Freeze-thaw cycles in Ottawa resulting in broken wrists, dislocated shoulders and concussions


Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa 

Consider yourself lucky if you haven’t fallen on the ice this winter.

With some 40 freeze-thaw cycles, sidewalks and driveways have become treacherous, sending dozens of people to hospital with sprains, broken bones and concussions.

Hospitals in our area say they haven't seen a dramatic rise in the number of people coming in with fall-related injuries.  But, talk to most folks in Ottawa and they can easily name several people in their circle who have ended up in a cast.   For some, these simple falls can have life-changing consequences.

Family doctor Judy Chow is back to healing others after taking a few weeks to heal herself. The doctor became the patient December 30th.

“I slipped and fell and within two seconds, knew I had broken my left wrist,” says Dr. Chow, taking a few minutes out of her busy medical practice to do an interview.

Her husband took her to the Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital.  Dr. Chow says she was one of several people in the emergency department that day, the walking wounded she calls them.

“It was packed,” she recalls, “People with bandages on their head, blood streaming down their faces, other people with obvious deformities, and people in wheelchairs.  It was a crazy day in the Emergency room with falls.”

Omar Mohamud takes his daily walk inside his Walkley Manor apartment building now after a nasty spill outside about a month ago.

“Right here and here,” he says, pointing to the two spots on his arm where he broke his wrist.  It’s now in a cast.

“I am scared now to walk, even,” Mohamud says, “I am scared to walk, that's what happens.”

Dozens of freeze and thaw cycles this winter have created layers of treacherous ice. 

The chief of Emergency Medicine at Queensway-Carleton Hospital says these are injuries they see every winter particularly after freezing rain.

“Anecdotally, I would say this winter has been more treacherous than usual,” says Dr. Bhaskar Gopalan, “When (people) fall, they can get head injuries, significant head injuries that require sutures, or shoulder fractures, dislocations, and wrist injuries are very common.”

Physiotherapist Lorraine Leblanc Hendry with Physio Sports Care Centre says keeping fit can help you recover quickly after a fall.

“The most important thing is to stay fit,” says Hendry, “It’s all about exercise.”

Hendry has a couple simple exercises that can strengthen major muscle groups.

“You’re going to go up slowly and come down slowly,” she says, demonstrating stepping one foot up on a step then slowly lowering back down to the ground again. 

“That kind of control will help prevent you from falling.”

Dr. Judy Chow says part of the solution is also making sure people are taking care of their bone health, that they're screened for osteoporosis.

“Osteoporosis is common,” she says, “People don't realize that.  By the age of 50, 2% of females will have osteoporosis but by the time you reach 80, it’s 25%.  And it is not a disease that’s gender specific.  One in four or five women will have it but one in six men will have it as well.”

Dr. Chow had surgery on her wrist on January 4th.

“The other piece to my recovery,” she says, “is early mobilization.  Exercise, try to increase your range of motion and build some strength.”

Still, stepping outside for her now comes with a little hesitation.

“I'm petrified,” she says, “I've got a pair of those boots with spikes in it.”

We may have seen the worst of the icy weather but Lorraine Hendry is bracing for an influx of patients seeking physiotherapy in the coming weeks as those casts come off and the road to recovery begins.

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