driveways.
Rhonda Brittan, manager of healthy community and injury prevention at the Middlesex-London Health Unit, said the big problem with snow shovelling is people often are too eager to get the job done.
Often people are in a hurry and aren’t tackling the problem, Brittan said, “in a leisurely way.”
That can cause problems, she said, so an important thing to do is to take it easy, take frequent breaks, and most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you.
The chest pains and cardiac arrests are obviously the most serious calls received by EMS.
On average, Middlesex-London EMS transports about 130 people to hospital per day.
There are spikes, of course, some days having more calls, while others receive less. In addition, not every call results in a hospital visit, as EMS staff treats a lot of people on scene.
Loosley quickly said there is also “definitely” an increase in calls related to back strains and slips and falls on the ice.
These maybe be classified as minor injuries, but they also create trips to the hospital because people often don’t take their time to be careful with what they’re doing.
“People need to go slow, ease into it,” Loosley said. “If you aren’t used to that kind of activity, take your time; take lots of breaks.”
Brittan said the winter is definitely a deterrent for people staying physically active.
While the cold plays a big part of that, dressing for the weather can make a significant difference in someone’s safety.
“Dressing for the weather is really important. This has been a challenging winter because the temperatures have been all over and that’s what makes layers so important,” Brittan said. “It’s important that bottom layer can wick away the moisture. Once that moisture is held to the body, it makes it really difficult to not get cold. “
Having cold feet is another barrier to enjoying time outdoors. So, wearing appropriate footwear is essential. But Brittan said it isn’t just a question of comfort when it comes to wearing the proper footwear.
“Slips, trips and falls are one of the highest sources of injury,” Brittan said. “If you aren’t wearing shoes with a good enough grip, it’s a good way to get seriously injured.”