By Becky Carter
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
As we get into summer, there is plenty of advice out there about overall seasonal wellness, such as sun protection and swimming safety. A less talked about but critical issue to be aware of is avoiding traumatic, or severe injury. We live in a beautiful place, but it’s also home to raging rivers, tall waterfalls and steep mountains – and many people who enjoy extreme sports.
This month, I’ll address best safety practices for hiking, kayaking and biking, what you can do to stay out of the emergency department this summer and how to avoid one of the biggest concerns that accompany outdoor activities: traumatic brain injury, or TBI. TBI, whether mild or severe, is injury from a serious blow to the head that can cause long-term physical and cognitive limitations. TBI symptoms can be apparent immediately after your injury or be delayed. Some research suggests that serious or multiple TBIs raise one’s risk of degenerative brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Kayaking the rocky rapids in Western North Carolina is invigorating, but when you’re navigating class III and IV rapids, things can get tricky. Whether you’re a beginner or veteran paddler, it’s vital to have a well-made helmet. If you are ejected from your raft or kayak, your head will be protected from the boulders and rocks that add challenge to the courses, but pose deadly risk. Wear a flotation vest also; it enables you to swim and helps you to float. No matter how skilled a paddler you are, avoid high water after storms.
With mountain biking, a well-made helmet is again key, as is going with a group or at least one other cyclist. A first aid kit for scrapes, a cellphone and a map are essential too. Since this sport involves riding on rough terrain at rapid speeds, pebbles will fly; protective glasses will prevent eye injury. Before you hit the trail, make sure your bike is in top working order to ensure that those thrilling descents don’t go awry.
Tragically, each summer people in western North Carolina – visitors and residents – are seriously injured or killed as a result of a fall at one of our dramatic waterfalls. It’s critical to read any posted signs that list warnings and to stay on designated paths. Part of the danger lies in the areas that surround the falls themselves and to be mindful of wet and dry rocks – they can both be slippery. Never cross a fence or barrier, even if you’re tempted to take a closer look to get that perfect photo.
Hiking in our mountains is glorious but again, common sense safety precautions could mean the difference between a great memory and a trip to the ER. It’s easy to get lost on a hike even if you have great navigation skills, so you should always bring a buddy, a cellphone and a map because in many places, cell reception is spotty. A knapsack filled with snacks, plenty of water and a first-aid kit are also essential. Hikers can sustain cuts and scrapes, encounter snakes or get stung by a bee. If you need it, pack an up-to-date EpiPen. Finally, let someone know you’re going hiking and where, and check the weather forecast before you leave – the last thing you want is to be stuck in a thunderstorm in the middle of the woods.
As always, if you need us, everyone at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital is here to treat you no matter what the season!
Rebecca W. Carter, MSN, RN, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Carter has served in senior hospital management for over 20 years and previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, also a part of the Mission Health system.
Ms. Carter is board certified in healthcare management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). A native of North Carolina, she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Carter is currently a resident of Burnsville.