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Decorating mishaps mar holiday season

Falls from ladders are most common injuries

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- 'Tis the season to be injured.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nearly 6,000 injuries a year stem from holiday decorating. Doctors who staff emergency rooms in the weeks before and after Christmas say they see too many patients who failed to take that one extra safety precaution.

"Most people who come in and see us can identify something they did that they could have done differently had they thought about it," said Dr. Dave Moen, of Fairview Medical Lakes Center in Wyoming. "Sometimes, they're just in too much of a hurry, so they take shortcuts."

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Sonja Bercich can relate. She recently climbed a ladder outside her home in Shakopee to string Christmas lights. She stretched to reach a hook just out of her reach, then stretched a little more.

Her ladder slipped on the smooth pavement. Bercich crashed to the ground, and an adjacent ladder also fell and hit her head. She broke her ankle and needed 20 staples to close her head wound.

A 2004 report by the CDC encouraged greater public awareness of holiday decorating hazards. While such injuries account for less than 1 percent of all fall-related injuries during the holiday season, the CDC focused on them because they're usually preventable.

The most common injury in the study was caused by a fall from a ladder. Moen said he also treats people who tried to use chairs or other furniture not meant for climbing.

He encouraged people to always use the right equipment, to take extra steps to secure ladders and to stay on the ground whenever possible. Moen uses the ball retriever from his golf bag to string lights from the ground.

Another common winter-related injury is seen in people who fall while sweeping snow from their rooftops, said Dr. John Kvasnicka of the HealthEast Care System, which operates hospitals in St. Paul, Maplewood and Woodbury.

"People are in bulky clothing trying to stay warm," he said, "so they are probably not as agile."

Bercich said word of her injuries spread fast in her neighborhood of two-story homes. After her fall, Bercich and her husband had a professional roofer finish decorating their house.

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"On my block," she said, "everyone just put lights on their first level."

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