SAGINAW, MI — When forecasts call for heavy snow or severely-low temperatures, Dr. Steven McLean knows he’ll need an early start to prepare for traveling to work.
The emergency care physician has seen all sorts of winter weather-related health emergencies at the Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital emergency room where he began working 25 years ago. Many of those medical crises — from frostbite to hypothermia —could have been prevented with better preparation, he said.
“Whenever we’re going out in the cold, the main thing is to be prepared,” he said.
As meteorologist predict heavy snow this week, McLean said his staff plan to be ready for an uptick in winter weather-caused cases at the Saginaw hospital.
Part of their preparation involves offering tips to the community on how to avoid needing a trip to the emergency room.
“For anybody who needs to travel or go to work, you need to be prepared before you even get into your car,” McLean said. “I recommend taking a carry bag.”
The bag should contain items that would come in handy if the vehicle becomes stuck in the snow or conditions worsen before the driver reaches the destination, he said.
“You want to have an extra coat, a warm blanket, a bottle of water or two, and some nonperishable food,” McLean said.
He recommended leaving early and driving slowly.
“Make sure you have a full tank of gas, and then if you do happen to get stuck while traveling, please don’t try to walk to safety or get out of your vehicle to fix anything,” McLean said. “Other people are going to be sliding along in the same place, so you don’t want to get injured. Stay in the vehicle and wait for help.”
As for individuals weathering heavy snowfall or a frosty cold front at home: McLean said many severe winter weather events lead to an influx of patients who failed to dress in enough layers of clothes when venturing outside the house.
“If you need to shovel the driveway or do some work outside, and it’s super-cold, you want to dress in layers,” he said. “You want a nice base layer for keeping you dry, then an insulation layer, and then an outer layer that’s appropriate to prevent wind exposure and also to prevent you from getting wet.”
Along with hypothermia and frostbite, McLean said many of the winter weather-related cases at Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital relate to residents suffering from cardiac disease.
“People tend to want to go out and shovel their driveways in the cold, and that’s when we see an increase in heart attacks on that morning after a big snowstorm,” he said.
“If you’ve got a pre-existing heart disease, and you go out and try to shovel some heavy snow for an hour or two, you’re going to exacerbate your condition. You might be OK if it wasn’t cold, but that extra bit of cold can tip you over to that point where you’re not getting enough blood to the heart.”
Other ER cases involve slip-and-falls, he said.
“Last year was quite dramatic,” McLean said. “Last February, when we had an ice storm and then it snowed on top of it, we saw a dramatic increase in elderly patients with hip fractures and wrist fractures that were the result of a simple slip-and-fall on their sidewalk or steps outside the house.”
Meteorologists predict up to 6 inches of snow could land across the Great Lakes Bay Region today, although forecasts are continually shifting.
A map showing Michigan’s forecast is available below:
Winter emergency kit: 15 things you should have in your vehicle in bad weather
Interactive snow forecast map shows where up to 13 inches could fall in next 24 hours
When the snowstorm starts: Timeline on the heavy snow