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‘You serious, Clark?’ UK expert offers tips to avoid ‘Christmas Vacation’ injuries

wildcat in front of well lit house
Outdoor lights are a popular decoration for the holidays — but make sure you're taking precautions when putting them up and taking them down.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 22, 2022) — The holiday season is meant to bring cheer, but for some, it brings more stress and pressure than the 11 months that came before. Holiday activities — whether big or small — require thoughtful preparation and care to ensure the safety of loved ones. “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation” is the story of Clark Griswold and his family trying to have fun celebrating their favorite holiday. Instead, Clark is thwarted with reckless drivers, tangled holiday lights and rogue saucer sleds.

Ashley Bush, Dr.P.H., is a research program administrator for the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center within the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. This year, she’s walking us through some of Clark Griswold’s most monumental mishaps with tips to keep them from happening at — and ruining — your own holiday celebrations.

Road rage

Clark gets involved with another car on the road while traveling. In an effort to "stick it" to the other car, he ends up driving off the road to avoid hitting a snowblower, after getting trapped beneath a truck carrying logs.

What are some important safety measures to take when road tripping with your family for the holidays?

Ashley Bush: This is where planning and preparation come into play. It’s important to perform routine maintenance on your vehicle, especially ahead of the winter months. Changing over to a set of winter tires can improve traction on snowy or icy roads and even help snow from building up on the tire. A full fuel tank is also key, especially when winter storms are being forecasted. Check the weather conditions for where you are traveling to and from before you leave — local radio stations often provide weather updates, so you can check in as you’re driving as well.

No matter your age, create a winter safety bag for your vehicle. Some good items to have are a first aid kit, matches, a blanket, a foldable shovel, an ice scraper, drinking water, extra clothes and flashlights.

Falling injuries – e.g., falling from the attic and the roof

Clark gets stuck in the attic of their family home while hiding gifts. While he’s up there, he takes a few missteps and ends up getting hit in the head by a loose plank of flooring … several times. He also takes a tumble off their roof while he’s stringing lights.

If folks are headed up to the attic to gather decorations or to hide presents, or putting up outdoor lights, what should they do to ensure they’ll be able to safely get back down? 

AB: Climbing outside? Here’s a non-exhaustive quick list of ladder safety:

  • Wear proper shoes (closed toe).
  • Use a safety harness.
  • Keep three points of contact for ladder use.
  • Do not prop the ladder against the gutter or any other nonsecure surface.
  • Secure or lock the ladder before climbing.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Keep the ladder away from heavily walked areas.
  • Read your ladder’s safety instructions and only use as directed.
  • Don’t decorate alone.
  • Do not prop the ladder up near power lines.

Communication is key. Tell folks at home that you’re going to be in the attic and to come looking if they don’t hear from you for a few minutes. When it is top secret, take your cellphone up with you (in a pocket of course) as three-points of contact are needed when using a ladder.

Also, make sure your attic has adequate lighting and flooring (between the truss), electrical and pipe hazards in good condition before storing your gifts up there, and work to control vermin and their residues. When in doubt, call a professional for an inspection and/or repair.

It's also important to note that Clark suffered multiple instances of head trauma. If head trauma does occur, it is important for family/friends to be around. Clark was showing symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI): lightheadedness, being "loopy" or in a daze, anger and other erratic displays of emotion. It is important to seek help for a TBI from a medical provider. Concussions are TBIs and these can range from mild to severe, and they can display symptoms just like Clark’s.

O, Christmas tree

Clark took his family to pick out a real Christmas tree and cut it down themselves. He thankfully wasn’t injured in the cutting down process, but he did get stuck in the tree when cutting it open in their living room. Later, his Uncle Lewis accidentally sets the tree on fire while lighting his cigar.

What should homeowners know about bringing a live tree into their house?

 AB: Some helpful tips:

  • Pick a healthy tree.
  • Do not overload outlets.
  • Check cords and plugs before use to prevent electrocution/fire/burns.
  • Do not smoke near the Christmas tree.
  • Keep candles away.
  • Test your lights before you use them.
  • Keep away from the fireplace, heaters, radiators, etc.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are working properly. Contact the fire department for more information.
  • Keep your tree watered.

Felling a tree safely is no easy task; call a licensed professional. If it's near/on a power line, call the utilities company.

The sledding setback

Clark goes sledding with the family and slides through several snow banks, and even sails through the wall of a cabin.

When participating in outdoor winter activities like sledding, ice skating or skiing, what are some safety best practices?

AB: Exercise is great. To be safe in the cold, dress in layers. Encourage folks to monitor ongoing weather situations by checking the forecast before exercising. It is good time to mention that substance use can impair your ability to recognize your body temperature, so let that special eggnog wait until your outdoor activities are over.

The unseen injury – Clark’s mental health

AB: Stress and lack of emotional regulation can increase your risk of injury and complicate recovery. Helplines are great ways to help reduce your stress — text “KY” to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line. Practice self-care, exercise, engage in deep breathing practices.

The holidays are a time for a lot of emotion and energy, but try not to lose sight of the joy the holiday season can bring. Remember that not everything has to be perfect, and only focus on what you are able to control.

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